Selected Decisions and Selected Documents of the IMF, Thirty- Eighth Issue -- The Role of the Fund in Governance Issues—Guidance Note EBS/97/125, July 2, 1997

Prepared by the Legal Department of the IMF
As updated as of February 29, 2016

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ARTICLE IV
Exchange Arrangements and Surveillance

The Role of the Fund in Governance Issues—Guidance Note EBS/97/125, July 2, 1997

I. Introduction

1. Reflecting the increased significance that member countries attach to the promotion of good governance, on January 15, 1997, the Executive Board held a preliminary discussion on the role of the Fund in governance issues, followed by a discussion on May 14, 1997 on guidance to the staff.1 The discussions revealed a strong consensus among Directors on the importance of good governance for economic efficiency and growth.2 It was observed that the Fund’s role in these issues had been evolving pragmatically as more was learned about the contribution that greater attention to governance issues could make to macroeconomic stability and sustainable growth in member countries. Directors were strongly supportive of the role the Fund has been playing in this area in recent years through its policy advice and technical assistance.

2. The Fund contributes to promoting good governance in member countries through different channels. First, in its policy advice, the Fund has assisted its member countries in creating systems that limit the scope for ad hoc decision making, for rent seeking, and for undesirable preferential treatment of individuals or organizations. To this end, the Fund has encouraged, inter alia, liberalization of the exchange, trade, and price systems, and the elimination of direct credit allocation. Second, Fund technical assistance has helped member countries in enhancing their capacity to design and implement economic policies, in building effective policymaking institutions, and in improving public sector accountability. Third, the Fund has promoted transparency in financial transactions in the government budget, central bank, and the public sector more generally, and has provided assistance to improve accounting, auditing, and statistical systems in all these ways, the Fund has helped countries to improve governance, to limit the opportunity for corruption and to increase the likelihood of exposing instances of poor governance, in addition, the Fund has addressed specific issues of poor governance, including corruption,3 when they have been judged to have a significant macroeconomic impact.

3. Building on the Fund’s past experience in dealing with governance issues and taking into account the two Board discussions, the following guidelines seek to provide greater attention to Fund involvement in governance issues, in particular through:

    • a more comprehensive treatment in the context of both Article IV consultations and Fund-supported programs of those governance issues that are within the Fund’s mandate and expertise;

    • a more proactive approach in advocating policies and the development of institutions and administrative systems that aim to eliminate the opportunity for rent seeking, corruption, and fraudulent activity;

    • an evenhanded treatment of governance issues in all member countries; and

    • enhanced collaboration with other multilateral institutions, in particular the World Bank, to make better use of complementary areas of expertise.

II. Guidance for Fund Involvement

Responsibility for good governance

  • 4. The responsibility for governance issues lies first and foremost with the national authorities. The staff should, wherever possible, build on the national authorities’ own willingness and commitment to address governance issues, recognizing that staff involvement is more likely to be successful when it strengthens the hands of those in the government seeking to improve governance. However, there may be instances in which the authorities are not actively addressing governance issues of relevance to the Fund. In such circumstances, the staff should raise their specific concerns in this regard with the authorities and point out the economic consequences of not addressing these issues.

Aspects of governance of relevance to the Fund

  • 5. Many governance issues are integral to the Fund’s normal activities. The Fund is primarily concerned with macroeconomic stability, external viability, and orderly economic growth in member countries. Therefore, the Fund’s involvement in governance should be limited to economic aspects of governance. The contribution that the Fund can make to good governance (including the avoidance of corrupt practices) through its policy advice and, where relevant, technical assistance, arises principally in two spheres:

    • • improving the management of public resources through reforms covering public sector institutions (e.g., the treasury, central bank, public enterprises, civil service, and the official statistics function), including administrative procedures (e.g., expenditure control, budget management, and revenue collection);

    • • supporting the development and maintenance of a transparent and stable economic and regulatory environment conducive to efficient private sector activities (e.g., price systems, exchange and trade regimes, banking systems and their related regulations).

  • 6. Within these areas of concentration, the Fund should focus its policy advice and technical assistance on areas of the Fund’s traditional purview and expertise. Thus, the Fund should be concerned with issues such as institutional reforms of the treasury, budget preparation and approval procedures, tax administration, accounting, and audit mechanisms, central bank operations, and the official statistics function. Similarly, reforms of market mechanisms would focus primarily on the exchange, trade, and price systems, and aspects of the financial system. In the regulatory and legal areas, Fund advice would focus on taxation, banking sector laws and regulations, and the establishment of free and fair market entry (e.g., tax codes and commercial and central bank laws). In other areas, however, where the Fund does not have a comparative advantage (e.g., public enterprise reform, civil service reform, property rights, contract enforcement, and procurement practices), the Fund would continue to rely on the expertise of other institutions, especially the World Bank. But, consistent with past practice, policies and reforms in these areas could, as appropriate, be part of the Fund staff’s policy discussions and conditionality for the Fund’s financial support where those measures were necessary for the achievement of program objectives.

  • 7. Although it is difficult to separate economic aspects of governance from political aspects, confining the Fund’s involvement in governance issues to the areas outlined above should help establish the boundaries of this involvement. In addition, general principles that are more broadly applicable to the Fund’s activities should also guide the Fund’s involvement in governance issues. Specifically, the Fund’s judgments should not be influenced by the nature of a political regime of a country, nor should it interfere in domestic or foreign politics of any member. The Fund should not act on behalf of a member country in influencing another country’s political orientation or behavior. Nevertheless, the Fund needs to take a view on whether the member is able to formulate and implement appropriate policies. This is especially clear in the case of countries implementing economic programs supported by the Fund from the guidelines on conditionality that call on Fund management to judge that “the program is consistent with the Fund’s provisions and policies and that it will be carried out.”4 As such, it is legitimate for management to seek information about the political situation in member countries as an essential element in judging the prospects for policy implementation.

The criteria for Fund involvement

  • 8. The Fund’s mandate and resources do not allow the institution to adopt the role of an investigative agency or guardian of financial integrity in member countries, and there is no intention to move in this direction. The staff should, however, address governance issues, including instances of corruption, on the basis of economic considerations within its mandate.

  • 9. In considering whether Fund involvement in a governance issue is appropriate, the staff should be guided by an assessment of whether poor governance would have significant current or potential impact on macroeconomic performance in the short and medium term, and on the ability of the government to credibly pursue policies aimed at external viability and sustainable growth. The staff could draw upon comparisons with broadly agreed best international practices of economic management to assess the need for reforms.

  • 10. As regards possible individual instances of corruption, Fund staff should continue raising these with the authorities in cases where there is a reason to believe they could have significant macroeconomic implications, even if these effects are not precisely measurable. Such implications could arise either because the amounts involved are potentially large, or because the corruption may be symptomatic of a wider governance problem that would require changes in the policy or regulatory framework to correct. Instances could include, for example, the diversion of public funds through misappropriation, tax (including customs) fraud with the connivance of public officials, the misuse of official foreign exchange reserves, or abuse of powers by bank supervisors that could entail substantial future costs for the budget and public financial institutions. Corrupt practices could also occur in other government activities, including the regulation of private sector activities that do not have a direct impact on the budget or public finances, such as ad hoc decisions made in relation to the regulation of foreign direct investment. Such practices would be counter to the Fund’s general policy advice aimed at providing a level playing field to foster private sector activity.

  • 11. Instances of corruption that do not meet the threshold of having significant macroeconomic implications are best addressed through the Fund’s efforts to promote transparency and remove unnecessary regulations and opportunities for rent seeking—consistent with the broad principles that apply to other issues of economic governance. Staff recommendations could include improvements in government management processes and systems that would have the beneficial side effect of preventing a recurrence of corrupt practices, or advice to the authorities to seek the assistance of competent institutions for advice in these areas.

The modalities of Fund involvement in governance issues

  • 12. Governance issues are relevant to all member countries although the problems differ depending on the economic systems, institutions, and the economic situation. The mode of Fund involvement will have implications for the manner in which governance concerns are addressed by staff in different member countries. Nonetheless, whatever the mode of involvement, the Fund’s main contribution to improving governance in all countries—both countries receiving financial support from the Fund and other countries—will continue to be through support for policy reforms that remove opportunities for rent-seeking activities and through sustained efforts to help strengthen institutions and the administration capacity in member countries.

Article IV consultation discussions

  • 13. In Article IV consultation discussions, the staff should be alert to the potential benefits of reforms that can contribute to the promotion of good governance (e.g., reduced scope for generalized rent seeking, enhanced transparency in decision making and budgetary processes, reductions in tax exemptions and subsidies, improved accounting and control systems, improvements in statistical dissemination practices, improvements in the composition of public expenditure, and accelerated civil service reform). The potential risks that poor governance could adversely affect private market confidence and, in turn reduce private capital inflows and investment—even in countries enjoying relatively strong growth and private capital inflows—should also be brought to the attention of the authorities. Fund policy advice should also make use of the broad experience of countries with different economic systems and institutional practices and be based on the broadly agreed best international practices of economic management, and on the principles of transparency, simplicity, accountability, and fairness. In the case of international transactions that involve corruption, the staff should pay equal attention to both sides of corrupt transactions and recommend that such practices be stopped if they have the potential to significantly distort economic outcomes (e.g., the tax deductibility of bribes in member countries or certain operations of official agencies). Where poor governance with a significant economic impact is evident and brought to the staff’s attention in its surveillance activities, the staff should discuss the issue with the authorities.

Use of Fund resources

  • 14. While the policy advice indicated above in relation to Article IV consultations is also relevant in the case of Fund-supported programs, the need to safeguard the Fund’s resources must also be taken into account.

  • 15. The use of conditionality related to governance issues emanates from the Fund’s concern with macroeconomic policy design and implementation as the main means to safeguard the use of Fund resources. Thus, conditionality, in the form of prior actions, performance criteria, benchmarks, and conditions for completion of a review, should be attached to policy measures including those relating to economic aspects of governance that are required to meet the objectives of the program. This would include policy measures which may have important implications for improving governance, but are covered by the Fund’s conditionality primarily because of their direct macroeconomic impact (e.g., the elimination of tax exemptions or recovery of nonperforming loans). While the Fund staff should rely on other institutions’ expertise in areas of their purview (e.g., public enterprise reform by the World Bank), it could nevertheless recommend conditionality in these areas if it considers that measures are critical to the successful implementation of the program.

  • 16. Weak governance should be addressed early in the reform effort. Financial assistance from the Fund in the context of completion of a review under a program or approval of a new Fund arrangement could be suspended or delayed on account of poor governance, if there is reason to believe it could have significant macroeconomic implications that threaten the successful implementation of the program, or if it puts in doubt the purpose of the use of Fund resources. Corrective measures that at least begin to address the governance issue should be prior actions for resumption of Fund support and, if necessary, certain key measures could be structural benchmarks or performance criteria. Examples of such measures include recuperation of foregone revenue and changes in tax or customs administration. The staff would need to exercise judgment in assessing whether the actions adopted by the authorities were adequate to address the governance concerns; as in the case of other policies in which the track record is weak and the commitment of the authorities is in doubt, it may be appropriate in some circumstances to call for a period of monitoring prior to a resumption of financial support. The authorities’ policy response could also entail changes in management in public institutions and, as appropriate, the removal of individuals from involvement in particular operations where corruption had occurred, and efforts to recover government funds that have been misappropriated. The staff must, of course, be mindful of the need to avoid action prejudicial to any related domestic legal processes in a particular case.

Technical assistance

  • 17. The Fund’s technical assistance programs should continue to contribute to improving economic aspects of governance. This would apply to areas of Fund expertise, including budget management and control, tax and customs administration, central bank laws and organization, foreign exchange laws and regulations, and macroeconomic statistical systems and dissemination practices. In these areas, technical assistance missions should bring to the attention of the authorities areas in which procedures and practices fall short of best international practices.

Identification of governance problems

  • 18. In the context of Article IV consultations, program negotiations, and technical assistance missions, the staff should be alert to aspects of poor governance that would influence the implementation and effectiveness of economic policies and private sector activities. For example, this could be related to a weak and poorly remunerated civil service, which could be addressed through civil service reforms encompassing a restructuring or selective increase in pay scales or the process and transparency of the privatization process. The staff should also pay attention to inconsistencies or improbabilities in the various data and accounts in member countries. For instance, tax collection might fall short of the expected potential yields as a result of weak administration of tax laws, procedural complexities or the widespread abuse of exemptions. The staff should bring data inconsistencies that are not judged to be the result of problems in statistical collection and compilation to the attention of the authorities. The staff should also advise that greater transparency in macroeconomic policy implementation could help build private sector confidence in government policies, for example, the consolidation of all extra budgetary accounts within the budget, the early publication of the budget, and early reporting on the outcome at the end of the fiscal year.

  • 19. It is recognized that there are clear practical limitations to the ability of the staff to identify deficiencies in governance. The availability, quality, and reliability of information are likely to be important factors affecting Fund involvement in corruption cases. The staff should continue to rely on information provided by the authorities. If inconsistencies in public accounts and reports suggest that a problem exists, the staff should, in the first instance, raise the issue with the authorities. In its endeavor to seek information, the staff may need to be prepared to face some tension in the working relationship with country authorities in specific cases potentially involving corrupt practices. The staff may also point out that, in an atmosphere of widespread rumors of corrupt practices, and where the rumors have some genuine credence, an independent audit may be desirable to address such concerns. If the staff considers that further information is required to resolve an issue that has a significant macroeconomic impact, it may be appropriate to make use of information from third parties, including other international organizations and donors. In view of the confidential nature of the information obtained by the staff from member countries, staff enquiries will need to be handled with due discretion and regard for the sensitive nature of the issue.

Coordination with bilateral donors and other multilateral institutions

  • 20. The Fund should collaborate with other multilateral institutions and donors in addressing economic governance issues. Recognizing that the interests of these bodies are more diverse than the Fund’s—ranging from political aspects of governance to specific project-related issues—the Fund staff should exercise independent judgment in formulating policy advice. In addition, the staff should focus its analysis and technical assistance only on those issues that are within its expertise. However, as noted in paragraph 6, conditionality may apply to measures to address governance concerns in areas outside the Fund staff’s expertise. Fund staff should also keep abreast of changes in the policies of partner organizations and specific efforts in member countries on governance issues. This should include the activities of partner organizations, particularly the World Bank, in addressing governance issues in areas which are outside Fund staff’s competence but nonetheless important for the achievement of the economic policies advocated by the Fund (e.g., the reliable enforcement of contracts).

  • 21. Given the commonality of interest with other multilateral institutions, the Fund should seek to strengthen its collaboration on issues of governance with them, and in particular with the World Bank. This should include, especially when requested by the authorities concerned, coordination of action to improve governance.

  • 22. As regards bilateral donors, it is useful to distinguish two different cases in which donor responses to economic and noneconomic governance issues affect the Fund’s relations with its members, although in practice there is seldom a clear separation between such economic and noneconomic aspects:

    • • In cases where bilateral donors or creditors withhold or interrupt external support because of concern over political and/or economic aspects of governance, the Fund should have an independent view on the economic implications. The Fund staff should examine whether these issues have a direct and significant impact on macroeconomic developments in the short or medium term. If this is the case, the staff should seek to assist the member country concerned through policy advice and technical assistance in areas of its expertise and coordinate as appropriate with donors with a view to helping to address the governance issues before recommending provision of Fund financial support. If this is not the case, but donors continue to withhold support, the staff should seek to assist the authorities in reformulating a program with greater internal adjustment to compensate for reduced external financing, paying due regard to the medium-term sustainability in the absence of a resumption of external assistance. If this were not feasible because of a lack of financing assurances, i.e., adequate external financing for the reformulated program is not in place, as a last resort, the staff should recommend that the Fund withhold its own financial support but continue to provide technical assistance support.

    • • In cases where governance issues significantly affect short- or medium-term economic developments but donors and creditors continue their financial assistance to the country concerned and do not assist the government in improving governance, Fund staff nevertheless has an independent responsibility for raising the governance issue with the authorities and for reporting to the Board on this issue. There may be occasions when the Fund staff may raise its concerns with donors and creditors, including at consultative group meetings and in round tables. But these instances would need to be addressed with care with the guidance of the Board and due regard to the confidential nature of such information. There are clear limitations to what the Fund’s contribution to improvements in governance in member countries can achieve without the active support from the rest of the international community.

Reporting to the Executive Board

  • 23. The Executive Board will be kept informed about developments in significant cases involving governance issues and will have the opportunity to comment on the operation of these guidelines as country cases are brought forward. In addition, there will be a periodic review by the Executive Board of the Fund’s experience in governance issues.

1 The Interim Committee Declaration of September 26, 1996 on Partnership for Sustainable Global Growth also attached particular importance “to promoting good governance in all its aspects.”

2 Concluding Remarks by the Chairman, SUR/97/48 (5/21/97).

3 Corruption could be defined as the abuse of public office for private gain, a definition also used by the World Bank.

4 Guidelines on Conditionality, Decision No. 6056-(79/138), paragraph 7.

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