What's new in ADB's revised board code of conduct

The Asian Development Bank has revised its board code of conduct. Photo by: Devex

MANILA — The Asian Development Bank has made revisions to its code of conduct for board officials, extending duties and requirements previously only applicable to or explicitly expected of bank staff. This includes defining expected behaviors at work, disclosing financial and business interests outside ADB, and reporting suspicious misconduct of staff or fellow board members.

Under the previous version of the code of conduct, board directors, their alternates, and the bank president were expected to “treat their colleagues and staff with courtesy and respect.” But it fell short of specifying that they avoid behavior that constitutes bullying and harassment, which are already included in the bank’s code of conduct for staff, according to the group created to review and recommend revisions to the bank’s code of conduct for board members. The members of the group are also part of the bank’s board of directors.

In a statement, an ADB spokesperson told Devex that the amendments, which were supported and approved by the entire board in January 2020, were made to ensure the board’s code of conduct was in line with best practices. The revisions follow updates made to the code of conduct for bank staff in 2017.

“The revision reflects ADB’s commitment to ensuring its policies are aligned with the highest standards of ethical conduct essential to effectively and credibly deliver on its mandate,” the spokesperson said.

Previously, only bank staff were required to submit an annual declaration of compliance, declaring any assets or interests that might be in conflict with their duties at ADB, and to report suspicions of misconduct carried out by colleagues.

ADB’s definition of bullying

“Bullying” ... may include persistent, unwarranted or unconstructive criticism, personal abuse and/or ridicule, either in public or private, which humiliates or demeans the individual targeted, gradually eroding his or her self-confidence or intending to do so. Criticism, disapproval, negative performance assessment and similar appraisal, appropriately conveyed, do not, by themselves, constitute bullying or harassment.

The revision also explicitly prohibits board members from retaliating against a person who provided information about a suspected misconduct or who participated in an ethics or internal dispute resolution process, as well as in exerting undue influence in personnel and procurement issues. It also now requires board officials to notify ADB’s ethics committee in the event they are arrested, charged, or convicted of a criminal offense.

Amendments to complaint procedures

Meanwhile, amendments were made as per procedure for ADB staff complaints against alleged bullying, harassment or retaliation done by a director, his or her alternate, or the ADB president himself. This includes allowing the head of the Office of Anticorruption and Integrity to refer to the Ethics Committee staff complaints about workplace misconduct by these senior officials. It also allows the Ethics Committee to consider matters referred by the Office of Anticorruption and Integrity that may involve potential misconduct by a bank director, his or her alternate, or the president. Previous rules did not cover these.

ADB’s definition of harassment

“Harassment” is any unwarranted or unwelcome behavior, verbal, psychological or physical, that interferes with work or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment ... Sexual harassment is any unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favors or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature ... or which is made or suggested to be a condition of employment, promotion or other personnel action or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment.

The group also issued amendments that allows the Ethics Committee to proceed with a full investigation on a reported misconduct without board approval, but with the understanding that the Committee was able to determine that the complaint “is sufficiently credible, verifiable and material such that it will proceed to initiate a full investigation.”

Previously, the Ethics Committee needed board approval to do a full investigation, but the group said this might have had “negative implications for the due process and the privacy rights of both the complainant and the subject.”

The group also updated references to reflect that the Office of Anticorruption and Integrity — and no longer the Office of the Auditor General — has been in charge of investigating staff integrity and ethical complaints since September 2009.

Amendments allowing the head of ADB’s Office of Anticorruption and Integrity to refer a complaint to the Board Ethics Committee meanwhile were meant to clarify procedures. However, the ADB spokesperson said “it is not anticipated that this revision will result in a significant change for the Board Ethics Committee.”

“OAI assesses and investigates allegations of misconduct by persons covered by the Code of Conduct applicable to staff. As a result of the latest revisions, there is now also a clear procedure for OAI to refer complaints they may come to receive involving persons covered by the Board Code of Conduct to the Board Ethics Committee, which is the body responsible for addressing such matters under the Board Code of Conduct,” the spokerson said.

About the author

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    Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.