The International Monetary Fund is dismissing a set of demands issued by a group planning protests during the annual meeting of the IMF and World Bank in Washington at the end of next month. The threat of potentially disruptive demonstrations by anti-globalization protesters earlier led the IMF to shorten the meeting from one week to two days (September 29-30).
Police in Washington say they expect as many as 100,000 protesters in Washington during the IMF-World Bank annual meeting. Millions of dollars are being spent on security and a fence that will seal off a four-kilometer area of downtown.
IMF spokesman Tom Dawson says the heightened security means these meetings will be less open than in the past. That, he says, is the fault of the demonstrators who argue that IMF and World Bank policies are destructive to developing countries.
At a briefing for reporters, Mr. Dawson rejected the protesters' assertion that IMF policies squeeze the poor and cause borrower countries to reduce social spending.
"The idea that the Fund or the Bank go into countries and slash social spending is simply not the case," said Mr. Dawson. "We do - at least in the case of the Fund - tend to go into countries that are in difficulty. That makes it natural that the budgets will be under pressure. But our belief is that countries with Fund programs - the poorest countries with Fund programs - tend to show increases, not decreases, in social spending, as compared to countries without Fund programs."
Mr. Dawson similarly dismissed the protest organization's call for the IMF and World Bank to stop supporting privatization of state-owned enterprises in developing countries. "They [the protesters] seem to have a model in which there shouldn't be any privatization," he said. "I think the record of the past few decades is that market forces work, and that private ownership leads to better performance and better growth prospects."
Mr. Dawson also addressed a demand by the self-styled Mobilization for Global Justice group that the debts of all impoverished countries be canceled. "Not withstanding this demand for debt forgiveness, this is not a demand we are hearing from our member countries," he went on to say. "Remember, we're an organization of 183 member countries, and they are not asking us to forgive the debt because they understand the nature of the problem and how best to deal with it -- that, while debt forgiveness is appropriate in some cases, they recognize that good policies and retaining access to capital markets is important."
The IMF and World Bank have led efforts to offer debt relief to more than 20 of the world's poorest countries.
Anti-globalization protests began at a World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle, Washington, in November 1999, and over the past year have been held at a number of regional and global economic meetings.