Press Release: IMF Adopts Safeguards Assessments as a Permanent Policy
April 5, 2002
The Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has reviewed experience during the past two years with safeguards assessments of central banks of borrowing member countries, and adopted safeguards assessments as a permanent policy.
In March 2000, safeguards assessments were adopted on an experimental basis as an ex ante mechanism to help prevent the possible misuse of IMF resources and misreporting of information. The purpose of safeguards assessments is to identify vulnerabilities in a central bank's control, accounting, reporting, auditing systems and legal structure that may impair the integrity of central bank operations. The Executive Board's review of the safeguards policy was aided by an independent assessment by a panel of external experts of experience so far with safeguards assessments.1
At the conclusion of the Executive Board's discussion on March 14, 2002, Anne Krueger, First Deputy Managing Director and Acting Chair, summarized the policy discussions:
"Directors considered the safeguards policy, which was adopted on an experimental basis in March 2000 as an ex ante mechanism to strengthen the IMF's framework of measures to safeguard the use of Fund resources and minimize the possibility for misreporting, to be an unqualified success. The policy has been widely accepted by central banks, and has helped improve their operations and accounting procedures while enhancing the Fund's reputation and credibility as a prudent lender. Directors, therefore, supported the staff proposal that the policy be adopted as a permanent feature of Fund operations. They expressed their gratitude to the panel of experts for their contribution in shaping the safeguards policy.
"Despite improvements in central banks' safeguards over the past few years, Directors noted that the safeguards assessments completed to date have revealed significant vulnerabilities in the controls employed by a number of central banks of borrowing member countries, which could lead to possible misreporting to the Fund or misuse of central bank resources, including Fund disbursements. In particular, safeguards assessments have revealed that (i) a substantial number of central banks' financial statements are not subject to an independent and external audit conducted in accordance with internationally accepted standards; (ii) several central banks have poor controls over foreign reserves and data reporting to the IMF; and (iii) a number of central banks have adopted an unclear financial reporting framework and inadequate accounting standards.
"Directors noted that these findings indicated that significant, but avoidable, risks to Fund resources may exist in the cases concerned. Accordingly, some of the findings have warranted corrective measures under program conditionality, ranging from prior actions to policy commitments in letters of intent. Directors stressed, however, that Fund conditionality in these cases should be limited to areas highly relevant to safeguarding the use of Fund resources. They welcomed the fact that central banks have generally embraced the staff recommendations and that many have already taken steps to implement them. Directors advised the staff to tailor the assessments and remedial measures to the specific circumstances of individual countries.
"Directors agreed that the coverage of safeguards assessments should extend to countries that augment an existing Fund arrangement or that have a Rights Accumulation Program, and a number favored its extension to countries with stand-alone Compensatory Financing Facilities and to countries with outstanding obligations to the Fund that do not currently have a Fund-supported program. Some Directors also favored its extension to countries with staff-monitored programs (SMPs), but others felt otherwise since these cases do not involve the use of Fund resources. Most Directors agreed that countries under an SMP should be encouraged to undergo safeguards assessments on a voluntary basis, as in many cases these programs are followed by formal arrangements with the Fund.
"While recognizing that the safeguards assessments constitute part of the Fund's broader efforts to improve transparency in member countries, Directors stressed that safeguards assessments should not be converted to an institution-building exercise, but should remain narrowly focused on safeguarding use of Fund resources. Most Directors agreed that safeguards assessments should not be applied to fiscal issues and other public agencies, since that would require a new mandate for the staff. Many Directors urged the staff to raise safeguards issues in the context of Article IV consultations with countries that were not subject to a safeguards assessment but that have current outstanding obligations to the Fund, while recognizing that countries would have to voluntarily agree to discuss these issues.
"Moving forward, Directors supported the shift of focus of the safeguards policy, during the next three or four years, from initial assessments to the monitoring of past commitments. They welcomed the improvements to external communications during the safeguards process proposed by the staff, and the closer coordination of corrective actions with past and ongoing technical assistance. Directors also underscored the need to strengthen internal communications among Fund staff to ensure consistency in the application of the safeguards policy.
"Directors stressed that a key consideration moving forward is the modalities for monitoring the implementation of the remedies proposed by safeguards assessments. They noted that commitments made by the authorities to implement safeguards recommendations would be monitored in conjunction with overall program conditionality and that the main focus of future safeguards work would, therefore, be on the efficacy of implementation. To facilitate the monitoring of recommendations, Directors agreed that central banks should provide annually to Fund staff their annual audited financial statements and related audit reports, including management letters and special audit reports, for as long as Fund credit remains outstanding. They also agreed that the periodicity of monitoring would be influenced by the timing for implementing past recommendations and that, in some cases, on-site monitoring would be necessary.
"Directors agreed that the modalities for future safeguards assessments would be broadly similar to existing procedures, except for improvements resulting from the lessons learned during the experimental period to narrow the focus and improve the effectiveness of the assessment. Therefore, all member countries receiving a new arrangement from the IMF after June 30, 2000, would be subject to a full safeguards assessment. However, the nature and extent of a safeguards assessment for new arrangements where a previous assessment had already been conducted would be based on known risk factors, including the findings and date of the previous assessment, the results of the safeguards monitoring process, and possible new developments at the central bank. Also, the distinction between Stage One (off-site) and Stage Two (on-site) assessment reports would no longer apply-a single, confidential safeguards assessment report would be prepared for all new arrangements.
"Directors noted the importance of deadlines for the completion of safeguards assessments and indicated that, in principle, the assessment should be completed prior to the Executive Board's approval of a new arrangement. They recognized, however, that various factors may delay the completion of a safeguards assessment and agreed to retain the deadline for completion of the assessment by no later than the first program review under the arrangement. Where the deadline is not met, either due to external factors or as a result of deliberate recommendation by the staff, Directors noted that a staff report recommending completion of a review under the arrangement would contain, in the appraisal, an explicit statement to this effect and the reasons for proposing completion of the review despite the delay in the safeguards assessment. Several Directors suggested that the current policy be augmented so that key weaknesses are addressed as soon as possible and prior to the second review under any program, although the administrative capacity of the country must be taken into account. In view of the importance of safeguards assessments to the integrity of the Fund and the benefits to members, and to minimize delays, many Directors supported the allocation of more staff resources to this task, although a number of them preferred that this be done through redeployment. Some Directors also encouraged the continued use of technical experts from central banks.
"Directors concurred that safeguards assessment reports should remain confidential documents and requested that the Executive Board be kept informed on safeguards issues by (i) a summary of findings and recommendations identified by safeguards assessments in staff reports; and (ii) periodic summary reports to the Executive Board on safeguards assessments findings in general. "However, a few Directors believed that countries that wish to publish their reports should be allowed to do so. Directors supported publication of the staff report after deletion of references to individual countries. They agreed that a review of the safeguards policy should take place in three years, if not earlier, and suggested the involvement of external experts in the review process," Ms. Krueger stated.
1 See the Executive Board paper, Safeguards Assessments-Review of Experience and Next Steps, and the panel of experts' paper, Safeguards Assessments-Review of Experience and Next Steps-Independent Review of the Safeguards Assessments Framework. Country-specific references have been deleted from the papers.