The World Bank corrected two recent reports ranking nations by ease of doing business, adjusting the scores for China and three other countries based on an internal audit following staffers' allegations of "undue pressure" by management to alter ratings.
In the 2018 report released in October 2017, China should have been shown dropping seven places to 85th rather than remaining 78th, the lender said in a review released on Wednesday. Corrections to data for the 2020 report, released in October 2019, meant that Saudi Arabia would not have been the top improving economy, while Azerbaijan would have moved up and been one of the top 10 improvers.
The United Arab Emirates's score for 2020 should have been slightly lower but its ranking would have been unchanged at 16th, according to the review, which didn't find any specific irregularities with other nations.
The changes impacted metrics including taxes and credit access. The irregularities were brought to the attention of the management of the Development Economics department and triggered a suspension and probe of the publication announced on Aug. 27. The review was carried out by senior management in place since June who weren't involved in the years that were in question, and fixes will be reflected in the next report due in March.
Members of the team that put together the Doing Business report cited undue pressure -- both directly and indirectly -- to manipulate data for 2018 and 2020, the World Bank said. The data changes were "irregular" because they were made outside of the appropriate review process and were not justified by the publication's methodology or by any new information provided to the team, the World Bank said.
In recent years, there have been questions about the integrity of the rankings. Paul Romer quit in 2018 as the World Bank's chief economist after questioning changes to Chile's order in the Doing Business report.
Wednesday's report didn't identify those responsible for the irregularities nor their possible motives. The issues, including possible misconduct by current or former bank staff, were reported to the institution's internal accountability unit for further review.
The press office of the Washington-based development lender declined to elaborate on the allegations of pressure when contacted by Bloomberg News, saying personnel issues are confidential.
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