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As Romanian Court Rules Against Pension Cuts, IMF Nods at 5% VAT Increase

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, July 1 -- Romania's Constitutional Court has struck down the pension cuts connected to the International Monetary Fund's facility to that country. On July 1 Inner City Press asked IMF Spokesperson Caroline Atkinson for the IMF's reaction to the decision, and if the government's move to boost the Value Added Tax from 19% to 24% would be enough for the IMF.

Two weeks earlier, Ms. Atkinson had responded to Inner City Press' question about the Constitutional Court in this way, as transcribed by the IMF itself:

I have a question online, which is a bunch of questions, but on Romania: 'The government’s measures are being challenged in the Constitutional Court. What does the IMF think of the suit? What impact might it have on the IMF facility for Romania?' And it’s absolutely right that the fiscal adjustment measures, which are prior actions for our program, have to be approved by the Constitutional Court, and of course we respect that process. That’s an entirely appropriate process. We don’t think that that will lead to any -- I mean, that’s not something that we’re concerned about.”

And so on July 1 Inner City Press asked, “the Constitutional Court has now rejected the pension cuts connected to the IMF facility. What is the IMF's reaction, since two weeks ago it was said that the IMF did not expect this result?”

Protest in Romania of austerity, IMF and VAT not shown

Ms. Atkinson said, “I'm not sure about that.” But she'd said of the Court review, “That's not something that we're concerned about,” a lack of concern that can be equated with not expecting a negative court decision.

Now on July 1, Ms. Atkinson said “the Romanian authorities have identified other measures... What we look at is an overall package, not specifying one measure or another.” She noted that the IMF Board will consider Romania on July 2. Watch this site.

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As Romania's Wage Cuts Challenged in Court, IMF Says Not Concerned, Lead Nowhere

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, June 17 -- A day after Romania's opposition filed a challenge to the government's cutbacks of public sector wages by 25%, International Monetary Fund spokesperson Caroline Atkinson said, we don't think it will lead to anything, it's not something we're concerned about. Video here, from Minute 30:04.

Inner City Press had asked, "What does the IMF think of the suit and what impact might it have on the IMF's facility for Romania?" Ms. Atkinson said this was "absolutely right, the fiscal adjustment measures which are prior actions for our program, have to be approved by the Constitutional Court."

This makes it sound like review by the Court is routine -- or "entirely appropriate," as Ms. Atkinson put it. But Reuters reported that the "government can start applying the austerity measures ahead of any court judgment, but if declared unconstitutional they would have to be revoked."

Romania austerity challenge, IMF doesn't think it will lead anywhere

If Reuters is correct that the pending challenge in the Constitutional Court could result in the austerity -- or "fiscal adjustment" -- measures being revoked, why does the IMF so blithely predict it will lead to nothing, and say they are not concerned about it?

Ms. Atkinson began by saying, there is a question from Inner City Press online, "a bunch of questions, but on Romania." She then never read out or answered any of the other questions, about Hungary, Poland, Zimbabwe and Kyrgyzstan. There was, however, another question about Kyrgyzstan, the IMF's answer to which we will include in a forthcoming wider piece about the bloodshed there. Stay tuned.

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Amid Protests, IMF Says Wage Cuts Were Romania's Choice, IMF for Vulnerable

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, May 20 -- With Romania wracked by the most serious protests since its 1989 revolution, Inner City Press on May 20 asked International Monetary Fund spokesperson Caroline Atkinson if the IMF would consider re-negotiating the 25% pay cut to public sector employees portrayed by the government as a condition for receiving a Greece-like bailout.

   On May 6 when Inner City Press asked about Romania, Ms. Atkinson said there were negotiations going on. On May 20, Ms. Atkinson's lengthy answer denied IMF responsibility for the cuts, saying they were choices of the government.

Protest in Romania, IMF says it's not to blame

  Ms. Atkinson of the IMF said:

"This gives me an opportunity to clarify that the IMF did not specify or insist on any wage cuts with Romania... we did agree with the Romanian government that some further fiscal tightening would be needed in order to put their program back on track .. the goal is to have sustainable public finances that will allow for a recovery and there are of course different combinations of expenditure cuts and tax increases..

"The government chose to focus on the expenditure side in particular on wage cuts. That was the government's decision. Of course there are no easy options when there are budget cuts. We have been clear that we want to protect the most vulnerable and to have measures that limit the impact on society and can get the most ownership within society."

Tell that to the tens of thousands protesting in Romania's streets. Watch this site.

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IMF Consumed in Greek Fire, Dodges on Romania, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Rwanda

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, May 6 -- With the International Monetary Fund's deal with the Greek government being followed, so far, by five deaths in protests, the IMF's fortnightly press briefing on Thursday not surprisingly focused on Greece. IMF spokesperson Caroline Atkinson emphasized that the austerity moves were the decision of the government, not the IMF. She promised a press availability by Dominique Strauss-Kahn after the IMF board's meeting on Sunday, on which phasing of the Fund's second largest program ever will be decided and announced.

That non-Greece questions were asked was met with surprise, and Ms. Atkinson answered few of them. Inner City Press submitted four questions, only two of which were allowed. Neither question was answered.

One question, on Pakistan, was Greece related in that experts have predicted violent reactions. Inner City Press submitted this question:

"Greece tie-in: In Pakistan, experts say that the govt has not prepared the public for the value added tax, that "the taxpayers... could resort to agitation and may even close down markets." What does the IMF say about VAT, the government's preparing of the people for it, and possibility of more IMF related violence?"

Also with an added Greek tie-in, to try to get an answer, Inner City Press submitted this, which was read out:

"Related to Greece if you are requiring that: in Romania, is IMF prepared to lift the country's budget deficit cap? How is the IMF's approach to Romania impacted by events in Greece?"

On this, Ms. Atkinson said that since there are negotiations -- in fact, the IMF mission is staying two extra days -- she would not comment. Then, generically, she said that IMF decisions are always impacted by other events, as well as being country specific. But of course!

On Sri Lanka, Inner City Press asked "is the IMF waiting for the so called mini budget for the rest of 2010 before considering the next tranche, and what does the IMF res rep [Koshy Mathai] mean by 'cutting inefficient expenditures'?"

It would seem important for the IMF to spell out or define this last, but Ms. Atkinson did not. Perhaps some later written response will arrive. One was promised to the last of the questions which Inner City Press submitted, which for some reason was mediated or edited by IMF staff.

Greece on fire, IMF not shown

Ms. Atkinson said, there is another question coming through, although I will have to answer it afterwards. Without attribution, she read out "On Rwanda, what is the status of the IMF's consideration of a Policy Support Instrument?" She then said that she did not know.

  In Kigali, IMF resident representative Dmitry Gershenson was quoted two days ago as having agreed to the PSI. And in Sri Lanka, res rep Koshi Mathai's statements remain unexplained.

To come back to Romania, the question Ms. Aktinson read out but would not answer, Reuters has already quoted sources that the deficit budget cap will be lifted. While the details may have to be worked out, wouldn't it seem important, including to "support, or I mean fight, contagion," to make clear that the IMF is at least temporarily showing flexibility to Greece's neighbors? Watch this site.

 Click here for an Inner City Press YouTube channel video, mostly UN Headquarters footage, about civilian deaths in Sri Lanka.

Click here for Inner City Press' March 27 UN debate

Click here for Inner City Press March 12 UN (and AIG bailout) debate

Click here for Inner City Press' Feb 26 UN debate

Click here for Feb. 12 debate on Sri Lanka

Click here for Inner City Press' Jan. 16, 2009 debate about Gaza

Click here for Inner City Press' review-of-2008 UN Top Ten debate

Click here for Inner City Press' December 24 debate on UN budget, Niger

Click here from Inner City Press' December 12 debate on UN double standards

Click here for Inner City Press' November 25 debate on Somalia, politics

and this October 17 debate, on Security Council and Obama and the UN.

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These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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