In a press release, the executive directors noted that transparency is critical if the fund is to fulfil its mandate, specifically referring to the effectiveness and the quality of the policy, and more generally, the legitimacy and accountability of the Fund.
In June, the IMF transparency policy was reviewed and a decision paper was published in July. It covers what the board had accepted from the policy paper which assessed the transparency policy and set out recommendations.
Documents: The IMF’s legal framework has three different categories of documents: (i) country documents, (ii) policy papers and (iii) multi-country documents
(i) Country documents are documents relating to individual countries. This includes documents relating to surveillance, use of Fund resources and certain reports arising from Fund technical assistance. The publication of country documents is subject to the consent of the member concerned.
(ii) Fund policy documents focus on general policy issues. The publication of the Fund policy documents requires the approval of the board.
(iii) The newly amended policy defines three types of “multi-country documents” with various levels of protection from disclosure. The publication of multi-country documents requires consent of the members concerned or the approval of the board. 1) Multilateral policy issue documents address multilateral global economic issues. 2) Country background pages are characterised by specific information pertaining to individual countries and their data, but the analysis of respective individual countries’ data is not integrated. Country background pages will continue to list the names of all countries involved in relevant analytical exercises, even if not all of their country pages are published. 3) Cluster documents include analysis of issues affecting a group of countries where each individual country analysis is integrated into the broader analysis.
Prompt publication and clarity
In some cases, approval of publication and request for deletions is left up to governments.
Apart from Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) (see Update 36) country policy intention documents, deletions may be made to country documents. Deletions are expected to be limited to firstly highly market-sensitive material, and secondly, material not in the public domain.
According to the policy, corrections to country documents should be limited and are expected to be requested at least two days before the conclusion of the board’s consideration of the document. Corrections made after board consideration are permitted only in cases where: (i) the correction is brought to the attention of the board before the conclusion of its consideration of the document, or (ii) where the failure to make the correction would undermine the overall value of publication. The decision was revised in the latest review to clarify that only one of these conditions is necessary for correction requests to be considered.
Archives: This is not part of the transparency policy, but is part of the archives policy.
Board documents are available to the public after three years. The minimum time before allowing public access to board minutes will remain at the current five years, despite the policy paper’s recommendation of a reduction to three years, due to the risk to the candour of board deliberations. Most board documents and minutes since 1946 have been digitised and those available to the public are accessible online (Archives of the International Monetary Fund).
A summary of board report meetings or press releases, which have replaced Public Information Notices (PINs), containing the same information is generally published immediately. Press releases are also issued after board discussions of general policy matters, unless otherwise decided by the board in a particular case.
The new policy encourages country authorities and IMF staff to publish country documents within a 14 day timeframe. “Factual statements” providing some information to the public on the outcomes of board meetings and the members’ publication intentions should be placed on the relevant country page of the IMF external website, and not on the “what’s new section”. Delays of more than 90 days will be handled with “lower profile publication”, and would no longer be included, for instance, in the “what’s new” section of the Fund’s website.
Civil society concerns
Civil society organisations (CSOs) have stressed that further reforms are needed to catch up with current international standards, despite the updated transparency policy. CSOs have argued that the IMF transparency policy remains restrictive and does not provide in-depth information on board meetings. They have suggested that the Fund step up its interaction with other stakeholders. This would provide an enhanced role for civil society to input policy formation and not simply respond to discussions. In addition, CSOs have advocated that the Fund cut back on jargon and provide translation of documents beyond the five official UN languages.