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Wednesday 20 September 2017

IMF wants to splash out on facelift for headquarters

Larry Elliott in Washington

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

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. "This is about the heating, the ventilation, the air-conditioning," he said.

Pressure groups greeted the news with scepticism, pointing out that eight years ago the fund spent $150m (€113m) on a second building, saying its original site was no longer big enough for its staff of 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.

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 (€1.5bn) in extra cash from gold sales and now proposes upgrading its already opulent office building"

"Should the IMF get another 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."

Peter Chowla, programme manager at the Bretton Woods Project, a think-tank 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 healthy -- 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 World War Two, said that 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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