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As IMF Urges Pakistan to Raise Tax, Dodges Food Prices, Cote d'Ivoire and, Belatedly, Bulgaria

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 3, updated -- With protests related to rising food prices and mis-government spreading worldwide, the IMF in Pakistan is reportedly urging the much-opposed government to raise taxes on agricultural income, and thereby food prices too.

At the IMF's fortnightly press briefing on Thursday, Inner City Press submitted four question, including about Pakistan, food prices and Cote d'Ivoire. IMF spokesperson Caroline Atkinson, calling three of the four questions “bilateral,” read out and answered only one:

On Pakistan, can you confirm the IMF is accepting delay in the Reformed General Sales Tax, in exchange for the gov't raising other taxes, such as taxes on agricultural income? What impact could this have on food prices?”

To this, Ms. Atkinson said that what she would confirm was that the IMF had a team in Pakistan, working closely with the government “to get the program back on track” including “revenue raising measure so that they have the resources... especially after the floods." But what safeguards are there that this revenue raising won't further raise food prices?

Among the questions that Atkinson called “bilateral” was one directly on food prices:

On Africa, what is the IMF's response to Botswana Central Bank governor Linah Mohohlo's statement that 'The IMF (International Monetary Fund) is also lagging behind. I am almost sure the problems of Africa will not reach the board of the IMF.' She added that higher food inflation in the continent squeezes the poor?”

One wonders how this is a “bilateral” question -- does that mean, not of general interest? Those in person at the IMF's briefing asked question after question about Egypt, even after Atkinson made it clear she would not answer, saying “we are not political experts.” She would not even answer if the IMF had been in contact this week with Egypt's finance minister.

Protest in Tunisia, IMF role not acknowledged, other Qs called bilateral

  In response to a question from an Israeli newspaper, Ms. Atkinson acknowledged the obvious, that events in Egypt would have regional impact. But here is another question she called bilateral:

On Cote d'Ivoire, what is the IMF's comment on the recent sovereign bond default? What does the IMF think the impacts would be of Cote d'Ivoire breaking from the CFA and establishing its own currency? What are the IMF's plans on Cote d'Ivoire?”

  At the end of the IMF briefing, Spokesperson Atkinson concluded, "I should just say that we've received some bilateral questions on Botswana, Cote d'Ivoire and Romania that will be answered bilaterally." This was the question about protests against the IMF also not answered at the briefing nor by embargo deadline:

On Romania, what is the IMF's response to 1000s of people protesting in Romania after “the government cut public workers' salaries, increased the sales tax from 19 to 24 per cent and cut child benefits to meet demands by the IMF”?

  Recently at the UN, a wire service reporter proposed that other reporters at briefings should only ask questions in which “everyone” is interested. Perhaps the IMF has adopted this approach. But it goes around world trumpeting its interest in Africa, for example. How then are questions about Cote d'Ivoire and Botswana “bilateral”? Watch this site.

Update: later, this arrived:

From: IMF spokesperson
Date: Mon, Feb 7, 2011 at 6:11 PM
Subject: FW: Inner City today--Romania
To: Inner City Press

Dear Matthew, Apologies for the delay in getting back to you. Below you will find our answer with regard to your question on Romania, which you can attribute to an IMF spokesperson.

Following very large nominal wage increases during the economic boom period in Romania, public wages were cut 25 percent last summer. Adjustment of the public sector was necessary and the authorities decided on a combination of expenditure cuts and increases of revenues to put the public finances back on a sustainable path.”

* * *

As IMF Downplays Tunisia Role, Gbagbo Frozen, Juba Waiting, Hungary Dodged

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 21 -- Amid Tunisia's seeming revolution, Inner City Press has asked the International Monetary Fund twice in the past fortnight about its role in the country.

  On January 6, at the IMF first briefing of the year, Inner City Press asked, “on Tunisia, given the IMF's role and statements, what can IMF say about the unrest that has followed the death of protester Mohamed Bouazizi and others?”

  IMF later that day replied with a statement that “we deeply regret the recent surge of violence in Tunisia. The IMF remains engaged with the Tunisian authorities... IMF staff continues to encourage the authorities to pursue structural reforms.”

  As event moved forward, more and more of the commentary within and outside Tunisia noted that IMF's long time role in Tunisia. For example on a January 20 on a press conference call Steven Cook, author of "Ruling But Not Governing: The Military and Political Development in Egypt, Algeria, and Turkey,” referred the IMF having offered lavish praise of Ben Ali's authoritarian government.

  So on January 20 at the IMF's next briefing, Inner City Press asked, “on Tunisia, what is the current status of IMF programs? With whom has the IMF spoken since the departure of Ben Ali?”

This time, the answer provided by spokesman David Hawley was that “there isn’t an IMF program. Tunisia is a country which has Article IV status and there is an annual consultation with the authorities.”

  So what happened, after Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia, to the IMF “remain[ing] engaged” and “continu[ing] to encourage the authorities to pursue structural reforms”?

Protest in Tunis, even after Ben Ali fled, IMF not shown

  Inner City Press also on January 20 asked three other questions, getting two answers from the IMF:

Inner City Press: On Cote d'Ivoire, what has the IMF done and expended since November 28? What are its plans going forward?

Hawley: “We are waiting for the situation to stabilize before there can be further action on the fund supported program”.

Inner City Press: On Southern Sudan, what is the IMF's planning in light of the preliminary results indicating an overwhelming vote for secession?

Hawley: “The situation in Sudan, as in any country that divides, is that following recognition of the new entity and a request by the new entity to join the fund, there would be consideration of membership. That is a process that takes some time, up to a year.”

Inner City Press' final question, on Hungary, was neither read out loud nor acknowledged by email:

On Hungary, in light of Anne-Marie Gulde's statements, does the IMF find more in the country's plans to take issue with than the transfer of funds from private pension funds to the state?

Watch this site.

* * *

IMF Postpones Kosovo & Pakistan, Waiting for Stronger Governments, Dodges on Sudan But Answers on Tunisia

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 6, updated -- Questions of Pakistan and Kosovo and the International Monetary Fund's longing for strong governments arose at the IMF's fortnightly media briefing on Thursday. Inner City Press asked, and IMF spokesperson Caroline Atkinson read out with a cautionary note, the following on Pakistan:

On Pakistan, what is the IMF's thinking after the assassination of Punjab's governor, as the government loses power -- [here Ms Atkinson added, “those are Matthew's words”] -- is it realistic to think the IMF's conditions will be met?”

  In response, she said Pakistan has been given nine additional months. But what will be different then?

  Later in the briefing, Ms. Aktinson read out the rare Balkan question, also from Inner City Press:

On Kosovo, what are the IMF's views on Mr. Thaci's proposal to double public sector salaries, and on the Council of Europe's allegations this once and seeming future PM was involved in organ trafficking?”

  How ever distasteful the organ reference may have been to Ms. Atkinson, she replied that “we have, as Matthew may know, an eighteen month” program with Kosovo, the December consideration of which has been postponed.

  A link between these two may be that while the IMF does impose conditions on its loans, it prefers to say that governments, particularly legislatures, have approved or even chosen between the choices presented by the IMF. This legitimates the IMF, and also may help in collecting the money down the road.

  Kosovo is in political turmoil, and Pakistan no longer even controls large swaths of its territory -- nor, apparently more importantly to the IMF, its political space.

  Submitted but not acknowledge during the briefing by Ms. Atkinson was this question, about Tunisia:

On Tunisia, given the IMF's role and statements, what can IMF say about the unrest that has followed the death of protester Mohamed Bouazizi and others?”

  We will await the IMF's acknowledgement and answer of this question, and a more detailed response on Sudan and the IMF's role in the debt issues, on which the UN has said “the Bretton Woods institutions are taking the lead.” Watch this site.

Update of 1 pm - Two hours after deadline, the following arrived, with the notation that it should be attributed to an IMF spokesperson:

We deeply regret the recent surge of violence in Tunisia. The IMF remains engaged with the Tunisian authorities and follows the developments closely. Unemployment in Tunisia has declined slightly in the last decade, but remains high, especially among the young. In this context, IMF staff continues to encourage the authorities to pursue structural reforms critical to achieve higher growth, enhance competitiveness and address the problem of persistent high unemployment. Such reforms include measures to increase productivity by improving the business environment, reforming labor market policy, increasing capital investment, and modernizing and strengthening the financial sector.”

We'll have more on this.

 Click here for an Inner City Press YouTube channel video, mostly UN Headquarters footage, about civilian deaths in Sri Lanka.

Click here for Inner City Press' March 27 UN debate

Click here for Inner City Press March 12 UN (and AIG bailout) debate

Click here for Inner City Press' Feb 26 UN debate

Click here for Feb. 12 debate on Sri Lanka

Click here for Inner City Press' Jan. 16, 2009 debate about Gaza

Click here for Inner City Press' review-of-2008 UN Top Ten debate

Click here for Inner City Press' December 24 debate on UN budget, Niger

Click here from Inner City Press' December 12 debate on UN double standards

Click here for Inner City Press' November 25 debate on Somalia, politics

and this October 17 debate, on Security Council and Obama and the UN.

* * *

These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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