Voice

Who trusts the International Monetary Fund?

The International Monetary Fund usually gets headlines when it's negotiating an emergency loan with some country on the precipice of financial ruin. But the organization intersects with almost every sovereign goverment in much less dramatic fashion. Through its "surveillance" function, the IMF attempts to act as monitor and mentor to finance ministries and central banks around the world. Fund officials value their role as trusted and discreet advisors to national officials.

Through formal surveillance reports and informal conversations, the IMF does plenty of talking. But are its government interlocutors listening? And do they trust the Fund's intentions? The IMF's internal evaluation group recently released a report that attempts to assess how receptive governments are to Fund advice. Drawing on surveys with a broad range of national officials, the report offers mixed news. On the bright side, it finds that the Fund's reputation with member states has soared since the 2007-2008 financial crisis. National officials see the Fund as more responsive and less rigid in its advice:

The Fund staff is now seen as more open, listening more, and having a real dialogue. Indeed, this view was close to unanimous among the respondents to thecountry authorities’ survey. The Fund is perceived as more flexible and responsive. Almost 90 percent of country respondents agreed that the Fund had become more flexible in its approach to [loan] programs. Interviewees cited, for example, IMF support of fiscal stimulus; the shift to being able to use IMF financing for fiscal deficits; a significant drop in the amount of conditionality in programs; the IMF’s support of capital controls in some instances; and a less rigid approach on exchange rates.

But confidence in and receptivity to the Fund varies widely. The major industrialized economies are often "indifferent" to Fund advice, the report found. Most worryingly, the major emerging economies often don't trust the Fund, which they still  see as dominated by and beholden to its advanced-country shareholders [emphasis added]:

A perception among some country authorities that the Fund is dominated by the interests of its largest shareholders undermined the view of the Fund as a trusted advisor. This notion was particularly prevalent among authorities in large emerging markets, almost half of whom noted that this perception, together with a sense of unequal treatment of countries by the IMF, influenced their decisions not to seek the IMF’s advice. These results were mirrored by those from both the mission chief and resident representative surveys, more than 40 percent of whose res pondents believed that the perception that IMF advice reflects the interests of the larger shareholders adversely affected their own capacity to be trusted advisors.

Government of South Africa

The Multilateralist

What Kuroda's appointment says about multilateral leadership

It now appears that Haruhiko Kuroda, currently the president of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), will take the helm at the Bank of Japan (BOJ). For weeks, Kuroda was thought to be one of several contenders for the spot, although most accounts didn't have him as the favorite. The most immediate implications of the appointment have to do with Japan's controversial currency moves. But the fact that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has apparently reached for someone in a multilateral post is itself noteworthy. 

It had appeared that Kuroda's ADB posting was hurting his chances. First, he was distant from Tokyo and no longer part of the inner finance ministry circle. Some recent reporting had also suggested that Japanese officials were worried about losing their leadership privileges at the ADB if Kurodo moved to the BOJ. A Japanese official has always led the Manila-based regional bank. Via the Wall Street Journal:   

Some Japanese officials worry that if Mr. Kuroda leaves early for the BOJ slot, Japan risks losing the perch it has controlled since the founding of the Manila-based institution in 1966. For Japanese finance officials, the ADB is Japan's equivalent of the World Bank for the U.S. or the International Monetary Fund for Europe—an international financial institution they expect to run, a platform for global influence. Losing the ADB for Japan would be a blow, especially at time of growing insecurity about the country's diminished standing in the region.

It is unclear, however, whether Japan's hold would really be threatened, or whether that argument is being put forward by those advocating Mr. Kuroda's rivals.

It wouldn't be illogical for Japan to worry about its traditional ADB privileges. China has become an increasingly important ADB shareholder. What's more, the most recent leadership races at the World Bank and International Monetary Fund put new pressure on national privileges at key multilateral organizations. If Tokyo was in fact concerned about the ADB perch, it raises the possibility that the meritocratic wave in multilateral leadership is extending to regional organizations.

However, it now appears that those concerns were trumped by the perceived benefits of Kuroda's multilateral profile -- and that says something about the relationship between leadership in multilateral organizations and national governance. Kuroda undoubtedly acquired diplomatic skills at ADB that will serve him well at the BOJ, which has been under fire for its inflationary moves. As the New York Times' account put it, "Mr. Kuroda’s global experience could help Tokyo navigate that foreign criticism." There is evidence that Abe saw Kuroda's global experience as a decisive advantage over rivals who had only worked domestically:

Abe [commented] last week on the need for a new governor to have international contacts as a key qualification for the post, suggesting that he prefers someone with experience in financial diplomacy. Muto spent most of his career in domestic affairs, climbing the career ladder at the ministry of finance to become its top bureaucrat.

"Japan now needs a governor who can join, communicate and convince people in the inner circles of global finance," Abe told parliament on Wednesday.

But does the phenomenon of top officials sliding seamlessly between senior multilateral and national posts do violence to the already battered concept of international civil service? When officials take posts at the IMF, World Bank, the UN, or a regional organization, they pledge to work for the organization and, more broadly speaking, for the regional or international community. Doing that involves shedding -- or at least subsuming -- national loyalties. That's a hard task even when multilateral officials aren't thinking about a plum national post. Recent research by Liesbet Hooghe indicates that even top EU officials struggle to adopt a multinational mindset (hat tip to my AU colleague Mike Schroeder). 

Increased fluidity between national and multilateral leadership posts may yield more savvy, experienced, and effective national officials, but it could also make the already tough task of producing credible international civil servants all the more challenging. 

World Economic Forum