IMF evaluation office: too technocratic ?

26 November 2002 | Letters

Correspondence between the IEO and the Bretton Woods Project following the publication of its first report

IEO‘s email

Dear Sir,

In your September/October 2002 issue of Bretton Woods Update, you report that the IMF‘s Independent Evaluation Office has issued its first study, on the Prolonged Use of IMF Resources, and comment that there are concerns about the IEO taking a “technocratic” approach and limiting itself to raising questions rather than making recommendations. As one of the authors of the report on Prolonged Use of IMF Resources, I would like to point out that neither of these comments accurately reflects the approach we have followed for this project, for the following reasons.

First, while our approach may be called “technocratic” in the sense that we relied on rigorous analysis of the facts to form our judgment and made sure that we did not make any assertion that could not be substantiated, it is inaccurate to suggest that we did not attempt to “include the views of a broad range of stakeholders”. In fact, our operating procedures, which include asking for public comments on the draft terms of reference of the study before they are finalized, posting the final terms of reference on our website, and asking for public comments on the substance of the issues covered, provide ample opportunities to all interested parties to bring their views to our attention. Furthermore, as can be seen from the list of people interviewed by the IEO team (made available in the report), we made every effort to engage a broad range of stakeholders in our investigation of the causes and effects of prolonged use. While the final report reflects the IEO‘s own judgment, that judgment was fully informed by the views expressed by various stakeholders throughout the conduct of the evaluation.

Second, far from limiting itself to raising questions, the report on Prolonged Use of IMF Resources contains a large number of specific recommendations, concerning such critical issues as the rationale for IMF-supported programs, internal IMF governance and program design (including conditionality). I might also add that these recommendations have been taken very seriously by both the Executive Board and the management of the IMF, as evidenced by the decision of the latter to set up a dedicated task force to review the operational implications of these recommendations and make specific proposals to the Board for policy changes.

Should you wish to review the report in more depth, we would be glad to send you a hard copy upon request. The report can also be downloaded from our website at the following link:


Isabelle Mateos y Lago
Evaluation Officer
Independent Evaluation Office
International Monetary Fund
Washington DC 20431
tel: (1) 202 623 7219
fax: (1) 202 589 7219

Bretton Woods Project’s reply

Dear Ms. Mateos y Lago,

Thanks for your message regarding a short piece in the Bretton Woods Update September-October issue. We are generally supportive of the IEO and have, as you know, for many years been one of the groups championing the establishment of an independent mechanism for the Fund’s operations. I do now have a hard copy of your study on “prolonged use of IMF resources” and I think it is a thorough piece of work with interesting political angles.

We wrote in our Sept/Oct Update that concerns had been raised that “the IEO is adopting a technocratic approach, rather than including views of a broad range of stakeholders”. We were also expressing concerns that “[the 3 first studies] will raise questions but not make recommendations to avoid treading on the IMF Board of Directors’ toes”. The short article was written before the study was published. Concerns expressed were mostly based on remarks and presentations by IEO staff in a workshop I attended in Berlin last July. It was explicitly said at that time that the IEO would avoid recommendations because it did not want to substitute itself for the Board. Too often in the past the IMF has placed responsibility solely on borrowing country governments – and your study is an interesting attempt to assess the Fund’s own responsibility. We think it is encouraging that the final study is actually making recommendations and we hope future studies will follow this example.

We also welcome efforts to consult as broad a range of stakeholders as possible. However the Bretton Woods Project and other groups are concerned that the IEO might not be adopting the best evaluation criteria. We think the role of an independent evaluation office should be to assess effects of IMF operations on people and the environment, not only on a borrowing countries’ reserves or willingness to implement reforms. This supposes a move away from the assumption that countries – especially the poorest parts of their population – are systematically better-off if they conform to IMF prescriptions. This type of approach will be particularly important if you conduct a review of the PRSPs/PRGF next year.

Other concerns include staffing and consultants. We are well aware of the limited budget of the IEO but we believe that IEO staff and consultants should include a higher proportion of non-economists, and people who have a slightly different background – that is, who are not former IMF and Bank staffers. Before the IEO was established numerous NGOs – including the Bretton Woods Project – suggested that:

  • a mechanism be established to allow external stakeholders to suggests possible consultants to carry out evaluations;
  • where possible evaluation teams comprised of external evaluators should seek to include persons from the NGO sector as well as academic and other private sector, national or international institutions.

Looking at the IEO current staff and part-time consultants, we feel there is a lack of balance between ex-IMF, ex-World Bank staffers and economists on the one hand, other social scientists and people with different backgrounds on the other hand. We feel this could undermine credibility of the IEO in the eyes of the IMF real clients – not just shareholders but the people that are directly affected by IMF operations and need mechanisms to hold the IMF accountable for its actions. The procedures for appointing people to the World Bank’s Inspection Panel are, for example, very different (with restrictions on previous and subsequent employment).

We think plurality of views is important and will therefore be happy to publish your response (as well as this response to it) on our website and to flag this in our next Update.

Yours sincerely,

Fabien Lefrancois
Policy Analyst