Last week’s news that the IMF mission to Moscow is to recommend that the Fund should release the latest quarterly tranche of its $10.2 billion loan to Russia was greeted with relief by the Russian government, but met with considerably more skepticism from financial journalist Konstantin Levin. Writing under the headline "The IMF has surrendered," Levin said the IMF mission had been "forced" by Russian government officials to change the rules and judge Russia’s economic performance not on what the country has achieved in 1997 but on what it promises to achieve in 1998. (Kommersant-daily, December 11) Instead of writing scholarly monographs about privatization, Levin said, Chubais and his colleagues should write a mass circulation handbook on "how to get large, privileged loans from international financial organizations."
The IMF suspended loan payments in October, blaming the Russian government’s poor tax collection performance. After that happened, Levin writes, First Deputy Premier Anatoly Chubais came up with the argument that "It is much better to look ahead: the government should be judged not on the taxes it has collected, but on how it plans to spend them." Levin says this is the rationale behind the latest presidential decree, "On Improving the State Financial Sphere," which, Chubais told a press conference on December 12, will curb state spending by forbidding government ministries from taking out loans with commercial banks. (Itar-Tass, December 12) Meanwhile, Levin says, the Russian government was telling the IMF mission that tax collection had improved slightly in October and November. "The fact that this growth was caused for seasonal reasons," Levin comments, "did not concern either the Russian or the international officials." He says the goals of the Russian government and the IMF coincide: the government wants the money that the IMF can supply, while the IMF wants to be able to show the world that it has saved the Russian economy from collapse. (Kommersant-daily, December 11)
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