CHAPTER 5 Poverty Reduction and Debt Relief for Low-Income Countries

International Monetary Fund
Published Date:
September 2001
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The stubbornly high incidence of extreme poverty in many parts of the world remains one of the greatest challenges facing the international community. The International Development Goals adopted by United Nations conferences in the early 1990s1 aim to halve the incidence of extreme poverty by 2015 as well as achieve correspondingly ambitious improvements in infant, child, and maternal mortality; education; reproductive health; and the environment. At the UN Millennium Summit held in 2000, world leaders underscored the need to intensify the fight against poverty, ensure that globalization becomes a positive force for all, and help developing countries mobilize resources to finance their sustained development (see Box 5.1).

The goal of poverty reduction in the low-income countries will not be achieved without sustained economic growth that favors the poor. This will require the concerted efforts of both the low-income countries themselves and the broader international community. Among the responsibilities of the world community are the opening of markets for developing countries’ exports, increasing aid flows, and helping to reduce the burden of international debt on heavily indebted low-income countries so they can increase the resources applied to poverty reduction.

The IMF has an important role to play, in collaboration with the World Bank, in the global effort to promote poverty reduction. In September 1999, the International Monetary and Financial Committee endorsed enhancements to the Initiative for Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (the HIPC Initiative). The Committee also accepted proposals to link debt relief, as well as concessional lending through the IMF’s new Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF) and the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA), to country-owned, comprehensive policy strategies described in Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs). PRSPs embody the principles of country ownership, participatory consultation with civil society and other stakeholders, and a focus on outcomes in terms of poverty reduction.

Progress reports on the enhanced HIPC Initiative and the PRSP approach were prepared in April 2000, September 2000, and April 2001, and have been subsequently published. Although major challenges remain, much progress was achieved in FY2001.

Enhanced HIPC Initiative

The international community recognized, in the mid–1990s, that the external debt burdens of many lowincome countries had become unsustainable. Without comprehensive debt relief, most of these countries would remain indefinitely dependent on reschedulings of official bilateral debt, even with the continued provision of concessional financing from the multilateral institutions and sound economic policies in the countries concerned.

Launched in 1996 by the IMF and the World Bank, the Initiative for Heavily Indebted Poor Countries marked the first time that multilateral, Paris Club, and other official bilateral creditors united in a joint effort to reduce the debt stock of the world’s most debt-distressed poor countries to sustainable levels—that is, levels that allow these countries to service their debt through export earnings, aid, and capital inflows without compromising long-term economic growth and poverty reduction. Central to the Initiative are the debtor country’s sustained adjustment and reform efforts.

Recognition that subsequent progress was too slow led the IMF and the World Bank in early 1999 to review the Initiative, in consultation with civil society organizations and public officials. In June 1999, the Group of Eight (G-8) industrial countries at the Cologne Summit proposed changing the eligibility criteria to provide speedier and deeper debt relief to more countries, and in September 1999 the membership of the IMF and the World Bank endorsed enhancements to provide faster, broader, and deeper debt relief (see Box 5.2).

Box 5.1IMF Involved with UN’s Financing for Development Conference

In February 2001, IMF Executive Directors met in Washington with members of the United Nations Bureau for the Preparatory Committee of the High Level International Intergovernmental Event on Financing for Development to exchange views on agenda topics for the meeting of global policymakers, slated to take place in March 2002 in Mexico.

The Financing for Development effort is an outgrowth of the UN Millennium Summit held in September 2000, during which world leaders endorsed a set of key development goals, including sustaining economic growth, integrating countries left behind in the surge of globalization, and continuing the drive to eradicate poverty.

Although the conference is roughly a year away, comprehensive planning is proceeding on several fronts. The preliminary agenda includes the role of sound domestic economic and financial policies in mobilizing local and international financial resources for development; the role of industrial countries in supporting development financing, including through expanded opportunities for trade and debt relief; ways in which developing countries can access international financial markets; and how financial market crises can be better preempted and managed.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s draft report, written in consultation with other UN agencies and with the IMF, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization (WTO), summarizes current thinking on the still-evolving agenda and was prepared for consideration and discussion by the event’s Preparatory Committee. Secretary-General Annan relied on several interagency working groups drawn from these organizations in the preparation of his report.

Progress to Date

By April 2001, 22 countries—more than half of the total expected to receive debt relief under the enhanced HIPC Initiative—had reached their decision points, allowing them to benefit from debt-service relief amounting to about $20 billion in net present value terms over time (see Table 5.1). Decision-point countries were receiving interim relief from some creditors, with others expected to follow. One country, Uganda, had reached its completion point under the enhanced HIPC Initiative, at which point debt relief was delivered unconditionally, and several more are expected to do so by the end of 2001. The countries that had yet to reach a decision point as of April 30, 2001, under the enhanced framework include a few that are likely to reach a decision point in FY2002. But many more HIPC-eligible countries are conflict affected, including several that have protracted arrears to the World Bank and the IMF. Others may have sustainable debt burdens after traditional relief mechanisms and thus are not expected to need relief under the Initiative.

Table 5.1Enhanced HIPC Initiative: Grouping of HIPCs, as of April 30, 2001
41 Heavily Indebted Poor Countries
HIPC Relief Approved atDecision Point Not Yet ReachedSustainable
Decision Point (22)(15)Cases (4)1
BeninMaliBurundi2Lao P.D.R.Angola2
Bolivia3MauritaniaCentral African Republic2Liberia2Kenya
Burkina FasoMozambiqueChad3Myanmar2Vietnam
CameroonNicaraguaCongo, Dem. Rep. of2Sierra Leone2Yemen, Rep. of5
The GambiaNigerCongo, Rep. of2Somalia2
GuineaRwanda2Côte d’IvoireSudan2
GuyanaSão Tomé and Príncipe4Ghana

These countries are expected to achieve debt sustainability after receiving debt relief under traditional mechanisms.

Conflict affected.

Chad reached its decision point in May 2001, and Bolivia reached its completion point in June 2001, after the end of FY2001.

São Tomé and Príncipe did not receive HIPC assistance from the IMF since there was no credit outstanding from the IMF at end-1999, the basis for the HIPC relief calculation.

Yemen reached a decision point in June 2000 with a sustainable debt after the application of traditional relief mechanisms.

These countries are expected to achieve debt sustainability after receiving debt relief under traditional mechanisms.

Conflict affected.

Chad reached its decision point in May 2001, and Bolivia reached its completion point in June 2001, after the end of FY2001.

São Tomé and Príncipe did not receive HIPC assistance from the IMF since there was no credit outstanding from the IMF at end-1999, the basis for the HIPC relief calculation.

Yemen reached a decision point in June 2000 with a sustainable debt after the application of traditional relief mechanisms.

Box 5.2How Does the Enhanced HIPC Initiative Work?

The enhanced HIPC Initiative seeks to provide deeper debt relief by adopting more ambitious targets for debt sustainability:

  • Under the external criterion, the net present value of debt-to-export target was reduced to 150 percent, from 200–250 percent;
  • Under the fiscal criterion, the net present value of debt-to-fiscalrevenue target was reduced to 250 percent, from 280 percent; the threshold ratios to qualify for the fiscal criterion were also lowered: the exports-to-GDP ratio is now 30 percent, down from 40 percent, and the fiscal revenue-to-GDP ratio is now 15 percent, down from 20 percent.

Under the enhanced Initiative, once a heavily indebted poor country has established a sufficient track record of sound economic policies with a focus on poverty reduction, the country is considered to have reached its “decision point.” At the decision point, the Boards of the IMF and the World Bank establish the amount of assistance needed by the debtor country to reach the sustainability thresholds (see Figure 5.1). Debt relief and other assistance begin in the form of “interim assistance” as soon as the decision point is reached. The amount of assistance is based on an assessment of the country’s immediate needs and capacity for channeling the funds to poverty-reducing purposes. Assuming a country remains committed to sound, poverty-reducing policies throughout the period between its decision point and “completion point”—the point at which the remainder of the full stock-of-debt reduction pledged is delivered—interim relief will continue flowing.

The enhanced HIPC Initiative also aims to deliver debt relief more quickly by introducing “floating” completion points not linked to a rigid timeframe, but rather determined by progress toward a set of predefined reforms. Therefore, good performers can benefit from faster debt relief. In addition, the provision of interim assistance under the enhanced Initiative is a major departure from the original framework under which debt relief began flowing only after countries reached the completion point. The main aim is to free up more funds more rapidly to be reallocated to poverty reduction.

Moreover, the amount of debt relief determined at a country’s decision point is now based on actual data available at the decision point, rather than on projections for the country’s completion point.

The enhancements to the HIPC Initiative framework also result in broadening debt relief by expanding the number of eligible countries. Twenty-two countries identified as potentially eligible for debt relief under the Initiative now have debt relief agreements in place—with relief flowing.

Assistance under the HIPC Initiative is limited to countries eligible for PRGF and World Bank International Development Association (IDA) loans that have established strong track records of policy performance. This strong track record is intended to ensure that debt relief is put to effective use.

Figure 5.1Enhanced HIPC Initiative Flow Chart

1 Recognizing the need for flexibility in exceptional cases.

The 22 countries2 receiving relief under the enhanced framework will benefit from significant reductions in debt stocks and debt-service payments (see Figure 5.2). In combination with traditional debt relief and pledges of additional bilateral debt forgiveness, the external indebtedness of these 22 countries will be reduced by almost two-thirds in net present value terms (from $53 billion to $20 billion), bringing their indebtedness to levels below the average for all developing countries. Real debt-service savings in these countries (relative to the amounts paid in 1998–99) are also substantial—about $1.1 billion annually—and debt payments as a percent of exports, GDP, and government revenues will fall dramatically.

Figure 5.2Reduction of Debt Stocks for 22 HIPC Decision Point Countries1

Status as of end-April 2001

Source: HIPC Initiative country documents.

1Excluding Chad, which reached its decision point in May 2001.

Interim assistance offers countries an opportunity to receive immediate benefits while providing them time and support needed to fully articulate in their PRSPs the priorities and programs that they are supporting by debt relief funds, as well as by public resources in general. Based on early indications, the resources freed up by debt relief will be allocated in large part to health, including HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment; education; rural development and water supply; and road construction. Realizing these benefits, however, also requires prompt action on the delivery of committed relief by all creditors.

Challenges Ahead

The remainder of 2001 presents its own challenges in the implementation of the Initiative, with new countries coming forward for debt relief and countries now receiving relief preparing for completion points. The first challenge—moving forward with new decision point cases—presents special difficulties, as most of the countries that have yet to qualify for HIPC relief are either currently engaged in or have recently ended internal or cross-border armed conflict, and many are struggling with severe governance problems. At the same time, these countries need substantial external financing, including debt relief, for poverty-reducing programs and the reconstruction process. The second challenge involves helping to ensure that the 22 decision-point countries remain on track with their macroeconomic and reform programs for reaching their completion points. This, in turn, entails helping each of these 22 countries to develop and implement a full, nationally owned policy action plan, set forth in a Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) supported by the Boards of the IMF and the World Bank.

Maintaining Long-Term External Debt Sustainability

At an April 2001 meeting, Executive Directors agreed that HIPC debt relief provided a good basis for ensuring long-term debt sustainability, but that it also required continued adherence to sound macroeconomic management and structural reforms, as well as adequate flows of concessional external resources and increased access to markets of the advanced countries. (Some of these themes were also stressed during a visit to Africa by the heads of the IMF and the World Bank—see Box 5.3.)

Creditor countries had a key role to play in ensuring that HIPCs achieve a sustainable external debt position. Directors underscored the critical importance of increased access to industrial country export markets, adequate financing after the completion point, disciplined lending to countries with heavy debt burdens, and technical assistance to strengthen debt management. The Board also urged all creditors to deliver relief in a timely manner under the HIPC Initiative. Above all, debt relief should not replace other development assistance, and additional assistance to HIPCs should not come at the expense of non-HIPCs.

Sound policies by debtor countries—including macroeconomic policies, structural reforms, public sector management, good governance, and social inclusion—were critically needed to increase domestic saving and to stimulate output and export growth, in order to reduce external vulnerabilities and eventually the dependence on aid. Given the importance of the private sector for the long-term growth prospects of the HIPCs, Directors emphasized that HIPCs should ensure an enabling environment that will stimulate private economic activity and investment, and attract private equity, particularly foreign direct investment.

Because the projections of debt sustainability are very sensitive to the levels and composition of new borrowing, Directors recommended that new financing for the HIPCs should be on highly concessional terms. They emphasized the importance of transparency and monitoring of new lending to HIPCs, particularly of lending on nonconcessional terms.

Directors felt that the HIPC Initiative provided a good basis to achieve debt sustainability after the completion point. However, they noted that in a few HIPCs, the ratio of the net present value (NPV) of debt to exports was expected to fall below 150 percent only over the medium term, largely because of the projected levels of new borrowing and, in some cases, low export growth. While recognizing that these new borrowings were needed to support investment and output growth in the medium term, Directors commented that higher debt ratios raised the vulnerability of these countries to external shocks. They welcomed the fact that, as a result of the HIPC Initiative, these countries would have relatively low projected levels of debt service and that additional voluntary bilateral debt relief already announced would further reduce the debt and debt-service ratios.

Directors agreed that completion point documents should contain a thorough analysis and discussion of the prospects for long-term debt sustainability. Directors reaffirmed their willingness to consider—within the existing framework of the enhanced HIPC Initiative—additional debt relief in exceptional cases, where exogenous factors cause fundamental changes in a country’s economic circumstances, based on a comprehensive reassessment of a HIPC’s situation at the completion point.

Directors also stressed that debt management needs to be strengthened. In this regard, they urged HIPCs to focus on transparent accounting and on ensuring coordination of debt management with monetary and fiscal policies. They encouraged IMF staff to continue to work with the authorities, specialized agencies, and providers of technical assistance to enhance debt management capacity.

Assistance to Postconflict Countries

In April 2001, the Bank and IMF Boards reviewed a joint paper on selected aspects of the two institutions’ assistance to postconflict countries. A major focus of the paper was how to help eligible postconflict countries qualify for assistance under the HIPC Initiative. The paper noted that a key challenge would be to help those remaining HIPC-eligible countries that have been affected by conflict to develop the performance track record that would enable them to move toward their decision points and begin receiving debt relief. The need for debt relief in these countries was particularly acute because of the severe poverty and major reconstruction needs that many of them face. The Boards of the IMF and World Bank have agreed that the existing HIPC Initiative framework has sufficient flexibility to accommodate the special circumstances of these countries, including with regard to the length of the track record. While recognizing that many of these countries face urgent financing needs, IMF Directors also stressed the importance of adequate conditionality and of ensuring that the debt relief would be used effectively for poverty reduction. In that regard, they emphasized the importance of establishing mechanisms for tracking poverty-related spending and securing transparency in military spending. They also agreed that the track records for these countries should include a focus on rebuilding capacity and improving overall governance. Many Directors agreed that, if significant progress had been made toward macroeconomic stability, good governance, capacity building, and monitoring, the Bank and the IMF could consider an early decision point for postconflict countries combined with a relatively longer interim period. The Bank and the IMF would consider front-loading HIPC relief to the extent possible, taking into account the countries’ debt-service profile and absorptive capacity. In some cases, access to HIPC relief would require the resolution of arrears to the Bank, IMF, and other institutions. To facilitate this, arrears clearance plans for individual countries would be worked out jointly and in consultation with other creditors.

Most countries emerging from conflict will require substantial technical assistance from both the World Bank and the IMF for rapid restoration of the critical functions of government. The Bank and IMF Boards have agreed that their staffs, in consultation with other providers of technical assistance, should develop an early assessment and an action plan for meeting these countries’ needs. They have also asked the staffs to explore various options for financing the institutions’ participation in this effort, and to report back to the Boards. IMF Executive Directors supported efforts to encourage bilateral donors to provide interest subsidies through a multidonor administered account to be established by the IMF, and welcomed the early indication by some members of their willingness to consider contributing to such an account.

PRSP Approach

Formulated by a country’s government, with the participation of civil society, donors, and international organizations, the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP)3 is intended to provide a framework for concessional assistance from the IMF and the World Bank. There is no single blueprint for PRSPs: each paper is expected to reflect individual country circumstances. But each country’s paper will describe the poor’s main characteristics and outline the appropriate antipoverty strategies over the medium and long term. Countries are expected to provide an annual progress report on the implementation of the strategies and a full update of the PRSP every three years. And each country’s PRSP should emerge out of a local, broad-based participatory process that integrates poverty-reducing measures into a coherent, growth-oriented macroeconomic framework.

As part of the preparation process, a country must identify key obstacles to faster growth and poverty reduction, specify realistic and trackable poverty reduction goals, and set out macroeconomic, structural, and social policies for reaching those goals. To make it easier to track programs in the short term, countries have to set annual targets to correspond to their longer-term poverty reduction goals. The PRSP also provides a means of identifying the financing needs associated with various poverty reduction programs and incorporating them in a sustainable fiscal and macroeconomic framework.

Progress to Date

At a September 2000 meeting to discuss progress in implementing PRSPs, IMF Executive Directors welcomed the progress achieved to date. They were encouraged by the favorable response in countries engaged in preparing nationally owned poverty reduction strategy documents and the extent to which countries had drawn on their own prior experience. They noted that, in many cases, the information provided, the degree of participation, and the level of political authority involved in the preparation of Interim PRSPs was much higher than had been envisaged. (Countries were not expected to carry out participatory processes in preparing Interim PRSPs, but rather to develop action plans and timetables for putting such processes in place in the context of their full PRSPs.)

Box 5.3IMF–World Bank Joint Visit to Africa

In February 2001, IMF Managing Director Horst Kohler and World Bank President James Wolfensohn made the first joint visit to Africa by heads of the Bretton Woods Institutions. Meeting with 22 African heads of state during the visit to Kenya, Mali, Nigeria, and Tanzania, their primary purpose was to listen to the views of African leaders about how Africa can accelerate growth, reduce poverty, and position itself to benefit from globalization.

First and foremost, African leaders stressed the need to deal with conflict and weak governance, emphasizing that sustainable poverty reduction and growth must start with—and build on—peace, democracy, and effective institutions. Second, they recognized that prospects for rapid growth will depend on building a strong human resource base, which requires strengthening support for education and health. In particular, they emphasized the critical need to combat the devastating effects of HIV/AIDS, and shared their experiences in trying to combat this pandemic in their countries. Third, they stressed the common goal of positioning Africa to benefit from globalization and agreed that stronger regional cooperation and integration were indispensable to increase the competitiveness of their economies. They underscored the critical importance of industrial countries’ opening of their markets to African goods, and of access to global capital markets for promoting and sustaining growth. But they also emphasized that for the near term, the availability of adequate concessional flows would be key to helping many African countries realize their potential for higher growth to reduce poverty (see Table 5.2). All the African leaders welcomed the recent progress under the Initiative for Heavily Indebted Poor Countries; some called for further action on debt cancellation. They also welcomed the move toward more streamlined conditionality by the IMF and the Bank and stressed the importance of aligning conditionality with country-owned development strategies.

In response, Messrs. Kohler and Wolfensohn stressed that African countries should expect support from the international community commensurate with their efforts to design and implement sound poverty reduction and growth strategies—“help for self-help.” Deeply impressed by African leaders’ conviction that Africa’s future lies in its own hands, and by their commitment to far-reaching changes that will allow the continent to attack the roots of poverty, Messrs. Kohler and Wolfensohn pledged the readiness of the IMF and the Bank to support their countries in these endeavors. In this context, they stressed that they will do all they can to assist Africa in the fight against HIV/AIDS, including by working with others to supplement International Development Association resources with grant financing. Discussions also underscored the need for greater support by the international community for the efforts undertaken by African countries. Apart from the essential need for opening the markets of developed countries to all of the exports of African and other poor countries, developed countries also need to increase their official development assistance and to improve its effectiveness, including by aligning it fully with the country-led poverty reduction strategy process. Finally, the discussions reinforced the conviction of the Bank and the IMF that their collective efforts on the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper approach and the enhanced HIPC Initiative are central to successfully supporting poor countries in attacking poverty and enhancing growth.

Table 5.2Net Aid Flows by Major Donors, 1990–20001
2000 at




Share of



Current PricesAt




(In billions of U.S. dollars)(Percent)
United Kingdom2.
United States11.
G-7 donors40.944.741.335.138.642.639.440.6–7.3–4.80.19
Other DAC donors412.–
Total DAC53.058.955.448.352.156.453.155.5–5.9–1.60.22
(in percent of GNP)0.330.

Overseas development assistance (ODA) disbursements by OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) member countries. The DAC is the principal body through which the OECD deals with issues related to cooperation with developing countries. Data are based on total amounts provided by donors; they exclude debt forgiveness of non-ODA claims. Data for 2000 are provisional.

Not strictly comparable to pre-1997 data owing to the reclassification in 1997 of some former ODA recipients.

Prices and exchange rates.

Australia, Austria, Belgium, Finland, Ireland, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Spain, and Switzerland.

Source: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Overseas development assistance (ODA) disbursements by OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) member countries. The DAC is the principal body through which the OECD deals with issues related to cooperation with developing countries. Data are based on total amounts provided by donors; they exclude debt forgiveness of non-ODA claims. Data for 2000 are provisional.

Not strictly comparable to pre-1997 data owing to the reclassification in 1997 of some former ODA recipients.

Prices and exchange rates.

Australia, Austria, Belgium, Finland, Ireland, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Spain, and Switzerland.

At the same time, the Board acknowledged the challenges facing countries as they move to prepare full PRSPs and attempt to develop well-specified and prioritized programs from what were, in some cases, only broad statements of intent in their Interim PRSPs. These challenges included, among other things, reliance on inadequate poverty data and limited institutional and analytical capacity on the part of both governments and civil society, and the need to ensure that broad-based participation did not undermine the authority of national parliaments and existing democratic processes. Directors therefore welcomed the current or planned involvement of multilateral and bilateral development partners in supporting countries’ efforts to upgrade data and to build institutional capacity. They considered that efforts must be redoubled to ensure that the views of the poor were taken into account in developing poverty reduction strategies.

At an April 2001 meeting, IMF Executive Directors noted that the PRSP approach was still in its early stages of development. Calendar year 2000 was dominated by the preparation of Interim PRSPs, many of which were provided to the Executive Boards of the Bank and the IMF in connection with decision points under the enhanced HIPC Initiative. As of March 31, 2001, the Boards had considered 32 Interim PRSPs and four full PRSPs, the majority of which had been prepared by African countries.

Challenges Ahead

During the remainder of calendar 2001, about 20 countries may complete their first full PRSPs according to the timetables projected in their Interim PRSPs. Many of these are heavily indebted poor countries (HIPCs) that reached their decision points in 2000 and seek to move toward their completion points under the HIPC Initiative. As the process moves forward, it will be essential that the quality of full PRSPs—both in terms of their content and participatory processes—not be sacrificed to speed of preparation. At the same time, expectations regarding the content of countries’ first full PRSPs and the processes involved in their preparation need to take account of individual country circumstances and capacity limitations, along with the fact that full PRSPs are “living documents.” All concerned—countries as well as their development partners (including the Bank and the IMF)—are learning by doing in the PRSP context, and strategies will evolve in the light of experience. Hence, the number (and even the initial quality) of PRSPs will be only a preliminary indicator of success. The strategy will stand or fall on the basis of sustained poverty reduction and growth efforts at the country level and their measurable outcomes, which are likely to emerge only over a period of years.

Critical challenges need to be faced in the remainder of 2001. With respect to country strategies, there will be a need to help countries move from descriptions of their existing policies and spending patterns to preparation of new policy and spending options that are focused more sharply and rigorously on poverty reduction outcomes and on accelerating growth. For the poverty reduction effort as a whole, it will be necessary to support the transition from strategy preparation to implementation, including the mobilization of the funding needed for the resulting strategy. And action by all partners will be needed to make the PRSP a truly inclusive process that serves as a common framework for support by all development partners in each country.

Facilitating the PRSP Process

The World Bank and IMF took a number of steps during the second half of FY2001 to facilitate the PRSP process, particularly with regard to the transition to full PRSPs, and to incorporate the PRSP approach into their financial assistance programs. In response to countries’ requests for greater clarity regarding the basis upon which Bank and IMF staffs will assess PRSPs, the staffs prepared guidelines for Joint Staff Assessments of full PRSPs, which outline the key areas that both institutions will focus on when assessing PRSPs. These guidelines will be revised periodically in light of country experience and feedback from development partners. The Bank and IMF are also expanding learning activities for PRSP country teams, and are working actively with development partners to support country capacity building and ownership.

Supporting Tracking of Poverty-Reducing Public Spending

In February 2001, the IMF and Bank Executive Boards reviewed a joint paper on tracking poverty-related spending. IMF Executive Directors emphasized the importance of heavily indebted poor countries tracking all poverty-reducing spending to ensure that budgetary savings from HIPC relief were being used for their intended, poverty-related purposes. It was also important for the credibility of the HIPC Initiative to provide assurances that debt relief, as well as concessional assistance more broadly, was being put to its intended use. In this context, Directors considered strengthening public expenditure management—an urgent priority to help ensure that the HIPC Initiative results in appropriate poverty-reducing programs.

Once poverty-reducing spending was identified, Directors observed, tracking it required effective government accounting and audit systems. On the basis of the preliminary assessments of public expenditure management systems in 25 HIPCs undertaken by Bank and IMF staff, Directors expressed concern that most HIPCs did not have the capacity, as part of their public expenditure management systems, to produce comprehensive information on the uses of HIPC assistance. In the majority of cases, substantial upgrading of existing systems appeared to be required to attain this standard. Directors agreed that, in the absence of a comprehensive public expenditure management system, it could be appropriate for a country to use a “virtual” poverty fund, through which selected items in the budget identified as poverty reducing are tagged and monitored as part of overall budget implementation.

While these funds could not substitute for putting in place effective public expenditure management systems over the medium term, they could serve as an intermediate bridging mechanism until more comprehensive expenditure management and tracking systems were developed. This approach would help lay the foundations for enhanced expenditure management systems over the medium term, while avoiding delays in delivering urgently needed debt relief and concessional assistance to eligible countries.

Directors emphasized that the division of labor between the IMF and the World Bank should be in line with the traditional focus of the IMF on macro-fiscal management, and of the Bank on structural and institutional issues related to poverty reduction and capacity building.

Supporting Social Impact Analysis

Ideally, social impact analysis should be an integral part of PRSP preparation and carried out under the leadership of national authorities. In the near term, given the limitations on national capacity in this area, countries must draw on assistance from bilateral and multilateral agencies with relevant expertise—including the IMF and the Bank—both to help carry out the work and to strengthen national capacity for social analysis. The IMF will also contribute to this exercise in its areas of expertise (that is, macroeconomic policy and related topics) and will draw on and integrate into its policy advice relevant analysis on the social impact of key policies supported by Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF) arrangements. The IMF recognizes the need to assist countries in integrating social impact analysis into the PRSP process as speedily as possible, while also recognizing that early expectations need to be tempered in this area, owing to its inherent complexity and the institutional capacity constraints on the part of countries preparing PRSPs.

Refining Lending Instruments and Streamlining Conditionality

The IMF and the Bank are working together to make their own operations more supportive of countries’ efforts to implement poverty reduction strategies. One aspect of this effort is streamlining and focusing conditionalities on the policies and public actions contained in countries’ poverty reduction strategies with the objective of linking support to country ownership. As part of the FY2001 conditionality review (Chapter 4), IMF Executive Directors called for a more streamlined and focused application of conditionality, and early experience with new three-year PRGF arrangements suggests that there has already been positive movement in this regard. The Bank is introducing the Poverty Reduction Support Credit (PRSC) as an IDA lending instrument that is sufficiently flexible and broadly based to ensure suitable coverage of social and structural policy areas. Over time, the Bank expects PRSCs to become an increasingly important element of the Bank’s overall support for low-income countries’ poverty reduction strategies. Thus, IMF conditionality will not normally extend into social and structural policies outside its areas of expertise except when these areas are critical to a country’s macroeconomic objectives. Where possible, conditionality on these aspects of policy would be covered instead under IDA lending operations, especially PRSCs as they are phased in. There may, however, be cases during the phase-in period where the PRGF may take on a broader scope and include some structural measures outside the IMF’s primary areas of expertise because of their importance to the overall success of the country’s program. In these cases, the specification and assessment of such conditions will be done in consultation with Bank staff. These initiatives will allow the IMF and the Bank to serve countries better as they move from strategy preparation to public action in support of poverty reduction.

Promoting Trade in the Poorest Countries

Trade is vital for growth, poverty reduction, and long-term external debt sustainability, but over the past two decades the world’s poorest countries have seen their share of world trade decline. The reasons for their increasing marginalization are complex—in part reflecting deep-seated structural problems, weak institutions, poor governance, and distortionary policies that perpetuate anti-export biases at home, but protection in foreign markets has also played a role. Action is needed, therefore, on two fronts: the poorest countries need to act to help themselves, by pursuing sound policies, building strong institutions, and creating a favorable environment for investment; the barriers facing their exports need to be reduced and, when possible, eliminated. These barriers include both subsidies for domestic producers in advanced economies and direct limitations on access for the products of developing countries.

In recent years, the general trend across nearly all regions—as shown by the IMF’s Trade Restrictiveness Index ratings (see Table 5.3)—has been one of reducing trade barriers. There remains, however, considerable scope for further liberalization in certain sectors. Protection in industrial countries remains high on agriculture, textiles, and clothing, and other labor-intensive manufacture, and inhibits the diversification of poorer countries’ exports toward higher value-added products. Rich countries could contribute substantially to poverty reduction, and would benefit themselves, by opening their markets to products from poor countries’ agricultural sectors—the sectors that currently make up the bulk of these economies. Just as important, the advanced economies would promote poverty reduction and enhance their own welfare by providing access to exports of manufactured goods by poor countries, which are important for them to be able to diversify and develop their economies. A lowering of barriers to rich countries’ export markets would also help HIPCs attract the vital long-term private investment flows needed to build and diversify their export sectors.

Table 5.3Trade Restrictiveness by Geographic Area1(At year-end)
(Percent of countries in each ratings group)(Change over

Baltics, Russia, and other (BRO)
Middle East and North Africa
Sub-Saharan Africa
Western Hemisphere

Based on the IMF’s Trade Restrictiveness Index. This index weighs tariff and nontariff barriers to provide a broad quantitative measure of a country’s trade restrictiveness relative to all IMF members and a basis for measuring progress over time toward trade openness. On the basis of a 10-point scale, countries with ratings of 1 to 4 are considered to be “open” with no significant barriers to most trade; ratings of 5 or 6 arc considered to be “moderate”; and countries with ratings of 7 to 10 are considered to have “restrictive” trade policies. The index does not incorporate all aspects of the trade regime, such as measures of trade dispersion, maximum tariffs, exemptions, transparency, and the effect of export taxes. Moreover, since in the calculation of the index, nontariff barriers are limited to three categories and the lowest tariff band is broad (1–10 percent), important trade reforms can be implemented without changing the index rating.

In percentage points.

Source: IMF’s Trade Policy Information Database (TPID).

Based on the IMF’s Trade Restrictiveness Index. This index weighs tariff and nontariff barriers to provide a broad quantitative measure of a country’s trade restrictiveness relative to all IMF members and a basis for measuring progress over time toward trade openness. On the basis of a 10-point scale, countries with ratings of 1 to 4 are considered to be “open” with no significant barriers to most trade; ratings of 5 or 6 arc considered to be “moderate”; and countries with ratings of 7 to 10 are considered to have “restrictive” trade policies. The index does not incorporate all aspects of the trade regime, such as measures of trade dispersion, maximum tariffs, exemptions, transparency, and the effect of export taxes. Moreover, since in the calculation of the index, nontariff barriers are limited to three categories and the lowest tariff band is broad (1–10 percent), important trade reforms can be implemented without changing the index rating.

In percentage points.

Recent World Bank studies show that if the United States, the European Union, Canada, and Japan were to give unrestricted market access to the 49 Least Developed Countries (as identified by the United Nations General Assembly), their net exports would increase by about 11 percent, with non-oil exports from Africa expanding by 14 percent. For this reason, recent market openings by a number of industrial countries are welcome initiatives, but it is important for all countries to take steps to ensure meaningful market access for developing country exports. In this connection, the IMFC, in its April 2001 communiqué, urged all countries to find common ground for launching new multilateral trade negotiations this year.

The Bank and the IMF took steps in FY2001 to help poor countries design trade policies for pro-poor growth in the context of the PRSP process. These efforts aim to ensure that reform packages promote growth and protect the poor during the transition period to greater openness. For the Least Developed Countries, the IMF is participating, along with other multilateral agencies, in a revitalized Integrated Framework for Trade-Related Technical Assistance. This initiative is designed to help countries preparing their PRSPs to analyze options for trade integration and identify priorities for trade-related technical assistance within a framework for overall development. On a pilot basis, a Trust Fund for Integrated Framework Activities was established during the financial year with support from bilateral donors.


See Annual Report 2000, p. 57.


A twenty-third country, Chad, reached the decision point in May 2001 (that is, after the end of FY2001). Côte d’lvoire had reached its decision point under the original HIPC Initiative but has not yet reached its decision point under the enhanced Initiative.


The PRSP replaced the Policy Framework Paper (PFP) that underpinned reform programs supported by the IMF’s former Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility.

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