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World Bank in Turmoil Following Ouster of Leader


The Washington-based World Bank, the planet's biggest anti-poverty agency, has been in turmoil--its president forced out amid a staff revolt. VOA's economics correspondent Barry Wood reports that the bank--owned by its 180 member countries--is under pressure from all sides.

It has long been a target of anti-globalization protesters who accuse the bank of being an agent of capitalism--a tool of big corporations.

Founded at the end of the Second World War, the World Bank typically provides up to $20 billion a year to developing countries. It is, by far, the biggest donor to Africa. But it has grown into a huge institution with 10,000 employees.

And critics say the bank has lost its focus--is too big and tries to do too much.

Before retiring, Dennis de Tray headed World Bank operations in Central Asia. "There is nothing wrong with the Bank that a 40 percent cut in staff would not fix," he said recently. "It is just too big. And, you know, as long as it is big they will find ways to employ those people."

There are complaints that the bank is still lax in fighting corruption and props up unsavory dictators--despite the past’s bank president's focus on the problem.

William Easterly is a former bank employee turned fierce critic. "The share of aid [from the bank] going to corrupt countries has actually gone up during the period in which we have had a lot of rhetoric about fighting corruption. So the World Bank is actually getting worse about fighting corruption despite all the rhetoric to the contrary."

Independent analysts say 44 countries that borrow from the bank are highly corrupt.

Adam Lerrick of Washington's conservative American Enterprise Institute says the bank should not be lending to successful middle-income countries like China. The private sector, he argues, does far more to pull people out of poverty than the World Bank.

"In the last 30 years, the world has changed dramatically. But the World Bank has refused to change with it. At this stage the World Bank is totally marginalized in the world economy."

That kind of talk is infuriating, says Eugene Rotberg, a staunch defender of the bank he served for a dozen years as vice-president and treasurer.

"Because it is simply not true. There is still hunger, there is still malnutrition, there is still hard-core poverty, there is still lack of jobs, there is still massive unemployment, there is still a low level of education, and women are not moving up as fast they could in many parts of the world."

Robert Zoellick, a respected former U.S. government official, is just beginning his five-year term as president. He replaces the divisive Paul Wolfowitz, who was forced out. Zoellick faces the formidable task of refocusing the bank's mission while simultaneously reassuring clients and staff and coaxing new contributions out of rich country members.