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IMF head pledges renewed efforts to protect data integrity

UPDATED: Wed., Oct. 13, 2021

Kristalina Georgieva, International Monetary Fund managing director, speaks during a news conference at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing in November 2019.   (Associated Press)
Kristalina Georgieva, International Monetary Fund managing director, speaks during a news conference at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing in November 2019.  (Associated Press)
By Martin Crutsinger Associated press

WASHINGTON — The embattled head of the International Monetary Fund, who successfully fought to keep her job following a data-manipulation scandal, is pledging renewed efforts to bolster data integrity while focusing on the main job of helping countries recover from a devastating global pandemic.

IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said Wednesday that she was glad the IMF’s 24-member executive board had expressed confidence in her ability to head up the 190-nation IMF. The board looked into accusations that Georgieva, while at the World Bank, had pressured staff to boost the rankings of China and other countries in 2018 in an influential business climate report

“The board concluded that it has full confidence in my ability to lead the Fund and it feels great to concentrate on the work at hand,” Georgieva told reporters at a news conference to preview the agenda for the annual meetings of the IMF and World Bank this week in Washington.

Georgieva said that the episode had taught her of the critical need to make sure that staff working for her feel the ability to raise concerns. She said she planned to meet with IMF staff on Monday to discuss the incident and to explore ways to enhance to bolster the reliability of the economic reports produced by the IMF.

“I first want to remind everybody that the problem was with one specific, rather controversial report at the World Bank, not with the research and data at the IMF,” she said.

She said the IMF board recognized the “the excellence of the IMF and IMF research” and the strong monitoring system at the agency to ensure the integrity of IMF data.

The controversy involved a “Doing Business” report that had been produced annually by the Wrold Bank that ranked the business climate of major countries. There were allegations that Georgieva and other top World Bank officials had pressured staff preparing the report to boost the ranking of China to place the world’s second largest economy at a time when the World Bank was lobbying China to boost its financial support for World Bank programs.

After the report from a private law firm came out, the World Bank announced it was discontinuing the Doing Business annual rankings. But the whole incident the incident fueled complaints by critics including members of Congress that China had too much influence with institutions such as the IMF and World Bank.

Georgieva said she was thankful to be able to present her side of the case to the IMF board over the past we.

“When we presented finally two sides of the story next to each other, there was no there there,” she told reporters Wednesday.

“That is not to say that I don’t take the broader message to make sure that staff can always reach out to superiors … to signal discontent and disagreement,” she said.

The IMF board announced late Monday night that it was allowing Georgieva to keep her job, an announcement that came after she had a conversation earlier in the day with U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.

In a statement describing that talk, Treasury said that the United States, the largest shareholder at both the IMF and World Bank, saw a need to take proactive steps to “reinforce data integrity and credibility at the IMF” and to ensure that whistleblowers are protected.

The finance meetings this week will address efforts to boost resources of the IMF and World Bank to battle the pandemic in poorer countries.

In its latest World Economic Outlook released Tuesday the IMF slightly downgraded its forecast for global growth this year to 5.9%, compared to 6% in July, blaming the weakness on the surge of COVID cases this summer and increased disruptions of global supply chains.

At a separate news conference Wednesday, World Bank President David Malpass said the world was suffering from a “dramatically uneven recovery” that had already pushed more than 100 million people into extreme poverty.

Georgieva, a Bulgarian economist, is the second woman to head the IMF. She succeeded Christine Lagarde in 2019 after Lagarde left to become head of the European Central Bank.

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