IMF Board Requests Research on Legality of Mandatory Disclosure

1 July 2003

The International Monetary Fund Executive Board has asked its staff to study whether there are legal impediments to requiring countries to disclose certain documents, according to informed sources.

The research effort is an outgrowth of a debate at a June 27 Board meeting, held to review its disclosure policy.

One topic on the table, for example, was whether to move to a slightly stronger disclosure standard concerning the Article IV staff report, a key assessment document whose disclosure is now voluntary. At least several dozen governments currently refuse to release their Article IV reports. It has been proposed to modify the policy so that disclosure of the Article IV reports would be "presumed," and that governments seeking to keep them secret would have to explicitly seek Board approval for nondisclosure. Also, more disclosure is being sought by governments when crisis situations force them to seek "exceptional access" to IMF support.

At the meeting, the G-8 countries and others advocated putting more pressure on member governments to release documents that formally are considered to be country-owned documents. Objections were raised, however, by other Board members who argued that IMF’s founding charter prohibits the Board from mandating disclosure.

As the Fund has edged toward increased disclosure, it has applied staff pressure to encourage disclosure, and in the case of the Poverty Reduction Strategy Plans exercised some coercive pressure. The Fund has told governments that unless they consent to the publication of their PRSPs, the Board will not approve them. Such a de facto mandatory disclosure is consistent with the goal of encouraging public participation in the creation of the plans, and was not challenged as violating the Articles of Agreement.

By Toby McIntosh

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ABOUT IFTI WATCH

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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