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The IMF and Civil Society

CSO Engagement at Spring Meetings

May 1, 2009

The 2009 Spring Meetings attracted active civil society participation, with over 300 representatives from civil society organizations (CSOs) representing 30 countries, including low-income countries.

The Spring Meetings once again offered space to CSOs to discuss topics related to the work of the Fund and Bank. Participation was a record for the Spring Meetings. Most CSOs attended the Civil Society Policy Forum: there were over 30 policy dialogue sessions organized by either the Bank, Fund, CSOs, or jointly. These sessions addressed topics such as the impact of the financial crisis on low-income countries, the economic outlook for sub-Saharan Africa, the IMF’s transparency policy, and the Policy Support Instrument (PSI).

CSO representatives were most focused on IMF gold sales. Advocacy groups Oxfam and ONE mobilized their supporters to send petitions and emails to the MD urging the Fund to use as much money as possible from the planned gold sales to benefit the poorest countries. On April 23, IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn met musician-activist Bob Geldof, who handed him the ONE petition. They discussed what more can be done to help low-income countries respond to the crisis.

Implications of the G20 Summit

The main event of the Forum was the IMF/World Bank session on the G20 Summit and implication of the outcomes for developing countries. Fund speakers were African Department (AFR) Director Antoinette Sayeh and Strategy, Policy, and Review Department (SPR) Deputy Director Hugh Bredenkamp. Ingrid Srinath, Secretary General of the CSO umbrella group CIVICUS, told the audience that civil society is in disbelief that the main objective of the G20 process and follow-up seems to be to get back to business as usual. According to Srinath the only silver lining to the crisis is that it provides an opportunity to create a new economic system.

The session was followed by a reception for CSOs hosted by Strauss-Kahn and World Bank President Robert Zoellick. Strauss-Kahn, in his opening remarks, highlighted what is at stake for developing countries during the crisis. He briefed CSOs on the ambitious work program the G20 gave the Fund to implement, including the new focus on low-income countries.

Consultation on transparency and other sessions

IMF events organized for CSOs included an informal roundtable as part of the consultation process on the ongoing IMF Transparency Policy review. CSOs urged the Fund speakers Tessa van der Willigen and Ulric Erickson von Allmen (SPR) to publish transcripts of Board meetings, write clearer Public Information Notices (PINs), make the IMF staff directory public, translate more documents into other languages than English, and to adopt a better consultation process.

In another session, Norbert Funke and Paulo Drummond (AFR) presented the Regional Economic Outlook for sub-Saharan Africa, including the IMF’s assessment of the macroeconomic impact of the global financial crisis and the impact of the crisis on financial systems in the region.

Tom Dorsey (SPR) presented preliminary findings of the ongoing PSI review, and Roger Nord (AFR) shared insights into the PSI experience at the country level. Matthew Martin of Development Finance International provided comments based on recent research his organization conducted for Oxfam International comparing the PSI experience with experiences under other circumstances—continued Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF) programs or no IMF–supported program.

CSO sessions at the Civil Society Policy Forum

IMF staff also participated in sessions organized by CSOs. Thanos Catsambas of the IMF’s Fiscal Affairs Department participated in a session organized by Transparency International USA on how the Fund and Bank will assure accountability for the promised funds from the G20. Catsambas gave a presentation on fiduciary controls and transparency initiatives at the IMF, including the IMF’s safeguards assessments of central banks, the three transparency codes and enhancement of transparency at the IMF itself.

Jan Kees Martijn (SPR) participated in a session to discuss a recent Global Campaign for Education study that claims that Fund-supported programs restrain spending on education. Martijn pointed out the factual and conceptual inaccuracies of the report, e.g. the claim that the 14 LICs surveyed had hard inflation targets of less than 3 percent. Martijn countered by pointing out that currencies in 11 out of 14 countries were either pegged to the dollar or the euro, which had nothing to do with Fund conditionality.

SPR’s Christian Mumssen participated in a session on the IMF response to the financial crisis, co-sponsored by Eurodad, Third World Network, Oxfam International, ActionAid, and Jubilee USA Network. CSO speakers argued for increased policy space and spending in low-income countries by adopting counter-cyclical policies. Mumssen agreed with these points but said that the big question was how to do this if there is no money. He explained to the audience how the Fund is trying to help its low-income member countries with these challenges.

Finally, SPR’s Hervé Joly participated in a session, co-organized by German Church Development Service (EED), Eurodad, and Afrodad, on whether too much stimulus-based debt will pose a challenge to the Debt Sustainability Framework.

AFR Director Antoinette Sayeh gives a presentation on the impact of the crisis on Sub-Saharan African countries to CSOs.

World Bank President Zoellick and IMF Managing Director hosted a reception for CSOs on April 23.