IMF Counsel Outlines Restrictions on Sharing Documents With Legislators, Public

1 May 2003

The International Monetary Fund prohibits representatives of member governments from sharing confidential IMF documents with national legislators, according to a speech presented by a top IMF lawyer.

In essence, the IMF lawyer emphasized that members have an obligation to protect the confidentiality of IMF documents. That requirement of confidentiality is transferred to national officials if a government’s executive director at the fund provides them with Fund materials.

The IMF counsel also said nations must take steps to make sure that documents are not obtainable by the public through national freedom of information laws.

In addition, the guidance takes the view that executive directors and their governments may not provide documents to members of national legislatures. Violations of these conditions, the guidance points out, would constitute a breach of a member’s obligation to the Fund.

The document, prepared May 7, 2003, by William E. Holder, Deputy General Counsel, is called "PUBLICATION POLICIES OF THE FUND. It is available at:
http://www.imf.org/external/np/leg/sem/2002/cdmfl/eng/holder.pdf

Relevant Extract From IMF Document

The salient extract is: "When Fund documents are issued to the Executive Board, an Executive Director, as part of his official duties, may communicate both the information and the documents to his national authorities, that is, to the member that appointed or elected him. Thereupon, the authorities of the member have an obligation to protect the confidentiality of Fund documents that are communicated to them. This obligation derives from the Articles. Specifically, Article IX, Section 5 states. `The Archives of the Fund shall be inviolable:’ Even though physically in the hands of a member or some other authorized party, the document remains part of the archives of the Fund, and for an indefinite time.

Accordingly, when Executive Directors distribute Fund documents to national authorities, that distribution is on the understanding that those documents are to be given the same security and confidential treatment as required by the status indicated on the paper. The view could be taken, also, that disclosure of the document without the consent of the Fund would be a breach of the member’s obligations to the Fund. This means, therefore, that the member must prevent any voluntary or forced disclosure, including disclosure under national ‘freedom of information’ acts.

In addition, the Fund takes the view that this distribution by Executive Directors to national authorities extends only to the executive branch (and central bank) of government, not to the member’s legislative branch. In addition, the Executive Board, can decide to attach restrictive conditions even on the distribution of confidential documents to Executive Directors – including, for example, that the document be returned to the Secretary after the agenda item and not copied nor sent to capitals."

By Toby McIntosh

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In this column, Washington, D.C.-based journalist Toby J. McIntosh reports on the latest developments in information disclosure in International Financial and Trade Institutions (IFTI).
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