Journal Issue

Press conference: Camdessus discusses achievements of his terms of office, plans for future

International Monetary Fund. External Relations Dept.
Published Date:
January 1999
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Question: What do you consider your most important achievement here in 13 years, what’s your greatest frustration, and also what’s next for you?

Camdessus: I will take the questions in the opposite order. What’s next for me? It’s extremely simple—to go to my country to enjoy my constitutional rights to life, freedom, and pursuit of happiness. Frustrations? Not to have been able to reverse significantly this propensity of the world to make this institution a scapegoat for whatever catastrophe occurs. And I have not been able to give a good name to the things the IMF must do—and does well, I believe—to help countries in stabilization and structural adjustment. If I am proud of something that occurred during the past 13 years, it is that inflation went down in the world. All of you have heard me say many times that inflation is the most cruel tax on the poorest countries and on the poorest among the poor. I have a sense of having been associated with great things. I have seen a consensus form in the world to bring poverty alleviation and human development concerns to the heart of our policies. It was a great moment for me when this consensus was formed. I have seen the golden rule of transparency emerge as one of the chief features of the new international financial architecture. I believe that to establish transparency in the relationship between people and institutions is great progress toward stability and fairness. And, indeed, I was very happy to see the world recognize that this institution had to be trusted for surveillance of not only macroeconomic developments but also the soundness of banking and financial sectors and to help, with its expertise, countries going in a well-sequenced way toward freedom of capital movements. It was great to be here to help Latin American countries get out of debt or at least to bring debt to a sustainable level, to be here at the time the Berlin Wall went down—and this institution was entrusted with helping those countries go to market economies, whatever the misgivings and difficulties in the process. It was great to help the Asian crisis countries in the midst of the most adverse circumstances. Finally, to do what the students in Djakarta put on their banners, “Down with corruption, nepotism, and collusion”—this is what the IMF was doing, and we are immensely proud, the staff and myself, to have been there to do that.

Question:Can you tell us whether you’ve been frustrated by the fact that both the IMF and you yourself have sometimes been the object of criticism in the past several months, and could you give us an idea of the general profile the person who takes over for you should have—someone with a monetary background or, because the IMF is now more politically involved, someone with a political profile?

Camdessus: To your last question, I would say that it is written in the Articles of Agreement of the IMF that, to whatever position in the IMF, you must select the best in the world. I would only suggest an addendum that will be part, I hope, of the next change of the Articles of Agreement—namely, that the person should have a solid sense of humor. Now, frustrations about criticism: really no. Of course, nobody likes to be criticized, everybody likes to be applauded, and so do I. But I have learned a lot from criticism. And I know that the more we are responsive, the more we are criticized. If we are criticized, it is because we are responsive; our work is to go to uncharted waters, to respond to the most difficult situations, and to confront vested interests. And so, of course, this generates crisis and criticism. So be it.

Question: You said that your successor should be the best. Do you consider that the best will always come from France or some other European country?

Camdessus: I know that there are traditions you are familiar with that, in some way, the United States dominates the presidency of the World Bank and that Europe elects the Managing Director of the IMF. This is the tradition that goes back almost to Bretton Woods, but the only rule for me is that the man be good, have a sense of humor, and be totally committed to the purposes of the institution. And, indeed, this man could be a woman.

Question: I was wondering if you could explain what the personal reasons are for your departure, and in the event that a successor is not chosen in time for your departure, does that mean that [First Deputy Managing Director] Stanley Fischer will take your place temporarily?

Camdessus: My personal reasons are extremely easy to qualify: they are personal. I hope that my successor will be elected promptly. If it were to take too much time, then I share entirely your view that Mr. Fischer would be an extremely good solution for the institution.

Question: Last year during the congressional debate about replenishing the IMF’s reserves, [U.S. Senate Majority Leader] Trent Lott basically requested your resignation. Can you tell us to what extent, if any, this kind of political pressure had to do with your decision?

Camdessus: So, are there political reasons behind my resignation? Not at all. They are personal reasons. As you know, Mr. Trent Lott has been a little bit imprecise even on my identity. He saw me as a French socialist or a socialist from France. He was only 50 percent right, as I am, obviously, French.

Question: Is there some brief advice you can give to your successor as to how you can better identify and prevent the kinds of crises that developed during your tenure?Camdessus: He will receive from the Interim Committee and from the staff of the IMF an extremely comprehensive briefing on that.

Question: You are resigning at a very critical moment—in particular, amid allegations concerning Russia about misuse of IMF funds. I wonder whether you have reached a conclusion as to what’s happening in Russia concerning these allegations and whether your resignation would have any impact on what’s going on?

Camdessus: My resignation has nothing to do with these allegations, and you have possibly observed that these allegations have proved to be totally unsubstantiated. So I don’t see why I would have taken that in consideration at the time I made this decision after almost 13 years of service and for the constitutional and personal reasons you understand.

Question: What is your advice to your successor and is there anything you would have done differently if you had your term again?

Camdessus: I have plenty of ideas about what could be done in the IMF during the next few years. But I believe that the best service that I can pay to the IMF now is to allow new blood to be injected into this body, new approaches to be tried, and a new stamina, a new imagination, to be put at work.

Question:[Translated from French.]You have said that your successor must have a sense of humor, among other things. You have a sense of humor, as well as experience and competence, and you have successfully led the IMF through a number of crises. Today, things are on track. Why do you leave now when there is such a need for a man of experience to deal with future crises? Is it only the desire for happiness that makes you leave this institution?

Camdessus: [Translated from French]. No, I told you that I did not want to dwell on my personal reasons as long as there were problems of such immense urgency. I’m leaving because there comes a time when experience, the weight of one’s experience, risks preventing new energies from manifesting themselves in the institution. I think it’s time to take advantage of this period of tranquility in the world economy to find someone who can give new momentum to this superb institution.

Question: Is it perhaps time to consider someone from the private sector for the top job at the IMF, given that the difficult issues ahead often involve coordinating with the private sector?

Camdessus: I believe this is a good idea, provided the man is seen and recognized by the international community as the best for the job and provided he has the appropriate sense of humor, among other things. I would personally have no objections at all to having a private sector successor.

Question:There have been rumors for weeks that you were leaving, so have any candidates for your replacement come forward, and what exactly is the procedure for replacing you from now on?

Camdessus: I’m sure you will find people of talent and dedication for the job. The process is very simple now. Under the dean of the Executive Board, the Board will meet and select the new chairman of the board and Managing Director of the IMF. It’s a vote by a simple majority, I believe, but the tradition is that, when the membership perceives that a consensus is forming on a given name, unanimous consent is given to this name. It can take time—and we have an extremely competent dean who will be patient but at the same time effective at trying to make sure the process does not take too much time—because this institution needs to be managed, needs to have a leader in place to respond to crisis situations. I hope that this process will develop properly and promptly.

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