Over the past decade, the IMF has taken a number of steps to enhance its transparency and release more information about its members’ policies. In 2001, to spur the release of more information about the IMF’s work, its Executive Board decided to allow publication of country documents on a voluntary basis (meaning with the consent of the country concerned) and more systematic publication of policy papers and associated Public Information Notices. That decision also defined safeguards—such as rules allowing deletions of highly market-sensitive material—to maintain frank policy discussions with members and help strike an appropriate balance between transparency and confidentiality. In a September 2003 review of the Fund’s transparency policy, to provide further impetus, the Board endorsed a move to a policy of voluntary-but-presumed publication for most reports. All staff reports and members’ policy intention documents (such as letters of intent relating to IMF-supported policy programs) and most policy papers now fall under this regime.
How has this worked? In a June 2005 review, the Board welcomed the continued rise in publication rates, which had reached 77 percent of all country staff reports, and the narrowing of regional disparities, with substantially more emerging-market and developing countries now publishing their reports. At the same time, Directors expressed concern about longer average time lags between the Board discussion and publication, and noted that extensive document modifications—deletions and substantive corrections—have, in some cases, had adverse consequences for the timeliness of publication and staff resource requirements.
Most Directors believed that increased publication had not led to a significant erosion of candor. A few, however, felt that the staff review paper did provide evidence of a loss of candor. Directors in general viewed candid policy dialogues between IMF staff and members, and frank information in staff reports to the Board, as critically important. In this regard, several reiterated that member countries must remain assured that the IMF is upholding its primary role as confidential policy advisor and that publication does not undermine confidence in this relationship.
Operational policy changes
What is the appropriate response to recent trends? In considering staff recommendations for more timely publication, preserving candor, and reducing implementation costs, a majority of the Board saw merit in clarifying the criteria and procedures for document modification and introducing incentives for prompt publication. Directors also reaffirmed the strict prohibition on negotiating staff reports with country authorities, given the Fund’s unique mandate in surveillance and use of Fund resources. Similarly, they stressed that document modifications should not be used to promote publication and that prolonged negotiations on such modifications should generally be avoided. At the same time, Directors encouraged staff to maintain a close working relationship with country authorities and represent their views fairly and accurately in staff reports.
Some Directors underscored that transparency should not be equated with the publication of IMF documents. In their view, a more important kind of transparency was that practiced by country authorities, including through the timely, and widely accessible, publication of data, and the dissemination of information on, and the rationale for, policy decisions and intentions.
For more information, refer to IMF Public Information Notice No. 05/116 on the IMF’s website (www.imf.org).
Christine Ebrahim-zadeh Conny Lotze
Maureen Burke Lijun Li
Senior Editorial Assistants
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