Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Why the Yemenis Don't Understand the WB

On April 13, 2009, the Yemen Observatory for Human Rights, a civil society organization based in Sana'a, officially submitted their case regarding the World Bank’s translation framework to the World Bank Inspection Panel.

The forthcoming case is the culmination of the Bank’s rejection of repeated requests by Yemeni civil society groups to translate a key World Bank document, highlighting chronic problems with the Bank’s policy on document translation as well as its requests and appeals mechanisms.

The Yemeni group is taking its complaint to the Inspection Panel, established in 1993 to address the concerns of the people who may be affected by Bank projects and to ensure that the Bank adheres to its operational policies and procedures during design, preparation, and implementation phases of projects.

Although English is the official language of the Bank, it routinely translates general information and its flagship publications into Arabic, Mandarin, French, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish, as a matter of best practice rather than policy. However, for projects, borrower governments alone bear translation responsibilities, and, as a result, these translations are quite limited in scope (such as summaries of environmental assessments and plans related to resettlement or indigenous peoples). Additionally, project information that is translated is difficult to locate. Core Bank documents such as Project Appraisal Documents (PADs) or Program Documents (PDs), such as those for development policy loans, are rarely translated.

The controversy involves a three-year $51 million grant to the government of Yemen designed to support non-oil growth and strengthen governance and public financial management. The Bank’s initial disclosure concerning the effort has been standard and minimal.

According to the World Bank translation framework, the translation of any program or project-related document is left up to the country manager’s discretion. Since not all officials in borrowing countries are fluent in English, it may be safe to assume that many of these documents are procedurally translated into the local languages. However, the Bank does not require the government to then submit these translated documents along with the English documents, which would then automatically be publicly disclosed upon receipt by the Bank. Requiring disclosure of the already translated documents would greatly increase access to information at no cost to the World Bank.

On January 16, 2008, a group of civil society organizations submitted a formal request for the project document for the Institutional Policy Reform Development grant to be translated into Arabic. The manager of the Yemeni World Bank office replied on January 20th thanking these organizations for their interest and “high level of awareness” of the development process in their country and summarily stated that “like all other project documents—it is available only in English, since this is the official language to be used in all the transactions and contracts between the Government of the Republic of Yemen and the World Bank.” He apologized for not being able to translate the document due to other commitments, although he hoped that the civil society groups could translate it themselves.

On January 30, 2008, civil society leaders again submitted a request to the Yemen country manager to revisit his translation policy, with 25 local organizations signing on in support. The civil society groups specifically stated that: “Civil society organizations understand quite well the importance and the volume of the role the World Bank is playing in the economic reform and integrated and sustainable development processes, including the projects posted on its website in the field of education, port cities, irrigation, energy, public works, and localities. However, we stress that posting those projects only in English limit excessively our ability to participate effectively and actively.


(1) Stop relying on others to do work for you. If you want to read something, translate it. This perpetual expectation that your government should do everything from wiping your brat's nose to translating WB documentation means you effectively believe you cannot do anything initiative yourself.

(2) Maybe they should apply for a grant from WB to have the WB paperwork translated? Looks like they seriously lack bilingually educated people over there.

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