IMF Has No Plans to Post Draft Revision to Disclosure Policy

21 September 2009

The International Monetary Fund board will discuss possible changes to the IMF disclosure policy later this fall, but still has no plans to disclose any proposed changes.

Staff review of the IMF Transparency Policy is underway following a consultation this spring, and the staff may or may not make reform proposals, according to Silvia Zucchini, an IMF public affairs officer. Staff recommendations will not be made public, consistent with a Fund policy that is itself often criticized by transparency advocates.

The release of such draft documents was among a set of recommendations for changes recently made by a civil society coalition.

One of the persistent complaints about the IMF policy—letting countries veto the release of Article IV staff reports about their country—arose during a press conference after China refused to release the latest Article IV report on China.

The IMF allows countries to suppress release of the full report, although not a summary of the report known as the Public Information Notice (PIN). The PIN on China was released July 22.

At a July 23 press briefing, a reporter asked whether the full report would be released.

Its the decision of the Chinese authorities whether or not they choose to publish that report, and theyre currently considering that issue, replied Nigel Chalk, the Funds Mission Chief for China and the Assistant Director in the Asia and Pacific Department, during a press briefing on July 23, 2009. He noted that China has in the past released the reports. The last such report, for 2006, was released. The latest one, however, has still not been made public. At times, the full report is released well after the PIN is announced by the Fund.

The Fund does not publish a list of the countries that decline to allow publication of their Article IV reports.  In 2008, 82 percent of the Article IV reports, done on 102 countries, were released, according to IMF statistics.

The IMF recently posted a summary of the comments received during the consultation.

Also, transparency was the subject of a September 17, 2008, blog post by Reza Moghadam, Director of the IMFs Strategy, Policy, and Review Department. He stressed the importance of openness and lauded the IMF’s progress before giving a few hints about the ongoing review.

Moghadam concluded by highlighting three “challenges” for the current policy:

  • Reducing long publication lags. How can [the IMF] simplify the cumbersome procedure for obtaining consent?
  • Maintaining the integrity of reports. The IMFs analysis and advice must be, and [must appear] to be, convincing, candid, and independent. To this end, there is a long-standing and fundamental principle that Fund reports are not negotiated documents.
  • Making the Funds archives more accessible. The current setup for searching the archivesin particular the need to travel to Washington to gain full access to themis outdated. [The IMF is also considering whether it] can make some archived material available more quickly to the public.

Report by Civil Society Urges More Transparency

A recent report by the New Rules for Global Finance Coalition, prepared as part of a consultation on IMF Governance Reform, makes a variety of recommendations on transparency.

The report says, Transparency is essential to genuine accountability, whereby all stakeholders can access all relevant information and processes in a timely manner.

The IMF has become a more transparent institution, with most of its own policy documents published on its website, according to the report. Throughout the consultations, however, it emerged that transparency has been applied unevenly within the Fund. Moreover, the Fund has not incorporated its policies and procedures into formal documents that can be disclosed. This represents a serious impediment to transparency, it was noted, as outsiders do not even know what should be disclosed.

Documents related to executive board proceedings still cannot be obtained within a reasonable time, according to the report. Stakeholders from countries such as Argentina and the UK reported that they had requested the statements of their respective executive directors under their own countries’ Freedom of Information Acts, but were denied access as, they were told, Fund documents cannot be disclosed by national administrations. Clearly, this affects the ability of stakeholders to reach out to their representatives at the Fund. In the words of one participant How can we engage our executive director if we dont even know what he says at the board?

The content and terms of program negotiations are often known only to a restrictedcircle of policy officials, the report said. When negotiations are finalized, program documents may be disclosed only with the consent of the relevant country authorities. In those countries with shaky democratic foundations, it may still be the case that the relevant authorities object to their publication. Participants, however, noted that the IMF could exert significant leverage vis–vis those authorities, not dissimilar to what the international community has already done in other cases (e.g., transparency in extractive industries).

The civil society participants in the consultation urged the IMF to consider timely disclosure of executive board minutes and transcripts (e.g., after six months).

More broadly, they said, the institution should operate under the general principle of the presumption of information disclosure. Exceptions should be based upon clear indication of harm that would result if case-specific information were to be disclosed, and an independent mechanism should be available to which to appeal for exemption. Moreover, documents should be accessible off-site through the internet, in contrast with the current practice that requires interested parties to come to Washington to consult the Archives.

Finally, Civil society has strongly argued in favor of the timely disclosure of draft policy papers. The disclosure of such papers should take place before decision by the executive directors so as to allow stakeholders to provide their comments and input prior to board deliberations. Papers should be translated in the language of the relevant member country so as to enable the greatest possible feedback.

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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