IMF Making Little Progress on Release of Article IV Reports

15 February 2008

The International Monetary Fund appears to have reached a plateau when it comes to releasing its key document assessing member countries.

Despite its stated intention to make all Article IV reports public, only about four in five is released. About 20 countries still oppose issuance of the annual or biannual report assessing their economic policies, including Brazil, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, and Malaysia.

The publication rate of the Article IV report dipped slightly to 83 percent in 2007, from 85 percent in 2006 and 82 percent in 2005, according to recently released IMF figures.

IMF policy continues to allow governments to veto the disclosure of Article IV reports, annual or biannual assessments of economic policy, and associated documents. Officials had indicated their hope that governments would gradually permit the release of the IMF’s evaluative documents, but that appears not to be happening, according to the just-released annual report on "Key Trends in Implementation of the Fund’s Transparency Policy."

When the IMF adopted its "voluntary but presumed" release policy in 2003, the numbers of country reports disclosed was 67 percent. That level grew by 2005, but has been stable ever since.

In addition, the eight-page statistical report indicates that the number of reports released with deletions is trending slowly upwards. In 2007, 11 percent of all Article IV and the related "Use of Fund Resources" (UFR) reports were modified to remove material related to exchange rate issues (8 percent) or financial sector issues (3 percent). The comparable rate in 2006 was 10 percent, and in 2005 was 6 percent. In 2005, the IMF made some policy changes to address the findings in a Fund report that more than one-third of the published reports "incorporate substantive changes" as a result of corrections and deletions requested by the subjects of the reports.

Most of the deletions were made by developing countries, as has been the case traditionally. Some 23 percent of the developing country reports had material deleted. The rate of deletion was also high among governments in the Middle East (30 percent) and in Central and Eastern European countries (26 percent).

"Western Hemisphere" governments have the lowest rate of disclosure for Article IV and UFRs, at 48 percent, lower than ever, followed by the Middle East at 77 percent.

The report also shows that the lag time on releasing reports has remained basically steady, averaging about 37 days for 2007 after discussion by the IMF board.

The report lacks commentary to explain the data and as usual does not indicate which governments opted to veto disclosure or seek deletions. Rather, the final table lists the 132 members that have published both Article IV reports and related statements by the IMF chairman during the past two years.

The data also hints at some slippage in the disclosure of other reports, such as Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers, country-prepared documents on intended policies that were released 69 percent of the time in 2007, substantially down from 88 percent in 2006 and 79 percent in 2005. Disclosure of PRSPs also is "voluntary but presumed," however the IMF sought to provide an incentive by stipulating that the Managing Director would not recommend PRSPs for approval unless governments agreed to their release.

The Global Transparency Initiative recently expressed concern about the IMF decision to postpone review of Transparency Policy, originally scheduled for 2008. The organization recently published a guide to IMF disclosure policy written by the Bretton Woods Project highlighting a variety of deficiencies in the IMF policies contrasted with the GTI Transparency Charter for International Financial Institutions.

The IMF recently postponed for one year the planned 2008 review of its disclosure policy, delaying the likelihood of change in the immediate future. The GTI protested the delay.

By Toby McIntosh

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Filed under: 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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