Lessons from the Real-Time Assessments of Structural Conditionality
March 20, 2002
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IMF Board Discusses the Real-Time Assessments of Conditionality
On April 3, 2002 the Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) conducted further discussions on the real-time assessments of conditionality as part of an ongoing review of conditionality attached by the IMF to the use of its financial resources.
The IMF is reviewing the conditions it attaches to its financing. The aim is to ensure that conditionality in Fund-supported programs is designed and applied in a way that reinforces national ownership and sustained implementation of country economic reforms. To this end, the current review emphasizes the need to focus conditionality on those policies that are critical to achieving the macroeconomic objectives of the programs supported by the Fund and to establish a clear division of labor with other international institutions, especially the World Bank. The Executive Board discussed earlier papers on this topic in March 2001 (see Public Information Notice 01/28), in July 2001 (see Public Information Notice 01/92), in November 2001 (see Public Information Notice 01/125), and in January 2002 (see Public Information Notice 02/26).
Executive Board Assessment
Executive Directors welcomed the opportunity to take stock of the ongoing review of conditionality by reviewing recent experience with the interim guidelines that have been in effect since September 2000. They generally agreed that this experience is broadly positive, while pointing to some areas where implementation could be further strengthened. The central objectives of the review-streamlining and focusing conditionality on measures that are critical for achieving the program objectives, and fostering national ownership of Fund-supported programs for the purpose of enhancing the success and effectiveness of programs-continue to serve as useful benchmarks for assessing progress and for gleaning lessons from the application of conditionality in a variety of cases.
Directors reaffirmed that the purpose of streamlining conditionality is to enhance the success and effectiveness of programs by concentrating on those conditions that are critical to achieving the program's macroeconomic objectives. Directors welcomed the increased focus of conditionality on the core areas of fiscal, financial, and exchange rate policies, and stressed in particular the importance of retaining structural conditions in the fiscal domain, especially on improving expenditure management and enhancing revenue performance. Financial sector conditions, centered on strengthened supervision, were also seen as important, with real-time assessments highlighting the need to ensure that such measures are internally consistent and aimed at an overall strengthening of the financial system.
Directors agreed that some structural conditionality will likely remain necessary outside the Fund's core areas, when justified by the magnitude of its impact on the fiscal and external balances. In this context, they noted that measures in a variety of areas, such as privatization, governance, and public enterprise and civil service reform, had been covered by Fund conditionality, based on their critical impact on restoring the soundness of a country's public finances. Against this background, a number of Directors saw scope for further streamlining, especially in non-core areas, but a number of other Directors considered it to be preferable to err on the side of caution to ensure that all important measures are adequately covered. In discussing how best to balance the need for inclusion of critical conditionality in non-core areas with the goal of parsimony, Directors stressed that the reasons for including structural conditionality beyond the Fund's core areas should be clearly explained and clearly justified in every case in relation to the goals of the program, while noting that these goals may vary from one case to the next.
In this context, Directors agreed that, in Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF) arrangements, structural measures oriented primarily toward achieving growth and poverty reduction objectives can be considered macro-critical. The need for more work in defining and promoting sources of growth in PRGF countries, including the scope for stronger emphasis on financial sector development, was highlighted in this regard. Some Directors considered that growth-enhancing policies may also be macro-critical to restoring medium-term balance-of-payments viability and debt sustainability in the context of Stand-By and Extended Arrangements. Directors agreed that, in countries suffering sudden and massive outflows of private capital, a critical mass of frontloaded reform may be required to restore market confidence. They stressed that conditionality should nevertheless be focused on reforms that tackle the root of the crisis, and a number of Directors cautioned against overloading the program with numerous conditions that could undermine implementation capacity.
Directors noted that the need to take account of differences in country-specific circumstances has been the most important reason for variation in the scope and coverage of conditionality among countries in applying the interim guidelines thus far. These circumstances have typically included a possible need to establish a track record of strong policy implementation or achieve a critical mass of front-loaded reforms, or the need to take into account limitations in administrative capacity. Most Directors considered that experience thus far pointed to a broadly satisfactory use of the modalities of conditionality. It was noted, however, that, in the context of the overall review of conditionality guidelines, it would be useful to clarify the appropriate use of prior actions in light of today's discussion and the understandings reached by Directors on this issue at their meeting on January 28. While recognizing that variation in the extent of conditionality is the consequence of the wide and unique circumstances of member countries, Directors noted, however, that the inclusion or exclusion of conditions was not always clearly linked to these circumstances. A number of Directors suggested that further progress in narrowing variation among country experiences to ensure greater uniformity of treatment would be desirable, although the difficulty of developing more specific guidelines toward that end was recognized. Some Directors emphasized that a numerical approach to gauge how conditionality is being applied is less important than an approach that stresses the application of the right conditionality in individual cases.
The determination of whether any specific action is critical to the success of a particular program is inherently a matter of judgment. Directors emphasized that staff reports should, in any event, provide enough information to facilitate such judgments. In most cases, the magnitude of the fiscal impact is likely to be a key factor, suggesting that the weaker and less direct a measure's impact is on the fiscal accounts, the stronger will be the need to justify its inclusion in the program's conditionality. Directors also suggested various ways to further improve the flow of information on program conditionality in staff reports and at Executive Board meetings, and to guide judgments on the appropriateness of including or excluding certain measures.
While welcoming progress, Directors stressed that further strengthening and clarification of the collaboration with the World Bank will be key to effective streamlining of conditionality. They looked forward to undertaking a more detailed review of that process this summer, and also agreed that it would be useful to address this issue in the Joint Board Committee on Bank/Fund Collaboration. Directors underscored that Fund-supported programs should be consistent with an overall country-led framework, which would often require support from the World Bank and other agencies in addition to the Fund. The nature and extent of collaboration would necessarily be more extensive in PRGF countries, but, in all cases, the appropriate coverage of conditionality could be assessed only by taking proper account of the role of each agency that is involved.
A number of Directors expressed concern that the Fund's initiative in streamlining and focusing conditionality might not result in an overall reduction in conditionality when all international financial institutions were considered, and they asked for further careful assessment and monitoring of this aspect. At the same time, a number of Directors were concerned that areas no longer covered by Fund conditionality might not be adequately covered by other agencies, particularly the World Bank. To ensure that such concerns can be adequately addressed, Directors stressed the need for careful documentation in staff reports on the division of labor between the Fund and the Bank, the structure and timing of Bank conditionality, the progress achieved, and the implications for the fiscal situation and the program in general.
Directors agreed that it would be useful to consolidate the progress that has been made in this review, and, in that context, to next consider the development of new guidelines on conditionality. Building on the Interim Guidance Note of September 2000 and the experience gained since then, these guidelines would provide a framework that will enable the Fund to apply conditionality parsimoniously and consistently, based on national ownership, with the objective of enhancing the effectiveness of Fund-supported programs. Directors also looked forward to periodic reviews of the evolving experience with Fund conditionality to ensure the consistent implementation of the guidelines over time, as well as their contribution to greater program effectiveness.
IMF EXTERNAL RELATIONS DEPARTMENT