Public Information Notice: IMF Executive Board Reviews Data Standards

September 27, 2001

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 July 23, 2001, the Executive Board concluded policy discussions on the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) Special Data Dissemination Standard and General Data Dissemination System. This was the Fourth Review of the Fund's Data Standards Initiatives.


The Fund's Data Standards Initiatives aim to enhance the availability of timely and comprehensive statistics and therefore contribute to the pursuit of sound macropolicies and to the improved functioning of financial markets.

The Special Data Dissemination Standard (SDDS) was established in 1996 to guide countries that have or might seek access to international capital markets in the provision of data to the public. There are currently 49 subscribers to the SDDS-Brazil and Tunisia subscribed in March and June 2001, respectively. Subscription is voluntary, however, subscribers undertake to follow the SDDS requirements with respect to the coverage, periodicity, and timeliness of the data and the dissemination of advance release calendars identifying when data are to be released. Subscribers also undertake to pursue good practice with respect to the integrity and quality of the data. SDDS subscribers provide information about their data dissemination practices for posting on the Internet on the Dissemination Standards Bulletin Board (DSBB) at Subscribers are also required to maintain an Internet website, referred to as a national summary data page (NSDP), which contains the actual data and to which the DSBB is electronically linked.

The General Data Dissemination System (GDDS) was established in 1997 as a framework for countries to improve their statistical systems to meet the evolving requirements of the user community. The GDDS fosters the application of sound methodological principles, the adoption of rigorous compilation practices, and the observance of procedures that ensure professionalism and objectivity. Countries that participate in the GDDS provide metadata describing their data dissemination practices and detailed plans for improvement for posting on the DSBB.

The Executive Board's Fourth Review discussed observance of the SDDS, the template for the dissemination of reserves data, the development of the external debt data category, and the GDDS. In addition, the Board reviewed the staff's proposal to integrate an assessment methodology, called the Data Quality Assessment Framework (DQAF), into the structure of the data module of the Reports on Observance of Standards and Codes (ROSCs), as a central element of a Data Quality Assessment Program (DQAP). As background for the Board discussion, the staff prepared a supplement on the Data Quality Assessment Framework, which describes the DQAF and its role in providing structure and a common language for the assessment of data quality.

Executive Board Assessment

Executive Directors welcomed the opportunity to review the experience under the Fund's data standards initiatives, and to consider proposals for their further refinement and consolidation. They expressed their strong appreciation to the staff for its work in this area. Directors welcomed the consultative approach applied in strengthening the design and implementation of these initiatives, and stressed that the voluntary nature of the initiatives as well as the cooperative approach to their implementation should remain important characteristics in moving forward. They also welcomed the substantial progress achieved in recent years under the Fund's data initiatives, which has further raised the Fund's standing as a center for dissemination of economic and financial statistics.

Directors highlighted the importance of members' data dissemination efforts for improved transparency and crisis prevention. They commended national authorities on the substantial progress achieved so far, as evidenced by the strong increase, since last year's review, in the number of countries meeting the specifications of the Special Data Dissemination Standard (SDDS). Directors welcomed Brazil's and Tunisia's subscription to the SDDS, which increases the number of subscribers to 49. They were also encouraged that participation in the General Data Dissemination System (GDDS) is increasing at a satisfactory pace (with 32 members participating), and in line with the target set at the Third Review of the Fund's Data Standards Initiatives. However, several Directors expressed concern that many Fund members have still not taken part in the Fund's data dissemination initiatives. Directors therefore encouraged other countries, several of which are already working with the Fund toward participation, to join the initiatives, with the Fund providing timely technical assistance, as appropriate.

Directors noted that, with few exceptions, all subscribers have come into observance of the SDDS. They confirmed the procedures to address instances of nonobservance established as part of the Second Review of the SDDS. Directors agreed that placing a notice on the Dissemination Standards Bulletin Board (DSBB)--identifying a subscriber that is not in observance of the Standard, indicating the nature of nonobservance, and stating the authorities' time-bound plans for coming into observance--should provide a sufficient incentive to subscribers to address observance issues while maintaining the credibility of the Standard. A number of Directors felt that the ultimate sanction of removing a subscriber's metadata from the DSBB should a subscriber fail to come into observance as envisaged might have to be considered, but others recommended caution or a gradual approach, and several were opposed to the use of this measure, as it might be counterproductive by tending to reduce transparency. The staff will monitor progress of subscribers in following their posted plans.

Directors welcomed the commencement of staff monitoring of the observance of the SDDS in July 2000. They were encouraged by the steady improvement in the ability of
subscribers to meet their release dates and in the timeliness of dissemination of most data categories, as well as by the increase in the number of countries establishing hyperlinks from their National Summary Data Pages (NSDPs) to the DSBB. Directors expected that the quarterly updates on the SDDS will increase awareness of the progress achieved and give the SDDS initiative more prominence.

Directors recognized the increased interest in the SDDS among users as evidenced by the increase in the usage of the DSBB and the feedback from the Fund's outreach efforts. They supported the staff's plans to strengthen further its outreach efforts through seminars on international standards and codes, as well as leveraging the opportunities afforded by Report on the Observance of Standards and Codes (ROSC) missions and surveys of the DSBB's users to solicit views.

Directors observed the steady improvement in data disseminated in the template on international reserves and foreign currency liquidity, particularly in terms of classification and coverage. Currently, all subscribers are disseminating template data over their national websites. They welcomed the establishment of a common voluntary database for template data and its redissemination over the Fund's website, in which most subscribers and one nonsubscriber are participating. Stressing the importance of frequent and timely template data, though noting that moving to weekly periodicity and weekly timeliness would be premature or inappropriate, most Directors supported the retention of the current prescriptions of monthly periodicity and monthly timeliness. A few Directors, however, would support the early adoption of weekly periodicity and timeliness. Directors will have the opportunity to revisit this issue at the next review of data provision to the Fund in February 2002.

Directors welcomed the progress made in the area of external debt statistics. They noted the work being done to finalize the Debt Guide as well as the positive response from Fund membership to a series of seminars to raise awareness of the data dissemination standards for external debt and ascertain the extent to which countries are progressing toward meeting these requirements. The implementation of the new external debt data category will be discussed during the next review of the Fund's data standards initiatives.

Directors welcomed the establishment of a GDDS unit as well as the close collaboration between the Fund and the World Bank staffs with regard to the articulation of the socio-demographic component of the GDDS and the development of metadata for countries wishing to participate in the GDDS. They supported the continued provision of technical assistance to countries interested in GDDS participation, as well as to help existing participants fulfill action plans for improving their statistical systems.

Directors welcomed the development of the Data Quality Assessment Framework (DQAF), and most supported its integration into the data module of the ROSC. A few Directors would prefer some further experimentation before taking that step. The structure of the ROSC module will be preserved, whereby the module will continue to provide a summary assessment of a member's observance with the data dissemination standards complemented with a summary assessment of data quality. Directors stressed that the framework should be applied with appropriate flexibility, taking into account country- specific circumstances."

Most Directors agreed that the DQAF also has a broader application in providing guidance to data users and providers, as well as to the Fund in support of its surveillance and technical assistance activities on data quality. They endorsed the integration of the Fund's various applications of the DQAF in an overall data quality assessment program (DQAP) that will focus initially on data quality in the context of standards assessment.

While some Directors supported the principle of including Macroprudential Indicators (MPIs) in the SDDS framework, at least as an encouraged element, given the demonstrated importance of sound financial sectors in preventing crises, most Directors considered such a decision to be premature in view of the still substantial limitations on the availability, methodological soundness, and international comparability of the underlying data. A number of Directors considered that MPIs should not be included in the SDDS, even at a later stage, so as not to discourage new subscriptions and not to overburden existing subscribers. The possible role of MPIs within the SDDS will be revisited on the occasion of the next review of the Fund's data standards initiatives. It is expected that work on a Compilation Guide on MPIs, which would provide a frame of reference for the discussion of the possible inclusion of MPIs in the SDDS, should be complete by that time.

Several Directors also cautioned against adapting the SDDS to specific policy frameworks, including for example countries with inflation-targeting regimes. More generally, several Directors expressed concern at the implications of broadening the SDDS for existing as well as potential subscribers. A number of Directors said that the initiative would benefit from a period of consolidation.

Looking ahead, Directors broadly agreed that the Fund's data standards would need to be updated to take into account the latest developments in statistical methodology for monetary and financial statistics as well as government finance statistics. They also supported efforts to implement an open exchange system for the distribution and exchange of statistical information on the Internet, which will enhance the functionality and user friendliness of the DSBB.

Most Directors agreed that the next review of the Fund's data standards initiatives should take place in the second half of 2003, although a number of Directors would have preferred a somewhat earlier date. Clearly, the momentum achieved thus far should not be lost as a result of this longer time span.


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