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IMF pledges voting power to developing countries

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[October 05, 2009]  ISTANBUL (AP) -- A key panel of the IMF said Sunday that it supports giving more voting power to emerging market and developing countries, warning that the legitimacy of the institution was at stake.

HardwareThe group's International Monetary and Financial Committee said it backs a shift of at least 5 percent of voting power from countries with ample representation to those with little influence. The move would seek to reflect changes in the global economy, with strong growth in countries that once lagged far behind the elite club of rich nations.

"Quota reform is crucial for increasing the legitimacy and effectiveness of the Fund," the committee said in a statement. It planned to review progress at its next meeting in Washington on April 24, and sought an agreement on the voting shift by January 2011. The change would then be subject to approval by the legislatures of some member countries.

"This is a process that will take time. It won't happen overnight," said committee chairman Youssef Boutros-Ghali. "We are reforming an organization that is complex, sophisticated and reaching every corner of the world economy."

The committee, which sets the IMF's agenda, said it was also committed to protecting the voting share of its poorest members. Panel members include IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn and U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, and other finance chiefs.

The announcement came at the IMF's annual meeting, held this year in Istanbul. It followed a decision at a Pittsburgh forum that the G-20 nations would become the world's main economic decision-making forum, effectively taking over the role of the G-7 group of rich countries.

Earlier Sunday, Geithner said "a more representative, responsive and accountable governance structure is essential to strengthening the IMF's legitimacy."

He noted that G-20 countries had committed to shift some control in the IMF to countries with relatively little input. The Group of 20 includes developing economic powerhouses such as China, India and Brazil.

Geithner said the IMF should outline soon how the proposed transfer of voting power can occur. He said reform of the IMF's executive board was vital to modernizing the Washington-based institution, which represents 186 countries. The U.S. recommends reducing the board size while preserving the current number of emerging market and developing country chairs.

The IMF is usually headed by a European and the World Bank by an American. It has received pledges of more money to help poor countries struggling to emerge from the global economic crisis, and a broader range of nations wants to have more say in how the funds are handled.

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Aid agency OXFAM says current voting formulas at the IMF give Luxembourg more weight than the Philippines, which has almost 200 times the population. It said the 5 percent shift in voting power was insufficient.

"They need to give more voice to the poorest countries, have fewer European seats on the Board, and get rid of the U.S. veto," said Caroline Pearce, OXFAM policy adviser. She said the IMF can only be relevant if it gives "countries hardest hit by the financial crisis a say in their own destiny."

The U.S. has a 17 percent voting stake in the IMF, effectively giving it veto power because major decisions require an 85-percent majority to pass.

SOLIDAR, a European network of non-governmental organizations, said the calls for a 5 percent shift amounted to "grandstanding" that distracted attention from the harsh impact of IMF austerity policies in nations including Ethiopia and Latvia.

"Governments are still being forced to cut pensions, jobs in the public sector, unemployment benefits, teacher's salaries, and the list goes on," Andrea Maksimovic of SOLIDAR said in a statement.

The IMF has often been criticized for allegedly imposing tough measures on countries in exchange for loans and without sufficient regard for the impact on the poor.

IMF officials say they have shown more flexibility in recent years. John Lipsky, the IMF's No 2. official, has said the IMF is undertaking "substantial efforts" toward internal reform that will provide "a fair shake for all our members."

At the Istanbul conference, a group of 35 heavily indebted countries welcomed the G-20's new role as a leader in global economic decisions, but said poor nations also needed representation to express their financing needs.

"We need at least one seat so that almost 1 billion Africans can express their views," said Lazare Essimi Menye, Cameroon's finance minister.

[Associated Press; By CHRISTOPHER TORCHIA]

Associated Press writer Suzan Fraser contributed to this report.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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