In June 2001,  the IMF and the German government (DSE and the Finance Ministry) organised a Dialogue Session on Ownership and Conditionality.

The Third World Network was represented at this meeting by its Director, Martin Khor. Other NGOs present were WEED (Germany) and Bretton Woods Project (UK).   Most of the participants were senior representatives from the IMF and officials from Germany and several developing countries.

At the meeting, the TWN representative spoke in one of the sessions and also made comments in other sessions.  The presentation and the comments have been written up in an "Issues Note", which was submitted to the organisers after the meeting.  The issues note by  Martin Khor of TWN is reproduced below.

Organised by German Foundation for International Development, the German Federal Government (Finance Ministry and BMZ) and the International Monetary Fund Institute.

Theme of Note: 

The IMF's  Role and Policy Conditionality:   The Relationship between Ownership, Conditionality, Appropriateness of Policy and Governance, and the Way Forward

I.                   INTRODUCTION

The convening of this meeting to look at streamlining conditionality comes at a time when the IMF is facing a crisis of legitimacy.  There is a crisis of legitimacy of the IMF with the public;  problems of the IMF's credibility (including regarding appropriateness of its policies) in relation to many recipient countries;  erosion of confidence in the IMF within the establishment (policy making, academic, media) of major shareholder countries;  and also debate on IMF policy and strategy within the IMF staff themselves.

The IMF management would like recipient countries to "own" the policy conditionalities much more than they have done.  But genuine ownership can only be derived if the countries themselves participate in the making of the policies; and this is generally not the case as the policies are usually imposed by the IMF, often against the wishes of the governments or people.   Still, the policies would be more acceptable if they work.  But generally they have not worked.  Instead of recovery, growth and getting out of debt, many recipient countries have experienced stagnation or worse, and many are still trapped in debt.  Thus, more "country ownership" of IMF programmes does not simply mean improving the methods of getting countries to really accept and internalise IMF policies which, it is assumed, are good though tough.  It is not a communications or public relations task.  Ownership can or should be increased only if there is genuine participantion by the government and people of recipient countries; and only if the content of conditionality (ie the policies) are appropriate and bring about good outcomes. 

Thus, the key issues are the democratic (or rather non-democratic and non-participatory) process of IMF policy making, and the appropriateness (or rather inappropriateness) of the IMF policies.  Unless these issues are resolved, no amount of persuasion or arm-twisting (ultimatums such as "convince us before hand that you are a believer or we won't agree to giving you a loan") will bring about genuine ownership.

The issues of non-participation and inappropriate policies are not academic but of life and death dimensions.  Like many others in this room, I lived through the financial crisis, in this case in Asia.  I closely followed the events, policy debates and policies in the different affected countries, saw the effects of the market practices and the IMF-led policies, the social and political upheavals, the traumatic financial crash and economic downturn, the devastating effect on the lives of millions of people and on the viability of thousands of local firms, big and small.  

Due to the evidence of recent events, there is a crisis also in development thinking and the development paradigm, and a major change is under way.  In the past there was a bias or blind faith in predominantly relying on the state for development.  Then, there was a swing to the other extreme of having total reliance and blind faith in the private sector and on globalisation (rapid opening up to international finance and trade).  Now the pendulum is swinging back.  The emerging view is that openness can have good or bad effects, depending on the specific condition and stage of development a country is in, for example, whether the local firms and banks are prepared for external competition, whether there are regulations or knowledge on managing and utilising foreign loans so that they can be repaid, whether there is reciprocal benefits from opening up, whether there are opportunities for increasing exports or if the capacity to produce and market for export has been built up, and what are the balance of payments effects of opening up given the conditions the country finds itself in.

Although if conditions are right there can be many benefits from opening up, there are also great risks and costs to be borne if the conditions are not right.  For many countries, the conditions are not or may not be right, at least not yet.  If they nevertheless open up, they may suffer the risks and the costs.

Thus, the balance, degree, timing, sequence of liberalisation must be tailored to each country. Though it may become the new wisdom in rhetoric, this principle has not yet been translated into policy by international agencies like the IMF and WTO, nor into national policy of most developing countries.  Many countries are unable to do so, even if they want to, due to conditionality or binding rules.

Many, if not most, developing countries are neither growing nor developing.  The situation is bleak for many.  Business as usual cannot be the response, as it has generally failed.  The issue of conditionality and ownership should be viewed in a broad perspective, and this includes looking critically not only at the roads taken by the IMF but also at the roads not taken.


The raison d´etre of the IMF at its creation and in the era of the Brettons Wood system  is to ensure global financial stability.  This arose from the recognition that left to itself the financial institutions, markets and players can become a too-powerful force with the potential of destabilising the financial system itself as well as undermining the real economy.  The IMF's implicit mission included taming and regulating  global and national finance so that finance would serve the real sector objectives of growth of output, income and employment.

The original Post WW2 framework supported this function.  It included a system predominated by fixed exchange rates (which could be adjusted with IMF assistance when needed by objective conditions),  BOP adjustment through country-IMF discussion when needed,  limited crossborder financial flows, and the normality of national capital controls. Policy was influenced by an understanding of the need for caution on the potential for instability, volatility and harm to the real economy that can be caused by unregulated finance and by speculative activity. .

This regulatory system and the period of relative financial stability ended with the 1972 Smithsonian Agreement.  Floating replaced fixed exchange rates, financial deregulation and liberalisation took off in the OECD countries, new financial instruments developed, there has been a massive explosion in crossborder short term capital flows and in speculative financial activity.  There has also been the spread of capital liberalisation to developing countries, to which advice from developed countries and from the IMF contributed.  These developments underlie the frequent occurance of financial crises.   The failure of the IMF and other international financial agencies to prevent such crises should be recognised as one of its major flaws, and this should be rectified.     Indeed, the failure of the IMF in preventing the global financial system from going down the road of such rapid deregulation and liberalisation (with the consequences of currency instability, volatility of capital flows and financial speculation), and instead presiding over this road that was taken, is a major mistake.  It also goes against the original role of the IMF to establish and maintain a stable financial order.


There needs to be a backtracking to the crossroads and take a new turning which is more true to the IMF's original mission of establishing financial stability.  That is the road of crisis prevention through establishment of greater stability through better understanding and regulation of capital flows and capital markets;  and a more stable system of exchange rates (including among the major reserve currencies, and in the currencies of developing countries).

There is need to understand capital markets and the role and methods of players like highly leveraged institutions (for example hedge funds) which are now non-transparent and unaccountable but have major impact on global and national finance and real economy. There is need especially to curb manipulative financial activity. Recently the Fund's Managing Director announced he had encouraged his staff to get knowledge of how capital markets work.  This is a statement to be welcomed.  It also implies the Fund's previous and current lack of knowledge of capital markets.  It is a serious blind spot for the world's premier international financial institution to have.  How could the Fund have given good advice on handling the recent financial crises arising from the workings of the capital markets when its knowledge of these markets was limited?

There is need to understand the behaviour and potential and real effects of various kinds of capital flows to  developing countries -- including credit (to the public and private sectors), portfolio investment, foreign direct investment (and its varieties, such as mergers and acquisitions, greenfield investment, and FDI that produces for the domestic or the foreign market).  There is need to look at inflows and outflows arising from each, including the potential for volatility of each and the effects, especially on reserves and the balance-of-payments.  What are implications for policy and what guidelines should be given?   For example, when should (or should not) a government or company borrow in foreign currency?  Regulations and guidelines are needed because the market lacks a mechanism that can ensure appropriate outcomes.   One guideline that is most relevant could be that local companies should be allowed to borrow in foreign currency only if (and to the extent) the loan is utilised for projects that earn foreign exchange to repay the debt.  This was a regulation that the Malaysian Central Bank had maintained, and it had helped Malaysia avoid falling into the kind of debt trap that Thailand, Indonesia and South Korea had got into, when the private sector borrowed heavily in foreign currency denominated loans.

The potential for devastating effects of shortterm capital flows should be recognised and acted on, to prevent developing countries from the dangers of falling into debt traps. The IMF must recognise this and have an action plan (or at least be part of a coordinated action plan) that includes the following elements:  (i) regulate global capital flows, through international regulations or through currency transaction taxes;  (ii) surveillance and disciplines on countries that are major sources of credit so that the authorities in these countries monitor and regulate the behaviour and flows emanating from their capital markets and institutional sources of funds;    (iii) provide warnings for developing countries of the potential hazards of accepting different types of capital inflows and provide guidelines on the judicious and careful use of the various kinds of funds ;  (iv) educate members and the public of how capital markets work and establish surveillance and accountability mechanisms to guide and regulate the workings of the markets;   (v) appreciate and advise countries on the functions and selective uses of capital controls at national level, and helping them establish the capacity to introduce or maintain such controls;   (vi) identify and curb the use and abuse of financial instruments and methods that manipulate prices, currencies and markets, and prevent the development of new manipulative or destabilising instruments and methods; (vii) stabilise exchange rates at international and national levels, which could include mechanisms to stabilise the three major currencies, and measures that can provide more stability and more accurate pricing of currencies of developing countries;  (viii) provide sufficient liquidity and credit to developing countries to finance development.

The prevention of crises through a more stable global financial order is more beneficial and cost effective than allowing the continuation of a fundamentally unstable and crisis-prone system which would then throw up the need of frequent bail-outs with accompanying conditionality.


In the absence of prevention measures, or even if such measures are in place, crises will occur.  Better management of financial crises is needed.  The present system of managing crises by the IMF has many asymmetries and flaws. 

(a) Absence of debt resolution system puts debtor country at losing end

At present, debtor countries are at losing end.  They are not organised among themselves, and are often caught in a crisis without enough time or sufficient knowledge to think and plan properly.  In contrast, creditors and creditor countries are well organised among themselves,  and they organise to obtain maximum return for their loans.  At present there does not exist a system where at the start of a crisis the debtor country and the creditors get together within a framework to coordinate their response in an orderly and fair manner.  Instead there is usually a stampede for the exit by creditors and investors. The debtor country faces massive capital flight by foreigners and locals, especially in the absence of controls on capital outflows.  

What is required is a comprehensive system of debt arbitration and workout.  This could include a declaration of debt standstill by the indebted country, and its having recourse to an international debt review procedure (an international extension of a bankruptcy court) presided over by an independent international court or panel.  The procedure would involve  an orderly and fair debt workout, including writing down of some loans, loan rescheduling, and provision of  fresh loans to finance recovery.   The burden is shared fairly between debtor and creditor, and among the different creditors, according to established criteria and procedures.  "Bailing in" of the private sector implies that creditors take a fair share of the loss, and a rescheduling of some loans.  This should be done without transferring the responsibility of private sector loans to the public sector through government guarantees, which has been a most unfair practice that has been done in the past under IMF conditionality.

In the absence of a standstill and orderly workout mechanism, debtor countries are usually at the mercy of creditors and creditor countries.  The burden of adjustment and repayment falls most heavily on the debtor.  As the IMF presides over this process, it is perceived as a debt collector, operating in an unfair system.  Such a role, and the public perception of this role, undermines the Fund's ability to be seen as a honest broker and thus as a creator of fair conditionality.

(b) Flawed Process in IMF conditionality

In relation to the IMF's loan conditionality and the ownership question, there are a number of issues.  First are the "process" issues.  Although letters of intent are signed by the recipient country's government, it is well known that in most cases the conditions are in the main established by the Fund and recipient countries do not have significant leeway or space to successfully negotiate to remove or to really reshape most conditions.  Since participation is so limited, and since in many cases the recipient does not really agree with many of the conditions, it is difficult or impossible to have genuine national ownership.  And even in the cases where the national authorities genuinely agree, various groups in the country may not, and may oppose the policies.

(c ) Content and Quality of IMF Policies: Indicators and Types of Problems

Second are the issues relating to the content and quality of the policies themselves. There are acute problems regarding this, thus leading to a crisis of credibility and legitimacy of the policies as well as of the process of conditionality. 

There are many indicators of policy failure.   Countries that became indebted in the more traditional mode (through trade and current account deficits and through repayment problems in public sector loans) underwent conditionality policies in the 1980s and 1990s.  Many of them have not experienced economic growth nor social development nor a successful exit from debt crisis.   UNDP's Human Development Report data show that only 15 countries experienced relatively good per capita growth in the two decades up to the mid-1990s.  Most of these countries had not been in a debt crisis and thus did not follow structural adjustment type policies. On the other hand, 89 developing countries in the mid-1990s were worse off in per capita income than ten years previously, and 70 of these countries had an income per capita level in the mid-1990s lower than in the 1960s and 1970s.  The decline in most of these countries was far deeper and longer than that experienced in the 1930s Great Depression.    And then some of the 15 countries that had had the best performance also fell into crisis in 1997-8, with the crisis caused by developments in their capital account.  These countries also fell into deep recession and it is widely believed that the IMF policies for this type of crisis were inappropriate.    Indeed it is believed that the IMF policy prescription for both kinds of countries and crises were not counter-recessionary but excessively contractionary, thus failing to generate growth that could have helped lead the countries to recovery, but instead suppressing the potential for growth.

IMF conditionality policies have come under severe criticism for at least three reasons: 

--  (i) that there has been "over-reach" in that the conditions widened in range through time to include "structural policies" not needed for managing the crisis; 

--  (ii) that the policies in the core economic and financial areas of IMF competence have also been inappropriate as they were contractionary and did not generate growth;    and

--  (iii) that the policies were designed in ways insensitive to social impacts, and the burden of adjustment fell heavily on the poor and at the expense of social and public services.  

These three categories of problems are briefly discussed below.

(d) Scope of conditionality too broad

The scope of IMF policy conditions has been increasing through the years and has become far too broad.   Many of the conditions were not relevant or critical to the causes or the management of the crisis the countries found themselves in.  Some of these conditions were were put into the conditionality package under the influence or pressure of  major  IMF shareholders for their own interest or agenda, rather than in the interests of the debtor country. On many areas where conditions are set, neither the IMF nor the World Bank has the expertise to give proper advice, and thus the potential to commit a blunder is high and the negative effects can also be high. This includes the area of political conditionality and issues relating to "governance".   During the Indonesia crisis, the IMF advice to the government to close 16 banks, without first assuring the public that their deposits in the banking system were safe, led to large deposit withdrawals and capital flight from the country.  This is now recognised as a blunder.

Even in a major economic area of structural conditionality, i.e. that of trade policy and reform, the potential of mistakes can be high.  The IMF and World Bank are well known for advising developing countries under their charge to undergo rapid trade liberalisation.  The appropriateness of the advice to undergo "big-bang" or rapid liberalisation is now contentions. In many countries, import liberalisation has led to domestic firms and industries having to close down as they were unable to compete with cheaper imports, and de-industrialisation has been the result.  There is now strong emerging evidence that trade liberalisation can successfully work only under certain conditions.  Factors for success or otherwise include    the ability of the country's enterprises and farms to withstand import competition, its production and distribution capacity to export, as well as the state of commodity prices and the degree of market access for its products.  In the absence of positive factors, import liberalisation may cause the country into deeper problems.  The implications for conditionality are significant. Evidence is emerging that wrongly sequenced and improperly implemented trade liberalisation is adding to developing countries' trade deficits.  On average the trade deficit of developing countries (excluding China) worsened by an average of 3 percentage points of GNP between the 1970s to the 1990s.  The IMF should thus review its trade liberalisation conditionality to take account of the need to enable countries to tailor their trade policy to their partricular conditions and their development needs.

(e) In areas of its core competence, there are also serious problems with IMF policies

The problems with conditionality do not lie only in "new areas" outside the traditional areas of the IMF's concern.  The criticism is now widespread that even in the areas of the IMF's core competence (macroeconomic, financial, monetary and fiscal policies), there are major problems of appropriateness of policy and conditionality.  Policy objectives and assumptions and policy instruments on how to obtain them are under question, given the poor record of outcome. This questioning of the appropriateness and outcomes of policy had already been going on for several years (especially in relation to policies and results in Africa), but the doubts and criticisms grew much more intense as a result of the IMF handling of the Asia crisis.

The IMF policies tend to be biased towards restrictive monetary policies (including high interest rates) and fiscal contraction, both of which tend to induce or increase recessionary pressures in the overall economy.  The contraction in money supply and high interest rates  decrease the inducement for investment as well as consumption (thus reducing effective demand).  The high interest rates also increase the debt-servicing burden of local enterprises and cause a deteriortaion in the banking system in relation to non-performing loans.  The Fund has also maintained the strong condition for financial liberalisation and openness in the capital account.  Thus, the country is subjected to free inflows and outflows of funds, involving foreigners and locals.  The country's exchange rate is in most cases open to the influence of these capital flows, to the level of interest rate, and to speculative activity. Often, there are large fluctuations in the exchange rate.  Given the fixed assumption that the capital account must remain open, there is thus the need to maintain the confidence of the short-term foreign investor and potential speculators.  A policy of high interest rate and lower government expenditure is advised (imposed) in an effort to maintain foreign investor confidence.  But since this policy causes financial difficulties to local firms and banks, and increase recessionary pressures, the level of confidence in the currency may also not be maintained.  The narrow perspective on which the restrictive policies are based neglects the need to build the domestic basis and conditions for recovery and for future development, including the survival and recovery of local firms and financial institutions, the encouragement of sufficient aggregate effective demand , the retention of the confidence of local savers, consumers and investors. 

Most IMF policies imposed on countries that face financial problems and economic slowdown are opposite to the policies adopted by (and encouraged for) developed countries, such as the US, which normally reduce interest rates to as low a level as needed and which boost government expenditures, so as to increase effective demand, counter recessionary pressures and spark a recovery.  Thus there have been criticisms by mainstream and renowned Western economists (including Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz) that criticise the IMF for imposing policies on developing countries that are opposite to what the US does when facing a similar situation.

An important policy option, i.e. the use of capital and exchange rate controls (even if done selectively, in a limited way, and over a limited time period), is not considered a legitimate instrument in the IMF range of policies and is in fact prohibited in some letters of intent.  This has been the position until now, although recent statements have been made by the IMF secretariat that indicate it is more willing to look at capital controls as a possible option.    

By using capital and exchange rate controls, the country is better able to de-link interest rates from exchange rates and capital outflows, and is thus in a better position to reduce the interest rate without the unintended effects of capital outflow and a weakening currency.  It would thus be in a much better situation to take recovery-oriented monetary and fiscal policies, including of the type that the US adopts when facing recessionary conditions.

The Malaysian experience is instructive in this regard.  During the Asian crisis, Malaysia did not seek IMF crisis loan assistance.  However it initially undertook IMF-style policies for about a year, raising interest rates, introducing restrictive monetary policies and sharply reduced government expenditure, whilst also maintaining an open capital account and a floating exchange rate system.  The economy spun into deep recession, local corporations were faced serious difficulties servicing their loans due to the jump in interest rates, the banks' non-performing loans rose correspondingly, there was a credit squeeze, and the currency and stock market plummeted.  In September 1998, a new policy package was introduced, which included fixing the currency's exchange rate to the US dollar, deinternationalising the local currency (preventing its speculative trade abroad), selective capital controls affecting the capital account in some ways, though the current account remained open; the sharp reduction of interest rates, and expansionary monetary and fiscal policies, as well as restructuring bad corporate and banking loans.  The domestic pro-recovery policies regarding interest rates, monetary and fiscal policies could be carried out without the potential negative effect on the exchange rate and on capital flight because of the prior introduction of the selective capital controls and the fixed exchange rate mechanism.  The policy package seems to have worked well for Malaysia, as the economy recovered and the financial position of banks and many local corporations improved in 1999 and 2000.  The Malaysian experience may or may not be suitable for other countries facing a similar crisis, as an appropriate policy package would have to be one that is tailored to the specific features of the country and the specific problems it faces.  The point being made here is that policies that would be considered "unorthodox" by the IMF (and would in all probability not have been considered an option by the IMF if suggested by a client country) can work.  In other words, there are alternatives to the IMF policy package and these alternatives can be effective, and even more effective than the IMF's policies. 

Since the type of policies that are linked to IMF conditionality have been increasingly criticised for not working, including because they are contractionary and recessionary in nature and effect, it is no wonder that there is a lack of credibility and confidence in the substance of IMF conditionality, even in its core areas of competence.

There is thus a need for IMF to review its macroeconomic package, re-look the policy objectives and assumptions, compare the trade-offs in policy objectives with the number and effects of policy instruments, and widen the range of policy options and instruments.  This review should be made in respect of government budget and expenditure, money supply, interest rate, exchange rate, and the degree of capital account openers and regulation, in the periods prior to crisis (to prevent one) and during crisis (to manage it).

(f) IMF policies badly designed from the social development perspective


The IMF has also been heavily criticised, especially by civil society, for the inappropriate design of their policies from the viewpoint of social impact, including reducing access of the public to basic services, and increasing the incidence of poverty.   The adverse social impacts are caused by several policies and mechanisms.  The contractionary monetary and fiscal policies induce recessionary pressures, corporate closures, lower or negtaive growth rates, retrenchments and higher unemployment.  Cutbacks in government expenditure lead to reduced spending on education, health and other services. The switch in financing and provision of services from a grant basis to user-pay basis impacts negatively on the poorer sections of society.  The removal or reduction of government subsidies jacks up the cost of living including the cost of transport, food, and fuel.  These and other policies have contributed to higher poverty, unemployment, income loss and reduced access to essential goods and services.  It is not a coincidence that countries undergoing IMF conditionality have been affected by demonstrations and riots (popularly called "IMF Riots").  The social impact of IMF policies is another major cause of the crisis of credibility in IMF conditionality.     

(g)    Brief conclusion

This section of the Note describes the problems regarding the process and especially the policy substance or content of IMF conditionality.  It must be recognised by the IMF that the major problem with its conditionality is that the policies associated with it are seen to be inappropriate and harmful.  This view is not confined to critical academics or NGOs but is now adopted by renowned mainstream scholars, by parliamentarians of many countries (including the US), and also by policy makers of the countries taking IMF loans and undergoing IMF conditionality.  The growth of the criticism is caused mainly by the poor record of the policies adopted, and not so much by the lack of implementation of the policies.  Therefore, the most urgent task is not so much to "sell" the old conditionality better to the client governments or to the public, but to review the content of conditionality itself and to come up with a better and more appropriate framework and approach.


Other factors that have affected the credibility of conditionality are the perception that the Fund lacks adequate knowledge and understanding of some critical issues on which it gioves advice, and the perception of double standards in policy.

Regarding the lack of adequate knowledge, the section above has outlined some inappropriate policies in relation to the domestic macroeconomy.  The Fund has also shown inaequate understanding of the nature and workings of international capital markets.  This was shown during the Asian crisis, which is now accepted as a crisis related to the opening of the capital account by the affected countries.  Speculative funds, including the hedge funds, played a major role in catalysing the initial devaluation in Thailand.  When called upon by ASEAN leaders to study the role of hedge funds, the IMF initially denied that they had any significant role.  The IMF's then managing director maintained (in December 1997) that the crisis in Asia was due to inadequate capital liberalisation and that speculative funds and activities did not play any causative role.  It was only after the LTCM meltdown that the IMF took the role of hedge funds (and their great leverage) seriously.   As mentioned earlier, the present IMF managing director has admitted earlier this year that IMF staff do not adequately understand the capital markets and he urged them to get to know the markets better.   This is a remarkable admission, which is very much to be welcomed.  For years the IMF secretariat had been advocating that developing countries open their capital account, which would open them more directly to the forces of international capital markets.  Also, there were strong moves to add capital account liberalisation to the mandate of the IMF through an amendment to the articles of association.  This advocacy that developing countries open themselves to the full force of global capital markets, when the Fund itself had inadequate knowledge of the capital markets, was surely remarkable, and in hindsight a great mistake with so many adverse consequences.  With the recent admission of lack of knowledge, let us hope the Fund is starting a learning process that will lead to recognition of previous errors and a more appropriate, cautious approach with a change in policy advice to developing countries.

Regarding double standards, the following are some examples.  The IMF insisted as part of the policy package that local firms and banks should not be bailed out (on the ground of moral hazard) but there was a perception that foreign creditors were being bailed out (thus the moral hazard argument did not apply to them).  Governments of developed countries often arrange rescue operations for institutions and corporations facing financial crisis (eg the savings and loans crisis, the LTCM crisis, both in the US); yet government intervention to rescue important national firms was frowned on by IMF. Developed countries facing recessionary conditions typically make use of Keynesian-type counter-recession measures; however the opposite measures were applied to the affected Asian countries.  Moreover, there is the perception that some demands included in conditionality were placed there by major shareholders and reflected their interests and not the interests of the affected country which had to accept such conditions under duress.  The element of double standard is also there: why is it that major shareholders' narrow interests are accommodated rather than the interests of the affected country?

These questions affect the ownership of conditionality.


In examining the relation between ownership and conditionality, there can be the following scenarios.  First, the conditionality policies are inappropriate and the country owns them fully and implements effectively. Secondly, the policies are inappropriate and the country is reluctant to own them and implementation is not so good. Thirdly, the policies are appropriate but the country does not own them and does not implement well.  Fourthly, the policies are good, the country owns them and implements fully.

In the first case there is ownership but adverse results.  In the second case there is no ownership or reluctant ownership and the results are perhaps not as adverse as in the first case.  In the third case the problem is not the policies but how to get them accepted. The fourth case is the ideal.

It should be recognised that there is also a major difference between "acceptance" and "genuine ownership."   In most official discussions, the "ownership" problem refers to how to get the recipient country to accept and internalise the policies (which are as usual made by the IMF and not the country) so that there is a better implementation rate.  In the context of such discussions, a more accurate term would be "acceptance".  Genuine ownership implies that the recipient country is allowed rights to participate in policy formulation itself, so that the conditionality package is truly "owned" by the country.   The feeling of ownership comes with the right and practice of participation in policy making.

It should go without saying that appropriateness of conditionality policies in terms of being in the interests of the debtor countries is the key issue to be resolved. “Acceptance” of externally imposed conditionality by the debtor countries is secondary and dependent on it.  Moreover, the right to participate in policy making, and thus genuine ownership, is a critical element in ensuring appropriate conditionality and its implementation.

The role of the Secretariat is important in whether the process, the policy formulation and the outcome is successful. For that to happen, the Secretariat must be seen to be impartial, working for the interests of the recipient country, possessed with adequate knowledge of the international situation, of the domestic situation and conditions, and the ability to help the country come up with appropriate policies.  If the Fund is to be perceived to be playing this role, much has to be done to earn the credibility and confidence.

The role of the major shareholder countries is even more important.  The public perception is that they would like to make use of the Fund for their interests, often at the expense of recipient countries and their people.  The perception is that the major shareholders (who are also the home countries of the major creditor and investor institutions) make use of their position to skew the policy conditions in a manner that is biased in favour of creditors and investors.   Is there a conflict of interest in their making use of the vulnerable state that debtor countries find themselves in, as leverage for imposing policies that are in their own narrow interests, even if these are against the interests of the debtor countries?  

Finally, it is difficult or even impossible to ensure that the interests of debtor countries will be adequately reflected in conditionality and Fund decisions when the voting rights in the Fund are so skewed towards the creditor countries.  Thus, the issue of the relationship between ownership and conditionality has to face up to the issue of the ownership of the IMF itself.

When decision-making rights are so imbalanced as they now are, it is not a wonder that the developed countries are perceived to be controlling the Fund's policies, and in a manner that reflects their own interests rather than the interests of the whole membership.  This situation is likely to continue until there is a fairer balance in the decision-making system. There is a dire need for the modernisation and democratisation of the governance system, including a revision of the quota and voting system.  This can be accompanied by genuine reform of IMF policies and priorities.  The issue of "ownership and conditionality" can then be better resolved in that context.

Martin Khor

Third World Network


Berlin, 12 June 2001