Sunday, October 09, 2011

IMF- World Bank Annual Meetings 2011: Personal Impressions (Part I)

By John A. Akec

(Pictured above: IMF Academic Annual Meetings Fellows 2011)

I was very fortunate to be awarded an IMF Annual Meetings Academics Fellowship for 2011. The fellowship allowed me to travel to Washington, DC, and participate in the annual meetings from 19th to 26th September 2011. During my week-long attendance, I learned that the IMF and its sister organization, the World Bank, have been engaging civil society, media groups, and youth organizations for nearly a decade. However, this is the first time the Fund has engaged with the academics from ten different countries through this kind of fellowship Programme. The academics came from South Sudan, Armenia, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Cameroon, Egypt, Mongolia, Paraguay, Romania, and Tanzania. Not surprisingly, the reader will notice that all the academics fellows who were invited to attend this year's annual meetings were from low or medium income countries, or from countries that are broadly classed by economists as emerging markets. These countries are facing many economic challenges to varying degrees but hold great potential for contributing to global economic stability if given the right help in curving the right path to economic growth and prosperity.

The annual official meetings opening was preceded by nearly a week of parallel programmes of topical seminars, conferences, panel and roundtable discussions, interactions of civil society, academics, media and youth groups with IMF Managing Director (Christine Lagarde) and World Bank President (Robert Zoellick). It was not possible to participate in every seminar or roundtable discussion but attended mostly those of interest to me and my home country. Some of the meetings I had been to included meeting up with IMF's mission chief in South Sudan and his team where we were able to exchange views on issues that are of concern to me. Beside academic papers and expert talks, policy makers such as central bank managers of member countries, finance ministers, industry leaders, and civil society leaders presented 'on the ground' perspective that enriched the discussions that followed the presentations.

Topics covered in various roundtable and panel discussions, seminars, and conferences included fostering the Fund's effective engagement with fragile states, challenges of commodity price volatility and inclusive growth in low-income countries, achieving inclusive growth in low-income countries, BBC World debate on current state of global economy, youth dialogue on job creation, IMF's technical assistance in crisis situations and building institutions for the future, and many more.

Friday 23rd was the main opening day which brought everyone together after days of intense interactions in roundtable and thematic panel discussions, conferences, and seminars.

The main speakers at the opening day were the IMF Managing Director and World Bank President. This article is an attempt to share my impressions and experiences at the annual meetings.

IMF in Few Lines!
For my non-economist readers, a brief introduction to International Monetary Fund is appropriate. However, for those well versed in economics, they may like to skip this paragraph or check my facts!

(Pictured above: Christine Lagarde, IMF Managing Director and Robert Zoellick, World Bank President Interacting with CBOS and Academics)

In a nutshell, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has its roots and conception in the aftermath of 1930s' Great [Economic] Depression that wreaked havoc on major world's economies, and destroyed wealth and lives of millions around the world. The Great Depression led to the early realization of the interconnectedness of World economy and the necessity of closer economic coordination amongst the countries of the world in order to discourage economic management behaviors or policies that may hamper international trade and threaten the recurrence of crisis of the mammoth scale such as that of 1930's depression. After World War II, there also arose the need to rebuild and reconstruct the war ravaged countries. Conceived in 1944 in New Hampshire's town of Bretton Woods in north east of United States, the IMF began operation on March 1, 1947. It was tasked, amongst others, with the responsibility of overseeing the international monetary system (exchange rate stability and international payment system that foster fruitful trade between countries and discourage competition that is destructive to international trade and hence can harm the health of global economy, and literally, everyone).

(Pictured above: CBOS Listening to IMF Managing Director and World Bank President)

Over the past decades, the role of the IMF has evolved and expanded extensively (in line with our increasingly interconnected economies) and can be summed up these days as that of global economic crisis management, monitoring and surveillance of global economy, ensuring macro-economic stability through design and giving of policy advice to member governments so as to implement their own economic and fiscal policy frameworks, providing technical assisatnce and capacity building for member countries, coordinating donor efforts, and lending to members in need. Based in Washington DC, the Fund is headed by its Managing Director (currently Madame Christine Lagarde, former finance minister of France), who is assisted by at least 2 Deputy Directors, and 24-member Board of Executive Directors representing some 187 member countries. The membership is expected to rise when South Sudan joins the Fund sometimes later in the year. Although the IMF work is distinct, it overlaps and complements that of the World Bank, also a Bretton Woods' brainchild. The two sisterly institutions work closely and their headquarters face each other across 19th Street in the North West of Washington, DC.

The Implications of Funds' Interaction with Academics and Civil Society During Annual Meetings and Spring Meetings.

(Pictured above: Third from left: Ms. Nemat Shafik, Deputy Managing Director of IMF debating young people from different countries, moderated by Ms. Tsepiso Makwetha, South Africa Broadcast Corportation)

For most of us, IMF is known for its mixed-bag attempts to revive the economies of poor and heavily indebted countries, mostly in Africa, in the last three decades; and how its structural adjustment programmes (SAPs) have come under fire from wide sectors of society worldwide. In that respect, the Fund has been accused of pushing for ambitious economic reforms and policies in developing countries that hit the vulnerable in society the hardest and stalled economic growth in the poor and heavily indebted countries in Africa. The Fund has also been accused of secrecy and ignoring the citizens, and working with governments instead to design monetary and fiscal policy frameworks that, in the case of Africa, have come to impact in many unpleasant ways the living standards of majority of the citizens without their consent or knowledge. Civil society groups have also criticized the Fund for reporting on growth and praising the governments of countries concerned without dude regard for inclusiveness of such growth, nor accounting for income distribution inequalities that are so prevalent in many African, Asian, and Arab countries, and the lack of effective investment in jobs creation, specially for young people globally and specially in Africa and the Middle East, in which a disproportionate percentage of youth struggle to find gainful employment. This situation is further aggravate by absence of social safety nets and is blamed for social and political upheavals in Middle East and some parts of Europe, as UK's most recent youth riots, for example.

(Pictured: Professor Jeffrey Sachs addressing the conference on commodity volatility via video link from Earth Institute, University of Columbia)

By letting down the curtains and opening up its doors and its annual meetings to academics, civil society groups, development agencies, and youth organisations; the Fund and the World Bank, I reckon, want to send an unmistakable message that they are embracing a positive change to become more responsive, more transparent, more accountable, and more willing than ever to be scrutinized from inside out (not just from without); as well as signalling their readiness to accommodate the views of these groups when designing and implementing economic policy frameworks. In other words, I think, the Fund and World Bank want to correct the old image and insetad strive to transform themselves into more credible, trustworthy, and effective global institutions for public good which everyone one of us has always wished them to be. At least this is the idea. A good idea that is worth applauding, and nurturing.

(Oliver Blanchard (tallest, in the middle back row) Director of IMF Research Department, Vasuki Shastry (back row second left) and Jeremy Mark (back row first left) from IMF Public Affairs and External Relations Department interacting with Academic Fellows)

In part 2 of this article, I am going to examine some of the topics covered at the annual meetings and how relevant are hey to the situation of South Sudan. I will also discuss the role the academic community can play in order to enhance IMF's effectiveness.

To be continued.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home