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Transparency at the IMF

October 2007

A guide for civil society on getting access to information from the IMF (October 2007)

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) plays an instrumental role in defining economic policy for countries that borrow from it. It is a powerful organization in setting standards and norms for the global community, including advocating for fiscal transparency. At the same time it does not fully meet the modern standards of governance and transparency that we would expect from a public organization.

IMF reports and decisions have enormous implications for national budgeting, aid inflows, foreign investment, debt levels and fiscal deficits. Concern about the lack of transparency at the IMF and its sister institution, the World Bank, led to the formation of the Global Transparency Initiative (GTI), which seeks to overcome the secrecy surrounding the operations of the international financial institutions (IFIs). As a tool to achieve this, the GTI drafted a Transparency Charter, a document that outlines nine principles that should govern access to information at the IFIs.

There are serious deficits in the IMF's transparency, even allowing for some secrecy given the sensitive nature of the IMF's work. However we also have to recognize that there is a trend of increasing transparency at the IMF. More documents are published now than at any time before. There is also increasingly a divide between developed and developing countries over transparency, as industrialized economies publish more of their documents than developing countries. In response to demands for increased transparency, industrial country governments have accused developing countries of being obstacles to greater transparency.

Despite the need for improvements in transparency, there are opportunities for accessing useful documents made public by the IMF. But these documents and the information they contain are some of the least understood by civil society globally. This guide is an attempt to help civil society learn how to use the information held by the IMF but also provide an insight into the improvements that could be made in the IMF's transparency policy. It should be a useful reference for a range of people from advocacy organizations, researchers, budget monitors and even parliamentarians and officials.

While at times technical and full of jargon, the information published by the IMF can be important for civil society organizations that want to hold their governments to account for decisions made on economic policies. Especially important is how governments spend their money. This can often be constrained by the decisions of the IMF. Only by using all information and resources available will civil society organizations, such as those trying to improve health systems, be able to confront governments and international institutions and advance reform.

This guide first reviews the Fund's disclosure policy and measures some of its key elements against the Transparency Charter for the IFIs. The second section discusses what information is available from the IMF and which documents contain it. The third section covers mechanisms of getting access to those documents before concluding. A glossary of IMF jargon can be found after that.

Published 19th October 2007 by GTI
target institution
IMF, Civil Society
IFI Policy, FOI
region focus