Chapter

CHAPTER 7 Transparency, Accountability, and Cooperation

Author(s):
International Monetary Fund
Published Date:
September 2003
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Many of the reforms introduced at the IMF in recent years reflect a recognition that the institution’s effectiveness depends largely on its ability to be transparent in developing and providing policy advice to its members; accountable for the advice it has given and lending decisions it has taken; responsive to lessons drawn from past experiences, particularly in program design; open to outreach and dialogue beyond official circles; and cooperative with other members of the international community in pursuing our common objective of promoting broadly shared, sustainable growth. These remain key objectives for the IMF on an ongoing basis.

Transparency of the IMF and Its Members

The IMF’s Executive Board has adopted a series of measures that aim to improve the transparency of members’ policies and data, and to enhance the institution’s own transparency and external communications (see Box 7.1). In taking these steps to enhance the IMF’s transparency, the Board has had to consider how to balance the Fund’s responsibility to oversee the international monetary system with its role as a confidential advisor to its members.

As part of its regular reassessment of this balance, in September 2002 the Board concluded a review of the experience with the IMF’s transparency policy and discussed next steps. Directors commended the increased availability of information about the institution and its assessments of members’ policies, but emphasized that transparency is not an end in itself. The IMF’s publication policy, Directors noted, formed an integral part of members’ efforts to improve the transparency of their economic policies, with a view to increasing both accountability and the availability of reliable information to the public, including on the IMF’s actions to encourage and assist its member countries. Thus, Directors considered the impact of transparency on countries’ economic policies and on market participants as an important element in assessing the effectiveness of the IMF’s publication policy, and they looked forward to further review.

The increased publication of country documents under the IMF’s transparency policy was welcomed by the Board. Nearly all policy intention documents of countries requesting IMF financial assistance are published, and, in more than 50 percent of cases, country authorities consent to the voluntary publication of staff reports on Article IV consultations or the use of Fund resources.

In moving forward, Directors stressed that the IMF’s transparency policy should not lessen the candor of the institution’s dialogue with its members nor of the staff’s reporting to the Board. While the experience in this respect appeared to be broadly satisfactory so far, many Directors were concerned that staff members sometimes face pressures to nuance report presentations, even while preserving the substance of assessments. Staff should continue to work to ensure a proper balance between candor and confidentiality, Directors emphasized.

Systematic and timely publication of country staff reports can help to mobilize public support for policy actions and enhance the IMF’s accountability, Directors noted. In particular, release of Article IV staff reports can increase the effectiveness of the institution’s surveillance. Release of staff reports on the use of Fund resources can, by providing the broader context for IMF-supported programs, strengthen the credibility of—and public confidence in—these programs, while also boosting program ownership.

Against this background, Directors welcomed the progress made under the policy of voluntary publication, and agreed that the release of staff reports should continue to be encouraged. In this context, they discussed the possibility of moving from a policy of voluntary to presumed publication for Article IV consultation reports and staff reports on the use of Fund resources. They noted that the observed high and rising publication rates for country staff reports already attest to the underlying positive momentum that has persuaded more and more members to agree voluntarily to publish staff reports. They considered that Directors’ continued support would remain vital for further strengthening this momentum. In light of these considerations, it was agreed to reconsider a possible Move to a policy of presumed publication at the next Board review of trasparency policy, to take place in June 2003. It would be useful and constructive, Directors agreed, for the IMF’s governing bodies to be apprised periodically of the progress made with respect to release of staff reports within the present voluntary guidelines.

Box 7.1Key Elements of the IMf’s Transparency Policy for Documents

  • Voluntary publication of Article IV (country) and Use of Fund Resources staff reports.

  • The presumption that Letters of Intent/Memoranda of Economic and Financial Policies and other documents stating a government’s policy intentions would be published; however, a member may notify the Board of its decision not to consent to IMF publication of a document.

  • Publication of Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs), Interim-PRSPs, and PRSP progress reports is required for management to recommend endorsement by the Executive Board.

  • Voluntary publication of Public Information Notices (PINs) following Article IV consultations and Board discussions on regional surveillance papers, concluding mission statements, background documentation for Article IV consultation discussions, and documentation for staff-monitored programs.

  • A presumption of publication of staff reports on policy issues, together with PINs (except on issues dealing with administrative matters of the IMF, for which publication can be decided on a case-by-case basis).

  • Deletions to published documents should be limited to highly market-sensitive information, mainly exchange rate and interest rate matters. Corrections should be limited to factual changes and characterizations of the authorities’ views.

  • The member concerned has the right of reply and may publish a statement accompanying the staff report commenting on the staff or Executive Board assessment or both.

  • Public access is given to the IMF’s archives to Executive Board documents that are over 5 years old, to minutes of Executive Board meetings that are over 10 years old, and to other documentary materials that arc over 20 years old, subject to certain restrictions.

A range of views was expressed on the possibility of authorizing voluntary release of Letters of Intent (LOIs) and Memoranda of Economic and Financial Policies (MEFPs) after their circulation to the Board, but prior to the Board meeting. A number of Directors considered that advance publication of LOIs /MEFP s on a voluntary basis in response to the member’s request could enhance public debate on the member’s policy intentions. However, most Directors preferred to retain the current policy, in order not to pre-empt the approval by the Board of the understandings reached between a member and IMF management.

Directors considered the policy that Public Information Notices (PINs) for Article IV consultations concluded on a lapse-of-time basis should not include a reference to this procedure to avoid possible public misunderstanding as to the Board’s ownership of the assessment. If consultations are concluded on a lapse-of-time or short-form basis, many Directors felt that this should be acknowledged in the P IN with an appropriate explanation, consistent with the objective of transparency, and the present policy would be adapted accordingly. Directors agreed that, in lapse-of-time cases, the “Executive Board Assessment” section of a PIN would be approved by the Board, based on the draft PIN circulated separately to the Board three days in advance of the lapse-of-time deadline.

In addition, Directors agreed to (1) allow references to overdue obligations in Article IV PINs and Chair statements, after a press release on such matters has been issued; (2) allow the release of information on amended repurchase expectations for the Contingent Credit Line and the Supplemental Reserve Facility through a Chair statement, PIN, press release, or staff report, if agreed to by the member; and (3) add Financial System Stability Assessments and standalone HIPC Debt Sustainability Analyses to the items in the publication decision that are authorized for publication.

On the publication of Board discussions of policy issues, Directors welcomed that the current policy has considerably widened public access to information about IMF policies. Most Directors supported a move to a presumption of release of policy papers and policy Public Information Notices that include the summing up of the Board meeting, but many Directors saw merit in publishing papers on administrative matters also.

Concerning the experience with implementing the policy on deletions and corrections in staff reports, Directors noted that the number of deletions had been limited and broadly confined to highly market-sensitive material, consistent with the policy. While there was broad agreement that the present deletions policy should be maintained, many Directors suggested that the policy be applied flexibly. In this context, a number of Directors proposed that consideration be given at the June 2003 review to the possibility of deleting highly politically sensitive information. Most Directors endorsed the staff proposal to allow deletion of highly market-sensitive performance criteria and structural benchmarks that could be communicated in side letters, as a useful step in harmonizing the application of the policy across documents.

The high volume of corrections in Article IV and Use of Fund Resources reports was seen mainly as reflecting the effort by both members and staff to provide the public with accurate information. A number of Directors nevertheless saw scope for greater parsimony and rigor in this regard, and also noted that corrections lead to publication lags.

Timely access to Executive Board minutes was an important element of the effort to improve the transparency of the IMF’s decision making, Directors noted. They supported the proposal to reduce the current 20- year lag, although they had different views as to the appropriate shortening. While there was significant support for a shortening to 5 years of access to minutes of policy discussions, many Directors considered that, for country issues, the prospect of public access after 5 years might unduly restrain the candor of the Board debate. It was therefore agreed to shorten the period for access to minutes of Executive Board meetings to 10 years.

Review of the IMF’s External Communications Strategy

In March 2003, the Board reviewed the IMF’s external communications strategy, the third such discussion within five years.1 The review took stock of recent progress in increasing the IMF’s openness and enhancing its responsiveness to outside views, including concerns and criticism. Despite the significant improvements made, Directors agreed that challenges remain. They considered that continued efforts are needed to improve further the public’s understanding of the IMF’s work, so that it can better serve its member countries.

The IMF’s relatively high media visibility offered a valuable opportunity to carry out external communications more effectively. Directors observed that although the IMF’s work—based on its mandate to safeguard the macroeconomic and monetary foundations of economic growth—is vital to economic welfare and rising living standards worldwide, much of its work tends to attract controversy. This is not least because a prominent part of the IMF’s job is to advise countries on how best to face economic reality in difficult circumstances, including when they need the IMF’s financial support. In this context, Directors considered that improving understanding of the IMF’s work and respect for its competence, and enhancing the credibility of its policies, are key objectives of its communications—and more so than increasing its popularity. A continuing, concentrated effort to improve understanding of the institution would, over time, be valuable in increasing support for its work in member countries even if progress may seem incremental and modest. Directors generally considered that more can be achieved by better focusing and prioritizing external communications activity within the existing budgetary envelope.

Focus and Coordination

The IMF’s communications should be sharply focused, Directors agreed, and the main themes should be derived from guidance provided by the International Monetary and Financial Committee and from Executive Board decisions and work plans. Directors recognized that external communications are a shared responsibility of the Executive Board, management, and staff, and that the External Relations Department (EXR) necessarily plays a crucial role in ensuring that the IMF’s external communications are well developed, coordinated, and delivered. The department’s responsibilities include keeping staff informed about the key issues for external communications, drafting and revising material for public statements, and coordinating and advising on public speaking opportunities and interactions with the media. With the inevitable involvement of a rising number of IMF players in such activities, Directors believed that it would become increasingly important to ensure that consistent messages are being delivered.

Availability and Accessibility of Information

The IMF’s transparency policy has led to the release of a greatly increased volume of policy and country papers and summaries of Board discussions, Directors observed, with the IMF’s external website being the primary vehicle for dissemination. The IMF also publishes vast quantities of research and statistical data as well as comprehensive information on its finances. Directors acknowledged that the sheer volume of information released by the IMF, together with its technical and specialized content, increases the importance of providing clear and brief summaries and explanatory material for nonspecialists. Directors supported ongoing efforts to improve the drafting, editing, and summarizing of IMF material intended for public dissemination. They considered, however, that more needs to be done to make such material understandable—including by presenting it in plain English and reducing jargon. In a similar vein, Directors called for continued efforts to enhance the communication skills of all IMF staff, which would be important not only for improved interactions with the public but also for enhancing the learning culture of the institution more broadly. Many Directors underlined that senior staff across the IMF could make a positive contribution in external communications, and consideration is needed how best to advance in this respect.

Proactive Outreach and Dialogue

Directors shared the view of management and staff that the purposes of outreach and dialogue include listening and learning as well as informing and providing explanations for interlocutors. They acknowledged that the IMF now, more actively than in the past, seeks to take into account the views of its critics as well as supporters in developing and revising IMF policies, practices, and advice. The considerable expansion in recent years of the institution’s communications with nonofficials, particularly legislators and civil society organizations, was welcomed (see Box 7.2). Going forward, Directors agreed that, given its limited resources, the IMF, like other international organizations, would need to be selective and set priorities for outreach and dialogue.

Most Directors supported giving priority to communications with legislatures, labor unions, and the private sector, in coordination with national authorities. They also supported a more active role for IMF resident representatives and mission chiefs in outreach, and noted the important impact of management speeches as well as visits by management to member countries. Directors welcomed the staffs proposal to prepare a guidance note for staff outreach to civil society organizations. While encouraging staff to highlight the IMF’s successes, Directors considered that the IMF’s public image and accountability can only benefit from the institution’s willingness to learn lessons from its experience and to openly acknowledge mistakes when they do happen. Although Directors were generally supportive of prompt, vigorous responses to biased or inaccurate media reports regarding the IMF and its activities, they recognized that a key objective should be to provide consistent long-term messages to opinion leaders throughout the world.

Box 7.2

Engaging in Outreach and Dialogue

The purposes of the IMF’s engagement in outreach and dialogue beyond official circles include listening and learning as well as informing and persuading interlocutors on Fund-related matters. Inviting comments from the public on IMF policy proposals via the external website and in specially convened meetings and conferences has become routine—some recent examples include Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper and Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility reviews, the development of the HIPC (debt reduction) policy, the review of Fund conditionality, the establishment and work program of the Independent Evaluation Office, and the proposal for a sovereign debt restructuring mechanism. In this way, the IMF supplements its formal processes of accountability to member countries—represented on the Board of Governors and Executive Board—through engagement with organizations that reflect the views of a variety of people

Legislatures

The IMF has begun to increase its outreach to parliamentarians to promote better understanding of the Fund and its policies. Among other activities, it has started to hold seminars for legislators in individual countries. In March 2003, the IMF organized a seminar in Cameroon with legislators, provincial governors, representatives of civil society, and the media, to explain the role of the Fund in general and the IMF-supported program in particular. In April 2003, a similar event was organized with Ghanaian legislators. The IMF is also working jointly with the Parliamentary Network on the World Bank (an informal group of parliamentarians from both industrial and developing countries who are interested in development issues), including participating in visits by parliamentarians to PRSP countries. The Managing Director participated in the fourth annual conference of the Parliamentary Network, which included an hour-long question and answer session with legislators. In addition, management and staff have often met at IMF headquarters with visiting groups of legislators. The Managing Director has also spoken in capitals to members of national parliaments. In addition, the IMF has provided training to legislators.

Private Sector

The IMF’s interactions with the private business and financial sector at the country level often include meetings by its mission teams and resident representatives with employer associations, private companies, banks, and other financial institutions. A recent survey of country outreach indicates that resident representatives, on average, meet with business and trade associations once every two months. Globally, the International Capital Markets Department maintains an extensive informal network of communications with private financial market participants. And at the management level, the semiannual meetings of the Capital Markets Consultative Group provide opportunities for informal discussion of key topics of mutual interest.

Civil Society Organizations (CSOs)

In recent years the IMF has significantly increased outreach and dialogue with civil society—labor organizations, some business associations, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), faith-based organizations, and academic and policy research institutions (“think tanks”). IMF staff and management now meet often with such organizations both at headquarters and in member countries. In low-income countries, the PRSP process has firmly established CSOs as participants in formulating and implementing better policies to fight poverty. In many Article IV consultation missions, efforts are made to consult with broad elements of civil society on the economic situation. The terms of reference for IMF offices abroad and resident representatives often include maintaining contact and dialogue with CSOs. This dialogue covers a wide range of issues, including macroeconomic policy and other related policies, structural adjustment and the poor, debt relief and poverty reduction, trade and capital account liberalization, globalization and the governance of the global economy (including discussions on new rules for the global financial system), promoting good governance, and fighting corruption.

Staff contact with national labor unions in the context of Article IV or program discussions has become much more common in recent years. About 70 percent of IMF missions had contacts with labor unions or other labor representatives at least once in the previous two years, for the purposes of hearing the views of labor unions and explaining and discussing the IMF’s policy advice. In addition, the IMF maintains a constructive dialogue with the international labor movement, represented mainly by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) and the World Confederation of Labor, through workshops, regional seminars, and leadership meetings held in Washington, D.C., jointly with the World Bank. The most recent leadership meeting was held in October 2002 and included 90 trade union representatives from 40 countries.

Although the IMF does not have an NGO consultative group, it has increased its efforts at dialogue with NGOs engaged in research and policy advocacy on development, debt, environmental, and other related economic issues. The IMF’s practice is to respond positively, resources permitting, to all requests from NGOs interested in engaging in constructive dialogue but to concentrate upon communications with NGOs having a leadership role.

At the international level, a number of major advocacy NGOs are in regular touch with IMF staff to discuss policies and programs. Numerous meetings on a variety of issues ranging from debt relief and PRSPs to transparency, governance, and the environment take place regularly in Washington and in Europe (about 310 meetings with NGOs and other civil society organizations were held at IMF headquarters in 2002). NGOs are also invited to participate actively in reviews of IMF policies—recent examples include their involvement in the conditionality, transparency, trade, and PRSP reviews—and are often invited to conferences organized around these reviews.

To the extent that resources and other priorities allow, the IMF organizes workshops and seminars for NGOs (especially in the southern hemisphere), often in collaboration with resident representatives and regional offices, to explain the IMF and the role it plays in the formulation of policies in program countries. The IMF also sends a quarterly newsletter to NGOs and other CSOs by mail and e-mail to some 700-800 recipients around the world in English, French, Spanish, and Russian and posts it on the Fund’s external website.

The IMF has had limited, sporadic communications and meetings with faith-based organizations in the past, which have generally been cordial and constructive. The World Council of Churches has shown renewed interest in dialogue with the Fund, and the proposed work program of the World Faiths Development Dialogue includes efforts to promote the Millennium Development Goals and to engage faith groups in Poverty Reduction Strategy consultations.

The IMF communicates with academic researchers and “think tanks” to broaden and deepen the understanding among influential policy analysts of the Fund’s policies, as well as to bring outside views and expertise into the Fund. The Economic Forum series also serves to expand policy dialogue. The IMF organizes 10 to 12 Economic Forums at headquarters each year to promote informed discussion on issues confronting the Fund and the international community. Recent topics have included the euro, IMF governance, direct foreign investment in China, social safety nets, capacity building, crisis early warning systems, and transparency.

Broadening the Reach of IMF Communications

The significant contribution to communications and outreach being made by the availability of vast amounts of information on the IMF’s external website was welcomed by Directors. They favored continued development and expansion of the website, which should focus on the quality of information provided and maintain its ease and speed of access for users everywhere. Directors supported efforts to expand distribution of the IMF’s print publications, especially in developing countries. They also welcomed efforts under way by EXR and area departments to better plan and coordinate the IMF’s external communications programs for specific regions and countries, taking into account the differing circumstances and perceptions from one country to another and without ignoring any region. Within a given country, Directors noted, the impact of IMF communication will vary across groups and institutions, and communication efforts must be geared to the particular background and concerns of different audiences.

Publications in Languages Other than English

Directors discussed the conclusions of a report from an interdepartmental task force on IMF publications in languages other than English (the IMF’s working language). They agreed that increased publication of IMF documents and other information in languages other than English, including local languages as well as the most widely used international languages, can be very helpful for increasing understanding and support for IMF policies and advice as well as fostering country ownership. For country policy intentions documents available in local languages in the original, the practice of linking to authorities’ websites, or posting on the IMF website in the case of the major languages for which links exist on the homepage, should be encouraged. In other cases, translation costs may be significant. Most Directors considered that this should be accommodated within existing budget ceilings on an as-needed and case-by-case basis. They encouraged the staff to identify low-cost options and cases where the benefits of publishing translated material are likely to be high relative to costs.

Role of the Executive Board

Directors expressed a range of views on the role of Executive Directors in external communications. Several Directors noted the complexities involved in playing a prominent public relations role, as this entails balancing their roles as representatives of their countries and as officers of the IMF. The suggestion was made that Directors could be guided by a code of conduct that the Board itself could subsequently develop.

The Independent Evaluation Office

The Independent Evaluation Office (IEO) was established in July 2001 to conduct objective and independent assessments of issues of relevance to the mandate of the IMF, in a way that complements the institution’s internal review and evaluation functions. Through this work the IEO is expected to enhance the learning culture within the IMF, strengthen the institution’s external credibility, promote greater understanding of the IMF’s work throughout the membership, and support the Executive Board’s institutional governance and oversight responsibilities.

The IEO’s work program for FY2002/2003 consisted of three evaluation projects: (1) the prolonged use of IMF financial resources and its implications; (2) the role of the IMF in three recent capital account crisis cases (Brazil, Indonesia, and Korea); and (3) fiscal adjustment in IMF-supported programs in a group of low- and middle-income countries. The evaluation report for the first project—on prolonged use of IMF resources—was broadly endorsed by the Board in September 2002 and subsequently published. The report offered a series of recommendations designed to minimize prolonged use and its adverse consequences. These recommendations covered the rationale for IMF-supported programs (including the need for alternative methods of signaling an IMF “seal of approval” to other donors and creditors); program design; strengthening political information and analysis; and human resource management. IMF management set up a task force to propose how best to address issues raised by the evaluation. IEO also provided the task force with comments received through its process of external outreach. The report of the task force was discussed by the Executive Board in March 2003, and a specific set of follow-up steps was agreed. (See Chapter 4 for details.)

The evaluation report on the three capital account crisis cases was sent to management for comments, and simultaneously to the Evaluation Committee of the Executive Board, in April 2003. The evaluation report on fiscal adjustment in IMF-supported programs was scheduled to be circulated in May 2003.

Looking forward, the work program for FY2004 was finalized by the Director of I EO following an extensive program of consultation with a broad range of internal and external stakeholders and was subsequently reviewed and welcomed by the Board. The work program includes: (1) an evaluation of the IMF’s experience with Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers and the Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRSP/PRGF); (2) an evaluation of the IMF’s role in Argentina, assessing the 2000 and 2001 programs but also taking a longer view of the IMF’s involvement from 1991 onwards; and (3) an evaluation of IMF technical assistance.

The PRSP/PRGF evaluation is already under way. It is being conducted along with a parallel evaluation of the World Bank’s experience by its Operations Evaluation Department. The final terms of reference have been posted on the IEO website, following a process of consultation with internal and external stakeholders on an earlier issues paper. Issues papers for the other two evaluation projects will be posted on the website for comments early in FY2004.

The IEO has undertaken wide-ranging outreach efforts, including building ties with the academic and aid evaluation communities and representatives of civil society. A series of seminars was organized to disseminate the results of the first evaluation project on prolonged use of IMF resources, which was generally received by external stakeholders as a candid and constructive assessment. The IEO website is now being used by a wide range of subscribers, and significant efforts have been made to ensure that key outputs of the office are available in languages other than English.

Strengthening the Voice and Representation of Developing Countries

In September 2002, the Development Committee requested that the World Bank and IMF prepare a background document to facilitate consideration, at its Spring 2003 Meeting, of ways to broaden and strengthen the voice and participation of developing countries and transition economies in the two institutions. The strength and effectiveness of participation in decision making at the institutions has several dimensions. The most straightforward of these is voting strength. Another important dimension is the degree to which countries are fully equipped to use the available opportunities to present their views at the institutions. This latter dimension of “voice” is quite important for large multicountry constituencies—especially those with a significant number of countries with IMF-supported programs or HIPCs, given the volume and complexity of associated issues requiring their input.

During their initial discussion of the joint background paper on this topic, Directors underscored the importance of enhancing the voice and participation of developing and transition countries. They highlighted the initiatives that have already been taken to enhance the voice of developing countries and the listening culture in the IMF—including the ongoing development of the PRSP process, strengthened support for capacity building, and emphasis on country ownership of reforms—and looked forward to building on these ongoing efforts. Because rapid progress can be made on a number of possible administrative measures for enhancing voice, the Board has already begun to consider steps that could be taken in the short run to address staffing and technological constraints of the two sub-Saharan African constituencies, whose needs are most pressing. Progress on these issues will allow the Development Committee to focus on the voting strength dimension of voice and participation, which requires further careful consideration and consensus-building efforts among the membership in the period ahead. The IMFC will have an opportunity to return to these issues at the 2003 Annual Meetings, based on a status report from the Executive Board on its discussions in connection with the Thirteenth General Review of Quotas.

The IMF’s “external communications” do not include its communications with the authorities and officials of member countries. Also excluded are its communications with other international organizations. The first Board discussion of the external communications strategy was in July 1998 and the second in February 2000.

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