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ECONOMY | 27-10-2021 12:53

Nearly 200 IMF staffers urge Georgieva to explain softening of Brazil climate language

Almost 200 IMF staff sign petition asking Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva to clarify details of actions that led to the softening of a warning about environmental risks to Brazil’s economy.

Almost 200 staff from the International Monetary Fund signed a petition asking Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva to clarify details of actions that led to the softening of a warning about environmental risks to Brazil’s economy.

The petition, signed by 194 employees of the Washington-based fund, was sent by the IMF’s ombudsman to Georgieva’s office on Monday, according to an internal fund email seen by Bloomberg News.

“We the undersigned members of staff would hereby like to voice our concerns regarding an issue close to our hearts: respect for the rules and procedures that safeguard staff’s technical independence,” the staff members wrote.

Georgieva, in an email to IMF staff on Monday seen by Bloomberg News, said all fund rules and procedures were respected in the Brazil case. 

“The management team, including myself, played a constructive role, aiming to preserve the integrity of staff’s work while seeking to understand the authorities’ concerns,” she wrote, referring to Brazil’s government.

The number of signatories is equal to about seven percent of the IMF’s global staff of 2,700. Such petitions are rare in the fund’s recent history, according to people familiar with the fund’s operations who asked not to be identified.

The movement comes after Bloomberg News reported October 8 that fund officials including Georgieva, who’s made climate change a signature issue, tempered the message about Brazil after President Jair Bolsonaro’s government objected to the language.

The management decision at the end of July involved the IMF’s key annual evaluation, known as an Article IV consultation, for Latin America’s largest economy. Managers initially gave their seal of approval to the staff report on July 30 before revoking it hours later and subsequently removing disputed phrasing, IMF officials confirmed earlier this month when asked by Bloomberg News about the events.

Georgieva has been facing some discontent following unrelated allegations in an investigation by law firm WilmerHale, conducted for the World Bank, that she pushed staff in 2017 to manipulate China data to boost its ranking in the bank’s Doing Business report. Georgieva, 68, denied any wrongdoing.

The IMF board earlier this month said its investigation didn’t conclusively demonstrate that Georgieva played an improper role in the report in question, which ranks countries’ business climates. 

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned earlier this month that the Doing Business scandal could hurt confidence in the IMF and World Bank unless the institutions take strong actions to prevent misconduct and support whistle-blowers.

“Management has assured staff that all fund policies and procedures were respected related to the Brazil Article IV staff report and has responded in detail to all questions raised,” Gerry Rice, the IMF’s spokesman, said Tuesday in an emailed response to questions.

In the petition, which cites Bloomberg’s article on the Brazil matter, IMF staffers asked Georgieva whether her office sought the removal of language related to climate change from the Brazil report, and whether this violated policies about sharing and negotiating staff reports.

“Our main output is referred to as ‘staff report’ for a reason,” IMF staff said in the petition. If countries disagree, “our policies offer various constructive ways forward,” but “negotiation of the text is ruled out explicitly by our policies.”

by Eric Martin, Bloomberg

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