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External review finds deeper rot in World Bank ‘Doing Business’ rankings By Reuters


© Reuters. FILE PHOTO A participant poses near the logo of World Bank during the International Monetary Fund-World Bank Annual Meeting 2018, in Nusa Dua (Bali, Indonesia), October 12, 2018. REUTERS/Johannes P. Christo/File Photo

By Andrea Shalal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Weeks before the World Bank scrapped its flagship Doing Business rankings following a damning independent probe, a group of external advisers recommended an overhaul of the rankings to limit countries’ efforts to “manipulate their scores.”

Three weeks ago, Carmen Reinhart was presented with an 84-page analysis by top economists and academics. The review was posted on the bank’s website.

The World Bank on Thursday said it would cancel the “Doing Business” series on country business climates, citing internal audits and an independent probe that found senior World Bank leaders, including Kristalina Georgieva, who now heads the International Monetary Fund, pressured staff to alter data to favor China during her time as World Bank CEO.

Georgieva has strongly denied the findings.

After a series internal audits found data errors in the reports of China, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the World Bank assembled a review group to publish Monday’s findings.

A series of reforms are needed to fix the Doing Business’ “methodological integrity”. The group cited “a pattern government efforts to interfere” in scoring the previous years.

Experts criticized the Doing Business series’ lack of transparency regarding the data used in ranking calculations. They also called for an internal firewall and an external review board.

According to the report, “We were informed that multiple national governments attempted to manipulate the DB score by exerting pressure upon individual contributors.”

Staff at the World Bank have identified several countries that they think government officials instructed contributors about how to reply. The perceived threat or retaliation of government pressure may also influence scores reported by contributors even if no such explicit guidance was given.

They also demanded that the bank cease selling consultancy services to countries aimed at improving their score. This was based on an apparent conflict-of-interest.

“The World Bank should not simultaneously engage in scoring countries’ business environment while accepting payment to coach countries on how to improve their scores,” the authors wrote. These “Reimbursable Advisory Services” (RAS) were offered by the World Bank in a variety of countries. This included some of the suspects in the data manipulation investigation such as China or Saudi Arabia.

According to review, in December 2020 an internal audit revealed that nine out of fifteen staff were pressured by bank management to modify data in Doing Business’ 2018 and 2020 editions. This resulted, according to external advisers, in a rise for Saudi Arabia and China to the “most reformated” position globally. It also buoyed China’s rankings while reducing Azerbaijan to 10th place.