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Wolfensohn to Chair His Last World Bank Meeting


James Wolfensohn, who has served 10 years as president of the World Bank, this weekend is presiding over his last meeting of the bank's top policy makers representing its 184 member nations. VOA's Barry Wood has more on Mr. Wolfensohn's tenure and the transition to another, more controversial American as head of the world's biggest economic development institution.

James Wolfensohn
The Australian-born Mr. Wolfensohn retires June 1, handing over the bank's leadership to Paul Wolfowitz, the outgoing American deputy secretary of defense.

At a news conference Thursday in Washington, he reflected on his time at the bank and listed several achievements. These include launching a sustained battle against corruption, which he believes is at the core of the development process.

Ten years ago, Mr. Wolfensohn says, the bank didn't even talk about the corruption that is so pervasive in the developing world. He also lists the involvement of the poorest countries in development decisions as one of the Bank's main accomplishments under his leadership.

Looking ahead, Mr. Wolfensohn says the bank has to find ways to boost the scale of its anti-poverty operations.

"How do you address the question that you have five billion on the planet out of six billion that live in developing countries? Which in 2030 will be seven billion out of eight and in 2050 will be eight billion out of nine,"Mr. Wolfensohn said. "How do you address that question in the scale that is necessary?"

He says, contrary to those who see his successor as unfit to head a development organization, Mr. Wolfensohn says Paul is an excellent choice to lead the bank.

"I'm categorical about this. I think Paul Wolfowitz is going to do a very good job. I do not believe that he is coming in with an agenda that is unilateral [for the United States]. I think he wants to do this job well. I've had hours of discussion with him."

Anti-poverty groups remain skeptical. Bernice Romero is the advocacy director at London-based Oxfam International.

"I think our greatest concern revolves around his lack of development experience. He isn't necessarily a development professional with a long history of work in that area," she said. "And our second concern is that in the past he has criticized international institutions and advocated for unilateral [U.S.] actions.

The World Bank is a huge Washington-based institution. It has 2,500 professionals based in scores of developing countries and provides over $20 billion of development financing annually.

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