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The International Monetary Fund

International Focus

imf

Background and transparency of the IMF

The International Monetary Fund was founded at an international conference in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire in July 1944. It was created together with the World Bank as a means to promote monetary cooperation between countries and achieve a more stable global economy.

The IMF provides policy advice, helps countries design policy programs and issues loans when “sufficient financing on affordable terms cannot be obtained to meet net international payments.” The loans are funded by quota contributions from member countries.

The IMF states that “Transparency helps economies function better and makes them less vulnerable to crises,” and argues transparency of both member countries and the IMF will lead to better policy-making and accountability. But the IMF has been criticised for being a secretive organisation, and though it has reformed its policies on transparency throughout the years, critics say it is still not letting the light shine through.

The International Monetary Fund has different policies guiding the publication of a list of documents about its structure and interactions with member countries. They exist under the umbrella of an principle adopted last year:

“The IMF’s approach to transparency is based on the overarching principle that it will strive to disclose documents and information on a timely basis unless strong and specific reasons argue against such disclosure.”

IMF documents pertaining to member countries are encouraged for disclosure by the Fund but not mandated [1]. The publication of policy documents is subject to Executive Board approval, and Board meeting minutes and papers are released three or more years after they are issued internally [2].

Moreover, the Fund does not recognise the right to information – only the documents it lists can be accessed. There is no appeal mechanism for requesters who have been denied information [3].

These and other restrictive polices have brought forward a great deal of criticism and demand for more transparency. In turn, last year, the IMF altered its policy to allow access to more documents and reduce the lag time for public access to board documents [4].

Member country documents are still not mandated, however, as the information handled is “highly sensitive and delicate information… whose inappropriate or untimely disclosure could be extremely damaging to countries, markets and institutions” [5].

But, as the Fund is moving towards disclosing more documents more quickly, it is also permitting more redaction.

“Deletions are generally considered at the request of the authorities of the country that is the subject of the report,” however, deletions by other members - if they are somehow affected by the report - are now permitted [2].

Demands for transparency

In December 1994, the Mexican peso was devalued, sending investors scrambling to sell the Mexican equity and debt securities they had. Some found they could not trade in their pesos, as foreign currency reserves were not enough.

The United States, Canada, the Bank for International Settlements and the IMF awarded $48.8 billion in bailout money [8]. By then, the crisis had already spread to South America in what became known as the “Tequila Effect.”

During the bailout efforts, attention focused on the IMF: How much did they know about Mexico’s financial situation? What was their plan now? The 1997 Asian economic crisis followed and by then it had become clear the IMF had not only to demand more data from its member countries, but also divulge what data they had to the public.

“A natural fallout from the sequence of crisis and response was that reforms that, in another epoch would have proceeded quietly, without much public fanfare, now required active and constant public engagement,” then IMF Secretary Shailendra J. Anjaria said in a 2002 IMF speech on transparency [5].

In response, the Fund took measures to increase the amount of information available.

“The IMF used to be accused of lacking transparency and accountability,” says a 2001 IMF brief. “But recent reforms have effectively addressed that issue. A series of initiatives since the mid-1990s have opened most IMF activities to public scrutiny, including its reports on the economies of a majority of its member countries, its lending activities, and many of its internal policy deliberations.”

One of the main reforms was creating data standards for IMF countries to disseminate their economic and financial data to the public: the Special Data Dissemination Standard (SDDS), which guides countries that seek access to international capital markets on sharing data (the SDDS Bulletin Board on the IMF website shares data from subscribing countries); and the General Data Dissemination System (GDDS), “which aims to provide a framework for other countries to improve their data compilation and dissemination” [10].

Policies governing transparency today

In October 2008, a Global Transparency Initiative report showed the IMF lagging significantly behind best practice in its transparency policy [3]. In January 2010, the IMF announced it would be shifting its focus from “why publish to why not” and that it would also increase the scope of documents that could be reviewed and shorten the lag time to obtain them [4]. But for Freedom of Information advocates, the 2010 reforms did not represent a significant change [11]. Information sharing by member countries continues to be voluntary and demands for greater transparency continue.

A list of 24 types of documents is covered by the Transparency Decision, which means they are published “unless strong and specific reasons argue against such disclosure” [2]. These include Country Reports (the IMF shifted from asking members’ consent for publication to publishing unless it objects); Executive Board meetings minutes (released after five years); and policy documents (Board papers relating to the IMF’s income, financing or budget) [4].

Operation

Because there is no appeals process for requesters, it’s difficult to assess the actual operation of the IMF’s disclosure policies.

The IMF has provided figures on the percentage of countries that choose to disclose some of the information that pertains to them: 98 per cent of member countries agreed to the publication of Public Information Notices in 2009; 93 per cent published the Article IV staff report [1].

Though after 2010 it has look to publish documents sooner, “some documents may be published with a delay, for instance, to reduce the market sensitivity of the information, or to avoid undermining the deliberative process.”

It has also begun to allow ‘third party deletions,’ meaning that, though the document may be published sooner, it may be heavily redacted [2].

Recent developments

After the resignation of Dominique Strauss-Kahn - who was alleged to have assaulted a chambermaid - the search for a new Managing Director of the IMF began.

Emerging economies such as China, Brazil and South Africa, and organisations such as the Bretton Woods Project called for more transparency in the selection process, and for representation based on merit [12, 13].

The World Bank chief is traditionally American and the IMF chief European - a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ between the United States and Europe that has existed since the IMF’s founding.

China backed French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde rather than her lone competitor, Mexican central bank governor Agustín Carstens. Lagarde was appointed IMF Managing Director on 28 June [15] in a process that has been criticised as being highly secretive [16].

Bibliography


[1] IMF. “Factsheet: Transparency at the IMF,” March 24, 2011. http://www.imf.org/external/np/exr/facts/trans.htm[2] IMF. “Guidance Note on the Fund’s Transparency Policy,” December 23, 2010. http://www.imf.org/external/np/pp/eng/2010/032510.pdf

[2] IMF. “Guidance Note on the Fund’s Transparency Policy,” December 23, 2010. http://www.imf.org/external/np/pp/eng/2010/032510.pdf

[3] Global Transparency Initiative. “Right to information at the IMF: How to improve the Fund’s transparency policy,” October 2008. http://www.ifitransparency.org/uploads/7f12423bd48c10f788a1abf37ccfae2b/IMF_Transparency___Policy_Briefing___Final.pdf

[4] IMF Survey Magazine. “IMF to Increase Amount and Timeliness of Information,” January 8, 2010. http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/survey/so/2010/POL010810A.htm

[5] Anjaria, Shailendra J. (IMF) “The IMF and Transparency: Moving Forward,” Global Policy Forum, October 28, 2002. http://www.globalpolicy.org/component/content/article/209/43013.html

[6] IMF, “History,” http://www.imf.org/external/about/history.htm

[7] “IMF Members' Quotas and Voting Power, and IMF Board of Governors,” IMF, July 1, 2011. http://www.imf.org/external/np/sec/memdir/members.aspx

[8] United States General Accounting Office, “Mexico’s Financial Crisis: Origins, Awareness, Assistance and Initial Efforts to Recover,” February 1996. http://www.gao.gov/archive/1996/gg96056.pdf

[9] Ortiz Martínez, Guillermo, “What Lessons Does the Mexican Crisis Hold for Recovery in Asia?” IMF, June 1998. http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/fandd/1998/06/ortiz.htm

[10] IMF Staff. “Transparency.” Issues brief, IMF, April 2001. http://www.imf.org/external/np/exr/ib/2001/042601b.htm

[11] McIntosh, Toby. “IMF Barely Modifies Disclosure Policy,” Freedominfo.org, 9 January, 2010. http://www.freedominfo.org/2010/01/imf-barely-modifies-disclosure-policy/

[12] Wroughton, Lesley. “UPDATE 1-Emerging nations push for say on next IMF chief,” Reuters, 17 May 2011. http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/05/17/strausskahn-succession-idUSN1718743820110517

[13] Bretton Woods Project. “European countries plot heist of IMF top job once again,” 10 June, 2011. http://www.brettonwoodsproject.org/art-568594

[14] Elliot, Larry. “IMF: In the running,” The Guardian, 19 April, 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2011/apr/19/imf-running

[15] Johnson, Pam. Lagarde Takes Helm of IMF Amidst Multiple Crises. IPS News, June 28. http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=56273

[16] AFP. Lagarde praised, but secretive IMF process panned. June 29, 2011. http://www.expatica.com/fr/news/french-news/lagarde-praised-but-secretive-imf-process-panned_159544.html

Page last modified on 30 sep 11 11:39

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