Jim Hoagland ["Power Play at the IMF," op-ed, Jan. 9] focuses on national agendas affecting the choice of a replacement for Michel Camdessus at the head of the International Monetary Fund. These agendas are not the only issues involved.

As Secretary of the Treasury Larry Summers noted, the big issue for the IMF is improving its role in crisis management. With private capital flows dominating global finance, IMF crisis lending must be seen as reliable assurance of external payment recovery. Such confidence is essential to limiting panicky withdrawals.

Unfortunately, this role is threatened by creditor misuse of the IMF in relation to heavily indebted countries. The world rightly has decided that it's time to write off these debts. Most were incurred for political purposes of the creditor -- especially to limit the spread of communism. With the Cold War over, the slate needs to be wiped clean.

But governments hate to admit that they misused loans. So they have sought cover by asking the IMF to say that forgiving the debt provides the poor countries with money for social benefits.

In fact, in almost all cases no assets remain from the loans' being forgiven. Does anyone think the former Zaire, Sudan or Somalia has resources coming from these loans to underwrite social programs? Yet if the IMF holds up the debt-forgiveness process, it will be accused of obstructing justified relief.

Mr. Camdessus's replacement will have to be a highly regarded statesman with great political skills to deliver the needed debt relief without weakening IMF credibility. If it takes time for the G7 to negotiate for the right candidate, that would be time well spent.

C. DAVID FINCH

Bethesda