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East: Ex-Communist States Seek Fairness From New IMF Chief

  • Andrew Tully

A new managing director of the International Monetary Fund will have to be chosen now that Michel Camdessus is retiring. In Washington, RFE/RL's Andrew F. Tully asks representatives of the former communist countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia what qualities they want in the next man to lead the international lending agency.

Washington, 19 November 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Michel Camdessus, who is retiring in February as head of the International Monetary Fund, wins high praise from representatives of the former communist countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia. But they also say they are looking for differences in whoever succeeds Camdessus.

Camdessus announced November 8 in Washington that he will be stepping down in February after 13 years as managing director. Immediately, Caio Koch-Weser, Germany's deputy finance minister, emerged as his likeliest successor. Koch-Weser has nearly two decades' experience with the World Bank, the IMF's sister agency.

It is now up to the IMF's Executive Board to choose a successor to Camdessus. The board consists of representatives of the 24 most influential nations of the IMF's 182 member countries.

World reaction to Camdessus' tenure was almost universally positive -- almost.

Asian critics of the IMF were quick to complain that Camdessus' demands for fiscal reforms have been too strict for countries struggling with battered economies. They have demanded that the next managing director be from a developing nation because such countries are the primary recipients of IMF aid.

Even the British economic newspaper Financial Times, in an editorial yesterday, says the process of selecting the next managing director should have the same transparency that the IMF demands of the financial institutions in the countries that receive the Fund's loans.

The IMF is an organization rooted in Europe -- it was created to bring the continent out of the ruins of World War II -- and its leadership is traditionally European, even as its focus has shifted more to Southern Asia and Latin America. The Financial Times said to maintain this European tradition would be unrealistic.

But the debate over Camdessus' successor appears to be of little interest in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. What the leaders of these countries want is simply fair treatment from the IMF, regardless of who is its next managing director.

Armen Kharazian is the deputy chief of mission and acting charge d'affaires at the Armenian Embassy in Washington. He spoke highly of Camdessus' IMF tenure in an interview with RFE/RL, but said the next managing director should be quicker to recognize economic reforms in nations seeking assistance from the Fund.

"We would encourage him or her to continue [to] support such a strategy that, while it urges the economies in transition to implement tight monetary and fiscal policies, at the same time it [the IMF] does not fail to offer full international support to those who have already demonstrated adequate commitment and responsibility in honoring those high standards."

Kharazian also said he would like the IMF, under its next leader, to provide more than just financial help to nations struggling to move from socialism to capitalism.

"We would also expect that the new managing director further enhances the mission of the IMF as a central conduit for the emerging economies with knowledge, experience and tools necessary to help them to compete successfully in the global marketplace."

Chary Annaberdyev, minister counselor at Turkmenistan's Embassy in Washington, says his country is pleased with Camdessus' stewardship of the IMF. But he said Turkmenistan would like to see the next managing director pay closer attention to each client nation within its own unique context.

"Taking into consideration different aspects -- you know: What is the legacy? What are the customs and conditions? And how they view their own -- I mean, particular countries -- view their own role in [the] international arena, including foreign trade, you know, with other countries. It's what -- we would like to see a new director to take into consideration all of the specifics."

Annaberdyev says it appears that under Camdessus, IMF negotiators are not always as flexible as they could be.

"We still, again, need to move toward each other. You know, we cannot -- not 'cannot' -- we would like to see the cooperation on the way when we're trying to move toward each other, but not waiting -- just staying on one point and waiting that only [the] opposite side will move toward you."

No representatives of the Russian government could be reached for comment on the qualities it prefers in the next IMF managing director. But on November 10, Aleksandr Livshits, Moscow's representative to the Group of Seven leading industrial countries, said he expects little change in that country's relationship with the IMF.