Openness would surely help to answer the most basic question about the fund’s performance: How successful is the IMF in helping countries reform their economies and achieve self‐sustaining growth? Numerous independent studies have found that the IMF creates long‐term aid dependency, that its credit slows the process of reform and that it has a bureaucratic incentive to lend. Of course, IMF officials claim otherwise, but they continue to keep many of the agency’s documents, economic evaluations and policy prescriptions confidential.
The fund, for example, has never publicly produced a thorough assessment of its own effectiveness as has the World Bank. Harvard’s Jeffrey Sachs has derided the agency for making it “extremely difficult for outside observers to prepare a serious quantitative appraisal of IMF policies.” Even after the IMF grudgingly began to publish the stipulations of some of its loan packages, the head of the Institute of International Finance, Charles Dallara, complained that the information the fund provides is woefully inadequate for the needs of market participants.
But what if countries began providing the fund with the data it demands? Could the IMF at least be expected to detect ominous financial developments and offer timely warnings? Treasury secretary Robert Rubin and others suggest that the world badly needs better economic surveillance. The fund, says IMF chief Michel Camdessus, should fill that role. Never mind that the agency was charged with that mission and utterly failed to alert the world to problems in Thailand, South Korea, Indonesia or the Philippines — a task at which it had promised to do a better job after failing in Mexico in 1994. Instead, the IMF praised all of those economies right up to the outbreak of crisis.