IMF Seeks Comment on Relations with Parliamentarians

24 February 2004

The International Monetary Fund has asked for public comment on recommendations that the Fund staff increase their interaction with parliamentarians.

While supportive of expanded IMF dialogue with parliamentarians, the recommendations of an internal working group also suggest limitations. The staff is cautioned against doing anything with legislators that would subvert the bargaining authority of government officials. In addition, the staff is urged not to pressure the government into outreach with legislators.

The report of working groups of IMF directors does not deal with an existing limitation on sharing Fund documents with parliamentarians. An opinion letter from the IMF general counsel’s office warns that national officials must not share IMF documents with legislators.

The recommendation for more outreach to parliamentarians does not include specific suggestions for implementation or set benchmarks. After saying that "Outreach should be expanded," the first recommendation goes on to say only, "There is scope for greater consideration of how some well-focused activities, in cooperation with local authorities or established parliamentary organizations could enhance the IMF’s effectiveness." The recommendations suggest that the IMF should "prioritize its outreach, given existing resource constraints."

The report provides a few bits of information on the extent of contact now between Fund officials and parliamentarians, citing a survey that, "Just two-thirds of resident representatives and less than half of mission teams reported meeting with legislators in 2002."

The names of the working group members are not disclosed.

The Jan. 15 announcement requested that comments be submitted by April 30. The report is available at: http://www.imf.org/external/np/ed/2004/ecnl/index.htm.

Guidelines for IMF Contact with Parliamentarians

The working group does not appear to suggest major change in the status quo regarding what kinds of contact with legislators is appropriate. While saying that mission chiefs and resident representatives should be encouraged to meet with parliamentarians, the working group stipulates that "care should be taken to avoid getting drawn into negotiations."

One key portion of the report states:

"In program countries, as indicated in the 2003 Operational Guidance on the New Conditionality Guidelines, staff should encourage and assist the authorities in broadening support for sound policies. In particular, the note suggests that staff should encourage the authorities to engage in a transparent participatory process in developing a policy framework, and should be prepared to assist the authorities in this process, including by giving seminars and meeting with various interest or political groups (e.g. parliamentary committees). Directors noted that it was important to avoid creating the impression that the dialogue is an opportunity to negotiate the program or to discuss program negotiations between the staff and the authorities. Directors cautioned that a dialogue between the Fund and legislators should not inadvertently dilute the authorities’ ownership of reforms. While the Fund should certainly listen to the views of the legislature, the responsibility for building ownership for reforms rests with the government. Directors also cautioned that the Fund should not pressure the government to engage in outreach with legislators, nor should the government be perceived as reaching out to legislators at the behest of the Fund."

No Discussion of IMF Counsel Restrictions on Sharing Documents

The report does not address IMF policies that prohibit representatives of member governments from sharing confidential IMF documents with national legislators.

A 2003 speech presented by a top IMF lawyer emphasized that members have an obligation to protect the confidentiality of IMF documents, an obligation that applies to national officials if they are provided 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 following three paragraphs provide the salient extract:

"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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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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