Recent Timeline for the Doing Business Scandal
What follows is a timeline of events leading up to the World Bank’s decision to stop publishing the Doing Business report because of manipulation of the data used in the 2018 and 2020 reports. The timeline relies primarily on the report by the WilmerHale law firm, which is available here. I encourage anyone who wants to express an opinion about the actions of Kristalina Georgieva to read the WilmerHale report first. Failing that, and at a bare minimum, they should at least read this summary of its findings.
I was responsible for the 2017 report but was not involved in any of the events that make up this timeline. They do show that I was right to express deep concern about the ease with which country rankings could be manipulated and the likelihood that this type of manipulation could be undertaken inside the World Bank, but I will not elaborate here on my findings from the 2017 and earlier reports. Justin Sandefur has a helpful post that goes into the some of the specifics.
The Doing Business Report that has a year in its title is prepared during the prior year. In particular, the report for 2018 was prepared during during calendar year 2017 and released in October.
DB stands for Doing Business.
The unit that produces the DB report is part of DEC, which stands for Development Economics.
The draft of the 2018 Doing Business Report produced by DB staff assigns China a rank of 85, down from 78 in the report from the previous year.
After being notified about China’s rank, someone who worked for World Bank President Jim Kim emails Shanta Devarajan, the Senior Director for DEC, saying that China is not “coming out OK” and asking whether there was a plan for addressing China’s chronic complaints about the report.
Staff from the office of President Kim meet with Mr. Devarajan and someone from the Doing Business team to discuss the option of grouping together data for China and Taiwan or China and Hong Kong. Because both Taiwan and Hong Kong are ranked higher than China, the rank for a pooled entity would be higher than China’s rank on its own.
Staff working for President Kim follow up with an email request for the actual rank of a combination of China with Hong Kong and for a combination of China with Macao.
The DB team does not collect data on Macao so it cannot respond to the second request. Mr. Devarajan signs off on a combination of China and Hong Kong that would have rank 70 instead of 78.
Kristalina Georgieva becomes directly involved, telling Mr Devarajan and DB staff that she is overseeing the process of deciding what to do. She vetoes the idea of combining data for China with Hong Kong.
DB staff suggest a change from taking the average of the results for two cities in a country to using just the city with the highest score. Ms. Georgieva asks for calculations of China’s rank under this approach. This approach raises the raw score for both China and its competitors, so China’s rank does not increase. (It is possible that this was a form of passive resistance by the DB staff; they could have anticipated that a change that boosted scores for many countries was unlikely to change China’s rank.)
The next day Ms. Georgieva asks Simeon Djankov, a fellow Bulgarian working as an outside contractor as her special adviser to guide the report to final publication. During his previous work for the Bank, Mr. Djankov helped develop the Doing Buiness report.
Mr. Djankov works with DB staff on a different approach. Instead of adjusting the formula used to combine raw data inputs for all countries, they look for specific inputs from China alone that they can increase. They settle on three such inputs. Then the DB staff “unlock” the raw data and increase these three measurements for China, then redo the calculations. They email Mr. Djankov and report that these changes increase the rank for China up from 85 back to 78.
Mr. Djankov replies by email, “Excellent work. Please go ahead with report publication.”
Mr. Devarajan writes to Ms. Georgieva that “he can live with” the changes to the data. She writes back telling him to “wrap this up” and come by her office. When he does, she thanks him for doing his “bit for multilateralism.”
The following weekend, Ms. Georgieva goes to the home of a DB manager to pick up an advance copy of the printed report and thanks the manager for helping to “solve the problem” with China.
The Role of Ms. Georgieva and Mr. Djankov
When asked by investigators from WilmerHale, Mr. Djankov claimed that “he had no role in revising the report. Ms. Georgieva similarly denied asking him to get involved.”
Mr. Devarajan and the head of DB both asserted the contrary, a position that the investigators “found more credible, especially given that emails corroborated Mr. Djankov’s involvement and that the Bank’s access records demonstrated that Mr Djankov was physically present in the Bank’s offices in the run-up to the publication to Doing Business 2018 despite his claim that he was in London during the vast majority of the relevant period.”
According to the investigators from WilmerHale, Mr. Djankov also claimed that he had no memory of the email quoted above in which he tells the head of DB to proceed with publication and “could not explain why he was approving the data changes or authorizing the publication of the report.” (Because he was not an employee of the World Bank and was acting only as an advisor to Ms. Georgieva, he could exercise this authority only on her behalf.)
2018 and Beyond
In January of 2018, the World Bank announces that Mr. Djankov has become an employee of the Bank. He eventually is asked by Ms. Georgieva to take over the position of Senior Director of DEC that had previously been held by Mr. Devarajan. (Many details about Mr. Djankov’s position in the Bank are opaque, including when exactly he took over as head of DEC.) The WilmerHale investigators report a near universal critique of Mr. Djankov’s management style, which involves bullying and intimidation.
In the first months of 2019, President Kim resigns from the Bank and Ms. Georgieva is appointed interim president.
During 2019, in the lead up to the publication of the 2020 DB report, Mr. Djankov is involved in the manipulation of DB data for other countries.
On October 1, 2019, Ms. Georgieva becomes the managing director of the IMF.
Whistle-blower complaints about manipulation of DB data prompt an internal investigation that culminates in a decision in August of 2020 to put the publication of the 2021 DB report on hold.
Mr. Djankov leaves the World Bank in April of 2020.
In December of 2020, DEC publishes its internal inquiry into manipulation of the DB data.
In September of 2021, WilmerHale publishes the results of its inquiry into participation by members of the Board of the World Bank in the manipulation. As interim President of the World Bank during 2019, Ms. Georgieva was a member of the Board.
The WilmerHale investigation into manipulation by World Bank staff continues.