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Providing timely analysis and information makes governments and the IMF more accountable, the IMF said after a review of its transparency policy (IMF photo /Stephen Jaffe).

The IMF and Civil Society

Transparency is Key to Accountability

January 11, 2010

The global crisis has increased interest in Fund’s decisions. To respond to the external demand, the organization recently reviewed its transparency policy and aims to wider and faster publications.

Greater transparency in the IMF’s policies and decisions makes it more accountable to the people and governments at the center of its work, the organization concluded after a policy review. The global economic crisis has brought the IMF’s policy advice and analysis into the broader public debate, and this has meant both increased demand for information about the Fund’s work and increased scrutiny of the organization’s assessments and recommendations.

After 10 years of increasing the number and variety of documents it publishes, as part of its review of the Fund’s Transparency Policy on December 17, 2009, the IMF’s Executive Board renewed its commitment to transparency on a broad scale, and changed the focus of “why” information should be disclosed to “why not?”—while maintaining the principle that publication of documents relating to member countries is subject to the consent of the member.

Most country reports produced by IMF staff are now published, with 88 percent of member countries reports publicly available, the IMF said. These reports include requests for funding as well as the annual reviews of member countries economic health, commonly known as Article IV reports.

Increasing the amount and timeliness of information

To strengthen its policies and make them more consistent, the IMF’s Executive Board approved a series of changes, which include:

  • Publication of documents unless a member country objects, shifting the focus away from explicit permission to publish, which was required until the review
  • Extending the scope of documents that the country authorities would be encouraged to publish to include reports on the health of a country’s financial sector and its compliance with international codes and standards
  • Establishing an expectation, in cases involving Fund lending, that the country authorities would indicate intent to publish before the relevant Executive Board meeting
  • Extending presumed publication to all policy documents, including papers relating to the Fund’s income, financing, or budget (unless these involve market-sensitive information).

Archives to be opened earlier

Interest in the Fund’s archives has also increased in recent years, and, together with other measures to enhance the IMF’s accountability, the Board decided to shorten the wait for archived documents to be made available to the public. The main changes will:

  • Reduce lag time for public access to Board papers from 5 to 3 years
  • Reduce lag time for public access to Board minutes from 10 to 5 years
  • Establish as a general rule that documents classified as Strictly Confidential will be declassified when they otherwise would become available under the time lag
  • Help the public find its way on the Fund web site, and a guide to IMF information for the public will be developed.

The changes approved by the Executive Board will come into effect on March 17, 2010.

IMF’s Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn (C) along with First Deputy Managing Director John Lipsky (L) and External Relations Director Caroline Atkinson (R) answer questions during a press briefing at the Istanbul Congress Center October 2, 2009 in Istanbul, Turkey. IMF Staff Photo/Stephen Jaffe