Public Information Notices





Public Information Notice (PIN) No. 00/81
September 20, 2000
International Monetary Fund
700 19th Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20431 USA

IMF Reviews the Experience with the Publication of Staff Reports and Takes Decisions to Enhance the Transparency of the IMF’s Operations and the Policies of its Members

Public Information Notices (PINs) form part of the IMF's efforts to promote transparency of the IMF's views and analysis of economic developments and policies. With the consent of the country (or countries) concerned, PINs are issued after Executive Board discussions of Article IV consultations with member countries, of its surveillance of developments at the regional level, of post-program monitoring, and of ex post assessments of member countries with longer-term program engagements. PINs are also issued after Executive Board discussions of general policy matters, unless otherwise decided by the Executive Board in a particular case.

On August 28 and 29, 2000, the Executive Board reviewed the experience with transparency since mid-1999 and made decisions authorizing publication of a broad range of documents to further enhance the IMF’s transparency. The Board also agreed on a set of principles for the IMF’s publication policy for country papers.

Background

1999 Discussions

The IMF Executive Board made a number of key decisions in 1999 that aimed at significantly increasing the transparency of the IMF’s own activities and of the policies of its members. Most noteworthy was the authorization of the publication of Article IV staff reports, in an experimental pilot project that provided certain safeguards against concerns raised by Executive Directors.1 The Board stopped short of authorizing the publication of stand-alone Use of Fund Resources (UFR) staff reports and had agreed to revisit this issue in light of the experience gained with transparency in other areas. It was also decided that Letters of Intent and Memoranda of Economic and Financial Policies and Policy Framework Papers (LOIs/MEFPs and PFPs) associated with UFR cases would be presumed to be published. In addition, a new instrument— a Chairman’s Statement—summarizing the important points that emerged during Executive Board discussion of Fund-supported programs—was developed for communicating IMF views. Finally, in March 1999, the Executive Board agreed to move from a 20-year to a 5-year rule for access to IMF Archives for a broad class of documents, including staff reports for Article IV and UFR discussions.

The decisions made by Executive Directors in 1999 to enhance Fund transparency aimed to balance the role of the Fund as confidential advisor in surveillance and lending operations with the desirability of providing timely and accurate information to the public. Executive Directors had emphasized the importance of greater transparency to the functioning of markets in an environment of substantially increased private capital movements and member countries’ growing integration in international capital markets. In this regard, while Executive Directors were unanimous in their 1999 decision about the benefits of transparency and an open publications policy in principle, they were also concerned that the potential costs of such a policy be carefully weighed. Given the concerns, the Executive Board asked for a review of the experience with the new initiatives so that next steps could be considered in this context.

The Current Review

The review requested by the Executive Board focused mainly on an evaluation of the experience with the publication of Article IV staff reports under the experimental pilot project. The evaluation had several components. A consultant conducted an evaluation of feedback from IMF Executive Directors and national authorities, financial markets, academics, media representatives, civil society, and IMF staff on publication of Article IV reports. 2 In addition, information was collected based on surveys of the authorities completed by IMF staff participating in Article IV missions to member countries for pilot and nonpilot project participants, on a range of publication issues.3 A pilot project web mailbox and online surveys were also established as a part of the outreach to the public. Finally, for insight on a range of concerns expressed by Executive Directors, extensive background work was undertaken by staff, including the comparison of published and unpublished reports, and comparisons of Article IV and UFR staff reports for the coverage of vulnerability and other sensitive topics.

To gauge the public response to other recently published documents including Chairman’s Statements, Public Information Notices (PINs) and the publication of Letters of Intent/Memoranda of Economic and Financial Policies, information was also systematically collected, based on surveys conducted by the IMF’s External Relations Department.

On August 28 and 29, 2000, the Executive Board reviewed the experience with transparency since mid-1999 and authorized publication of a broad range of documents to further enhance the IMF’s transparency and accountability (Table 1); it also agreed on a set of principles for the Fund’s publication policy for country papers. Executive Directors also decided that to ensure that an appropriate balance is preserved between transparency and confidentiality in the dialogue with its members, there would be periodic reviews of the implementation of publication policies, with the first review taking place after 18 months.

Executive Board Assessment

Executive Directors welcomed the opportunity to review the experience with the pilot project for the voluntary release of Article IV and combined Article IV/Use of Fund Resources (UFR) staff reports, as well as the Fund’s other transparency-related initiatives. They noted that there has been good progress in implementing these initiatives, representing considerable effort by both national authorities and the Fund.

Staff Reports for Article IV Consultations

Most Directors considered that, on the whole, the experience under the pilot project has tended to mitigate concerns initially raised, particularly with regard to adequate participation in the pilot and to the impact of publication on the Fund’s confidential relationship with its members. The review indicated that the candor of consultation discussions and reports to the Board had generally not been significantly affected. Several Directors considered that the prospect of publication had, in fact, served to improve the quality and analysis of consultation discussions and staff reports.

Notwithstanding this positive assessment, several Directors thought that the risk of loss in candor might materialize over time, in particular in the next round of consultations. These Directors also noted that widespread participation of members in the pilot project might have reflected the current favorable global economic conditions. In addition, the extent and nature of requests for modifications to staff reports suggested that concerns that a trend toward negotiated documents might emerge over time were not wholly misplaced and should be guarded against. Nevertheless, Directors generally considered that the benefits of transparency substantially outweigh the costs, and the Board agreed to adopt the policy of voluntary publication of Article IV and combined Article IV/UFR staff reports. Article IV staff reports and staff supplements would be published on the Fund’s web site with the Public Information Notice and the Executive Director’s Buff or Statement by the authorities, and cross referenced to published background documents.

Directors noted the progressively more frequent coverage of financial sector and macroeconomic vulnerability assessments in staff reports; they also considered whether these assessments should form part of the main body of the staff report or be provided to the Board in the form of confidential annexes to the staff report, or through other confidential channels without publication. On balance, the Board agreed that such assessments should remain an integral part of staff reports and that the authorities should, if needed, exercise their right to request deletions on the grounds of high market sensitivity prior to publication. This is clearly one area that will remain subject to continued review by the Board.

Staff Reports for Use of Fund Resources

Directors also considered the publication of UFR staff reports in light of the lessons from the pilot project and experience of publishing Letters of Intent/Memoranda of Economic and Financial Policies (LOIs/MEFPs). Most Directors agreed that the publication of UFR staff reports could bolster the credibility of—and public confidence in—programs as well as enhance the Fund’s catalytic role in channeling private capital flows to countries with market access and boost country ownership of programs.

Several Directors noted that publication of staff reports in a program context may have more significant economic and political consequences than in the case of Article IV reports. These Directors cautioned that markets could overreact to the publication of information in these reports, including differences of views between staff and the authorities on the staff’s assessment of risk. Nevertheless, most Directors considered that the publication of UFR staff reports would increase transparency and accountability, and the Board accordingly agreed to introduce a policy of voluntary publication of UFR staff reports. Parallel with the modalities for publication of information relating to Article IV consultation discussions, the Board also agreed that UFR staff reports and any supplements would be cross-referenced on the Fund’s web site with the published LOI/MEFP, Chairman’s Statement, and Executive Director’s Buff or Statement by the authorities.

Policy for Publication of Country Papers

Noting the overall benefits of transparency, Directors agreed to move to a general policy of voluntary publication of staff reports as well as other country papers. Although a few Directors had reservations, the Board also agreed that the Fund, in principle, should encourage publication of such documents. The Fund’s approach, Directors considered, should be able to accommodate the specific circumstances of each country, including those relating to different institutional and political contexts. For some members, publication would be a longer term objective. The Board agreed to adopt a set of principles for the publication of country papers that would also aim at:

  • ensuring that frankness in policy discussions and reporting to the Board is maintained;

  • striking the appropriate balance between transparency and confidentiality in dealing with sensitive issues that arise in the Fund’s dialogue with its members; and

  • continually improving the quality of staff reports.

Noting the point made by several Directors that, in the past, the deletions policy had sometimes lacked clarity and consistency in its implementation, Directors agreed that country papers should be subject to a uniform deletions policy. Most Directors underlined that deletions should be minimal and limited to highly market-sensitive information, mainly views on exchange rate and interest rate matters, in accordance with the policy currently in place for deletions from Article IV Public Information Notices (PINs). In cases of serious disagreement between staff and the authorities on a proposed modification to a document, the matter could be brought to the Executive Board for consideration. In any case, Directors agreed that experience with the application of the policy needed to be monitored closely to ensure its evenhanded and transparent implementation.

Within the framework of the Fund’s policy on voluntary publication, the Board decided to continue with the agreed policy, which is based on the presumption that LOIs/MEFPs would be released, as would be other documents stating a government’s policy intentions, including Technical Memoranda of Understanding with policy content, Interim Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (I-PRSP), and Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSP). Moreover, the Board agreed that these documents would be published in full, subject to the agreed deletions policy. A member that does not intend to publish these documents would explain its reasons prior to the Fund’s approval of its request for an arrangement. In addition, the Board agreed that I-PRSP and PRSPs would be published on the Fund’s web site immediately after circulation to the Board, and before the Board discussion. Such advance publication of these documents, without deletions, would be consistent with the open participatory nature of PRSPs and interim PRSPs. It was agreed that staff would not recommend Board endorsement unless they were published.

Directors agreed to continue with the presumption of publication of Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative papers, and most Directors also favored that the same practice be applied with respect to joint staff assessment of PRSPs.

Directors agreed to revisit the publication policy on the text of Fund arrangements and Technical Memoranda of Understanding after further consideration of the coverage of these documents.

Directors agreed that Chairman’s Statements should continue to be prepared to convey to the public the key points—including aspects of particular importance to the success of the arrangement—made during Board discussions of UFR cases. They also agreed that the Chairman’s Statements would include key points arising from Board discussions of papers associated with the HIPC Initiative and decisions on waivers of nonobservance or applicability of performance criteria. Directors expressed the view that the experiment with summing ups of Board discussions for use of Fund resources has been satisfactory, and agreed to continue with this practice.

The Board decided to continue the policy of voluntary publication of PINs following Article IV consultations and Board discussions on regional surveillance papers, concluding statements of Article IV and other missions representing the views of the mission team, and Recent Economic Developments, Selected Issues, Statistical Appendixes, and Reports on Observance of Standards and Codes. Also, documentation for staff-monitored programs, including mission concluding statements, LOIs/MEFPs, and staff papers would be released on the same basis

Policy Documents

Directors discussed ways to help encourage a better informed public debate on Fund policies. In particular, they agreed to facilitate the greater use of PINs following discussions on policy issues, depending on such factors as whether a policy issue had reached completion or the point where informing the public would be useful. Directors also agreed on a more systematic procedure for considering the release of policy papers based on the same factors.

Next steps

Directors agreed that as the Fund’s policy on publication has evolved incrementally in recent years, a clear public statement of the policy as it stands today will be useful to our interlocutors in the official as well as the nonofficial sector. The present discussion has gone a long way toward articulating such general policy, which will be filled out further as Directors consider specific policy issues in the next few months, such as the Financial System Stability Assessment (FSSA) and post-program monitoring. In addition, as next steps, I will ask staff to:

  • Prepare a statement on the Fund’s publication policy, including a revision of material circulated earlier, and in particular putting in context the progress that has been made, that can be made available to the public. Directors will have an opportunity to see this statement when the decisions to reflect today’s discussion are circulated for adoption by the Executive Board;

  • Work to improve the presentation and clarity of the Fund’s activities to an outside audience by (i) using clearer and more straightforward language in documents;
    (ii) providing information on the nature and purpose of the different classes of Fund documents published; (iii) considering publication of particular documents on the web site in languages other than English. The Board asked staff to come back with proposals on the publication of documents in languages other than English in the period ahead, taking into account resource costs and modalities;

  • Come back to the Board with a review of the experience with transparency of Fund operations and members’ policies after 18 months; and

  • report to the Board on the issues associated with publication of policy documents, and take stock of the experience with the deletions policy for country papers before the spring 2001 meetings.


Table 1. Publication Policies for Selected Fund and Member Documents

Document

Decision

Surveillance

 

Concluding Statements of Article IV Missions

Voluntary

Article IV Staff Reports and Combined Article IV/UFR Staff Reports4

Voluntary

Recent Economic Developments, Selected Issues Papers, Statistical Appendices

Voluntary

Financial System Stability Assessments (FSSAs)

Decision to be taken by year end

Reports on Observance of Standards and Codes (ROSCs)

Voluntary

Public Information Notices (PINs) following Article IV Consultations

Voluntary

PINs following Board discussions on regional surveillance

Voluntary

   

Use of Fund Resources

 

Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) and Interim-PRSPs

Presumed. The staff, however, would not recommend Board endorsement of a PRSP unless it was published

Joint Staff Assessments (JSAs) of PRSPs

Presumed

Letters of Intent/Memoranda of Economic and Financial Policies (LOIs/MEFPs)

Presumed

Technical Memoranda of Understanding (TMUs) with policy content

Presumed

Use of Fund Resources Staff Reports

Voluntary

Chairman’s Statements

Presumed

HIPC Summing Up

Presumed-Combined into Chairman’s Statement

HIPC Initiative Papers

Presumed

Post Program Monitoring (PPM) documents

A decision on publication policies following PPM discussions is being considered in the context of the Board discussion of Fund Facilities

Decision on waivers of non-observance or applicability of performance criteria

Presumed-Referenced in Chairman’s Statement5

   

Policy and Other Documents

 

Board Papers on policy issues

Based on whether the discussion has reached completion or the point where informing the public is deemed useful.

PINs following Board discussions on policy issues

Based on whether the discussion has reached completion or the point where informing the public is deemed useful.

Staff Visit Concluding Statements

Voluntary

Staff-Monitored Programs (SMPs)

 

Mission Team Assessments on SMPs

Voluntary

Mission Concluding Statements

Voluntary

Staff-Monitored Program LOIs/MEFPs

Voluntary

Stand-Alone Staff Reports

Voluntary


1 Publication of documents by the Fund is defined as posting the relevant documents on the Fund website.

2 Mr. Winston Cox, former Governor of the Central Bank of Barbados and Alternate Executive Director, World Bank, and recently appointed as Deputy Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Secretariat, served as the consultant. Mr. Cox interviewed the authorities, the private sector and media representatives, and members of civil society in 18 countries on the impact of the publication of staff reports, using questionnaires designed in collaboration with IMF staff to reflect the concerns of Executive Directors. He also interviewed Executive Directors for their informal views on publication issues as well as IMF mission chiefs and other IMF staff.

3 The IMF’s External Relations Department surveyed the major news wires; nongovernmental organizations; financial market participants affiliated with major U.S. investment banks; local (Washington, D.C. metropolitan area) university professors specializing in the fields of economics, business and political science who have a better than average understanding of the multilateral institutions based on long time exposure to Fund publications and contacts with Fund personnel; and key specialists who have worked on IMF-related issues for a number of years. In addition, the consultant interviewed representatives of more than fifteen major international banks, five local banks, nearly twenty newspapers and press agencies, two rating agencies, and various other non-official Fund observers in various parts of the world.

4 Including staff reports for interim discussions with the authorities issued to the Board for information.

5 In the rare case of a request for a waiver by the authorities on a lapse of time basis, the public would be informed of the nature and purpose of the waiver, and Board decision taken, in a press release.


IMF EXTERNAL RELATIONS DEPARTMENT

Public Affairs    Media Relations
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