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New Leadership Begins at the World Bank

The 184-member nation World Bank, based here in Washington, has a new president. He is Paul Wolfowitz, a scholar and diplomat who until recently was the U.S. deputy secretary of defense. He succeeds James Wolfensohn, who headed the bank since 1995. VOA's Barry Wood has more on the transition at the World Bank.

It is big and it is powerful. With 10,000 employees and contributions from the rich countries, the World Bank is the world's largest development institution.

Now, the new president of the World Bank is a controversial figure: Paul Wolfowitz, formerly the number two official in the U.S. defense department. He is regarded as a principal architect of the U.S.-led war against Iraq.

Since being nominated three months ago, Mr. Wolfowitz has sought to dispel complaints that he is not sufficiently committed to a war on global poverty or that he advocates American unilateralism. "I do believe deeply in the mission of the Bank. I wouldn't have accepted this nomination if I didn't. And I think it is important too to emphasize that President Bush believes in the mission of the Bank. He believes deeply in poverty reduction."

Most of the World Bank's $20 billion of annual lending goes to the poorest countries, mainly in Africa and Asia.

Nancy Birdsall, a former bank official who heads the non-profit Center for Global Development, believes Mr. Wolfowitz will do a good job.

But, like others, she is critical of the tradition that the World Bank, since its formation in 1944, has always been headed by an American. She is even more critical of the selection process. "Not so much the nationality, but the selection process, which is not transparent. It's not clear to the very large set of constituents that the World Bank serves. There isn't enough input from developing countries who, after all, are the major users of the World Bank."

Ms. Birdsall believes that Mr. Wolfowitz's agenda at the bank needs to focus on making sure that its money is being used effectively. She adds, "A key item on that agenda is for him to take leadership in pushing for independent evaluations of aid flows. Particularly to the poorest countries, like those in Africa, many of which are highly dependent on aid to make development investments."

James Wolfensohn

Even though James Wolfensohn's tenure at the bank is generally regarded as successful, he himself is disappointed that he failed to gain greater support for the bank's poverty reduction mission. "This is the issue of peace. This is the issue of security. And yet for most of us this issue is low on the agenda."

Mr. Wolfowitz will be serving a five-year term as World Bank president.