To some degree, most governments met their commitments to the IMF where these touched on requirements to publish information about the recipients of emergency contracts. While the actual influence of the commitments themselves was often limited, in some cases the negotiations with the IMF likely contributed to a sense of urgency in publishing COVID-19 contracting data. Both open contracting and beneficial owners are relatively new areas for the IMF, and the commitments we have examined had to be negotiated and agreed in very short timeframes. This all implies that future efforts incorporating the recommendations set out here will mark further positive steps forward.
On beneficial ownership, in four cases, the IMF was more directly impactful in encouraging improved data disclosure, though clear guidance is needed on what constitutes beneficial owners. Standardised data is also crucial. There are large risks attached to publishing open contracting data without disclosing final beneficial owners. If citizens and CSOs are able to see that certain companies are winning big government contracts, governments may end up reducing the overall size of these contracts. But this does not by itself challenge conflicts of interest. As the beneficial ownership environment is less mature globally than that of open contracting, there is arguably more of an imperative for the IMF to help shape governments’ future actions, before habits become institutionalised and policy windows close.
The progress we have tracked here is to be applauded, supported, and deepened. The IMF also needs to look forward to future negotiations and reforms. To avoid the box-ticking exercises that some interviewees warned us against, future procurement transparency and beneficial ownership reforms need to be backed up with unambiguous language, committed follow-up and high ambition.