Tharman Sees “Greater Global Policy Resolve”


“Although the economic environment has weakened, the policy resolve has strengthened.” This is how Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance , who is Chair of the IMF’s policy-setting committee, described the outcome of the IMF-World Bank annual meetings in Tokyo.

Growth is slower than anyone expected,” he admitted in a video interview.  “It is slower in Europe, it is not as fast as it should be in the United States, not as fast as it should be to bring unemployment down, and it is slowing in Asia to a greater extent than was expected. Tharman is chair of the 24-member IMFC.

“But we are now in a much better situation than six months ago when it comes to policy solutions.” He said there had been major steps forward in Europe “despite some disagreement on individual pieces.”  But underlying problems in the Eurozone, budget problems in the United States, and structural problems in global economy are longer term problems and “cannot be fixed quickly.”

For a quick brief on the outcomes from the meetings in Tokyo, take a look at:

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Making the Most of Bad Situations


By Hugh Bredenkamp

Governments in low-income countries are having to deal with a lot of bad news these days. Slow growth in the advanced economies is dampening demand for their exports and affecting inflows of investment, aid, and remittances. Changes in credit conditions elsewhere influence the availability of trade finance. Volatility in commodity prices creates problems for both importers and exporters. Meanwhile, climactic and other natural disasters continue to occur at the local and regional level.

For low-income countries, the impact of these problems can be especially damaging. A surge in food prices can undo years of poverty reduction. A collapse in the price of a key export commodity can throw many people out of work and cause tax revenues to slip, just when expenditures on public services are needed most. For the poorest countries, events elsewhere can quickly affect employment, inflation, the budget, debt, and the balance of payments.

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Heartbreak and Hardship—Finding a Way Out for Fragile States


By Dominique Desruelle

War-torn Iraq, quake-ravaged Haiti, conflict-devastated Sierra Leone. So many countries around the world face the legacy of terrible hardships that have left them scarred and fragile.

Everyone agrees that countries need help to recover from these situations. But it is not easy to come to a shared understanding on what this really takes.

Some have questioned whether the IMF has a meaningful role to play. They argue that engagement in fragile states—countries with weak institutions and infrastructure, internal conflict, and governments that face difficulties delivering core services to the population—should mainly be left to bilateral donors and development institutions.

And they couldn’t be more wrong. Helping a country’s economy to work better—the IMF’s core expertise—is a central building block to move beyond fragile situations and achieve better lives for its citizens. Continue reading

When Reality Doesn’t Bite—Misconceptions about the IMF and Social Spending


By Benedict Clements and Sanjeev Gupta

(Versions in عربي, Français)

All too often we hear the claim that the programs the IMF supports in low-income countries hurt the most vulnerable by forcing cuts in social spending. This is a misconception.

Our study concludes that, contrary to these claims, IMF-supported programs boost education and health spending in low-income countries for as long as countries are engaged with the IMF.

Let the numbers do the talking

We based our analysis on public spending on education and health in 140 countries between 1985 and 2009. The dataset is the most comprehensive ever assembled to assess this issue. The results show the beneficial effects for social spending in program countries in several respects. Continue reading

Help in the Neighborhood: ‘Just a Phone Call Away’


By Alfred Kammer

Regional technical assistance centers have gradually evolved to play a major role in IMF technical assistance. These centers, which are largely donor financed, have become important vehicles for helping countries carry out economic reforms.

Their objective is to assist countries in designing and implementing their poverty reduction and broader developmental strategies and help countries integrate into the world economy.

For example, they help strengthen public financial management, and so improve governance and transparency, facilitating donors’ use of budget support instruments. They help improve tax and customs administration, providing an environment that is more conducive to investment and growth, increasing the resource envelope for poverty reducing spending and reducing the opportunities for corruption. At the same time, such reforms facilitate trade and enable countries to take better advantage of the forces of globalization.

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More Asian Geese Ready to Fly


(Version in 日本語)

Like geese flying in formation, the successive waves of Asian countries achieving economic takeoff and emerging or developed market status, has been likened to those migratory birds in flight.  If this model is accurate, more Asian geese are set to join the flock of economically successful nations.

The “Flying Geese Paradigm” or ganko keitai was first conceived of  by Japanese economist, Kaname Akamatsu in the 1930s as a way of explaining East Asian industrial development.  According to Akamatsu, the lead goose in the formation, was Japan.  The second tier consisted of newly industrialized economies—South Korea, Taiwan Province of China, Singapore, and Hong Kong SAR.  Following hot on their tails were the ASEAN countries, such as Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand.  More recent additions to the flock are China and India

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This Time It’s Different


By Dominique Strauss-Kahn,

Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund

My final destination in this week’s visit to Africa was Zambia, where I sought the views not just of the government but also of the people—in a town hall with civil society, students, and the media. Zambia has one of the highest economic growth rates in sub-Saharan Africa: 6.3 percent in 2009 and the outlook for 2010 appears positive.
While recognizing that Zambia, just like Kenya and South Africa, has its own unique characteristics, I have pulled together some common threads from what I have been hearing in Africa over the past several days.

Africa Is Back


By Dominique Strauss-Kahn,

Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund

In the wake of the global financial crisis, there is a fresh energy in Sub-Saharan Africa–and a broad consensus on the road ahead. Above all, there is the strong sense that Africa’s destiny will be driven by Africans, not by others.

That at least is my initial feeling after two days of dialogue in Kenya with President Kibaki and government officials, civil society leaders and trade unionists, academics and students, and ordinary Kenyans. “Africa is back” is how I described it in a live TV debate in Nairobi with Prime Minister Odinga,  Minister of Finance Kenyatta, Nobel Laureate Wangari Mathai, Transparency International’s Akere Muna and my friend, Bob Geldof. 

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IMF—Delivering on Promises to Africa


By Dominique Strauss-Kahn,

Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund

This week, I’m on my third visit to sub-Saharan Africa within a year. And what a difference a year has made!

This time last year, Africa was swept up into the vortex of the global financial crisis. The global recession struck Africa through several channels—exports collapsed, banks ran into trouble as non-performing loans grew, and investment diminished. Average growth in sub-Saharan Africa fell to 2 percent in 2009 from 5.6 percent the previous year.

But improved policies in the face of the crisis helped the continent get through the storm better than expected and at the IMF we anticipate that Africa will see a relatively quick recovery, with average growth bouncing back to 4½ percent this year and 5½ percent in 2011. African countries were able to take appropriate measures to mitigate the turbulence because policies before the crisis were good, allowing them to build reserves, cut debt, and open up fiscal space to combat the recession.

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Why We Need a “Marshall Plan” for Haiti


By Dominique Strauss-Kahn,

Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund

The saddening and horrific pictures from Haiti after its devastating earthquake brought back vivid memories for me. I lived through an earthquake when I was a young boy in Morocco, and I know how harrowing it is. At that time, there were forty thousand casualties—nothing close to what has happened in Haiti—but I still recall the traumatic scenes of collapsed buildings and mourning families.

Haiti has now been devastated on a far larger scale. The earthquake—the worst in the region in more than 200 years—is the latest in a series of natural and manmade disasters that have, over the years, turned the Caribbean country into the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. Some 80 percent of its nine million people live below the poverty line.

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