Global Policy Forum

Cash-rich IMF plans to refurbish its 'opulent' headquarters


Critics are unhappy at IMF plans to upgrade it's headquarter building. Management says that the program is necessary, especially to improve its central heating and air conditioning. Critics argue that the IMF spent $150 million just eight years ago to build a new headquarters and they wonder why the money is not used to help the poor.


By Larry Elliott

December 19, 2010

Fresh from imposing tough conditions on Ireland as the price of its bailout, the International Monetary Fund's bureaucrats plan to concentrate on a matter closer to home in the new year - sprucing up their offices in downtown Washington DC.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the fund's managing director, quietly announced last week that he would be asking permission from the organisation's cash-strapped member states to refurbish its main headquarters building.

An IMF spokesman said the work was an essential overhaul of the 40-year-old premises and compared it to the need to put a new engine in a 20-year-old car. "This is about the heating, the ventilation, the air-conditioning," he said. "This is work that can't be postponed."

Pressure groups greeted the news with scepticism, pointing out that eight years ago the fund spent $150m on a second building, complete with external waterfall, after saying its original site - known as HQ1 - was no longer big enough for its staff of highly-paid international officials.

They said the fund was now flush with cash after selling some of its stock of gold and extracting fees and interest payments from troubled countries such as Ireland and Greece.

Melinda St Louis, deputy director of Jubilee USA Network said: "At this precarious time for the world's poor, the IMF has just earned at least $2bn [£1.2bn] in extra cash from gold sales and now proposes upgrading its already opulent office building in Washington DC.

"Should the IMF get another stunning fountain at its headquarters or should countries in sub-Saharan Africa receive debt relief to invest in clean water for the most vulnerable? Rather than building more marble staircases in DC, the IMF should share its wealth with poor countries that desperately need those funds to build rural health clinics, schools and basic infrastructure."

Peter Chowla, programme manager at the Bretton Woods Project, a thinktank that monitors the activities of the IMF and the World Bank, said: "After a nice financial crisis, the IMF's balance sheet is looking very health - lots of interest to pour in from Greece and Ireland and commitment fees on money never even lent to Colombia, Mexico and Poland. So the fund is thinking about spending some of the proceeds on remodelling its headquarters."

A spokesman for the UK Treasury, which has announced the toughest spending cuts since the second world war, said the IMF had yet to put a price tag on the refurbishment, but added: "When final proposals are put to the board, we'll judge them on rigorous value-for-money grounds."




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