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World Bank Chief Praises Indian, Chinese Influence in Top Funding Agencies

The head of the World Bank says China and India are both playing big and influential roles in formulating policies despite the two countries being under-represented when it comes to formal bank voting rights. VOA correspondent Steve Herman reports from New Delhi.

In his first trip to South Asia since being named president of the World Bank, former U.S. trade representative Robert Zoellick is calling for India and China to take a larger role in the multi-national funding agency. He is rebutting criticism that the two largest nations need additional voting rights in the bank and at the International Monetary Fund to have commensurate clout with the United States, Japan and European stakeholders.

"When the Indian and Chinese executive directors speak up, regardless of the formal votes - because not many things are done in formal votes in those institutions - they're listened to because they're representing big and influential countries," he said. "And I think that's a good thing. And that's one reason why I've taken a different approach than some suggested and remain a good partner with China and India."

There has also been criticism that China, and especially India, with booming economies no longer really need World Bank loans and can easily access private funds for their needs. But Zoellick told reporters it is easy to forget that there is the same number of poor people in India as in all of sub-Saharan Africa. India is the top recipient of World Bank loans and China is the sixth largest, according to bank statistics.

Speaking to reporters Saturday in New Delhi, Zoellick proclaimed himself satisfied with Mumbai's ambitious urban renewal program. Earlier in the week, the World Bank head inspected the project, which is shifting millions of slum dwellers out of makeshift huts and into specially-built housing.

Zoellick says except for some minor problems those who have been relocated appear satisfied with their new homes.

About half of the $1 billion project to build new roads, rail lines and better housing is funded by the World Bank.

Funding was temporarily suspended early last year after slum dwellers complained, among other things, their new homes would be too far from the core of the city.

Zoellick this year succeeded the controversial Paul Wolfowitz. Zoellick's predecessor drew criticism for his management practices, including an aggressive anti-corruption campaign that saw loans and contracts suspended in India, Bangladesh and Africa.

Zoellick says fighting theft of funds is also on his agenda.

"If we find a situation where we feel that our money is at risk or other donors' money is at risk or that Indian money is at risk, I think it's part of our responsibility as a public trust to clean that up and make sure that the money isn't stolen," he added.

Zoellick began his visit of the region in Pakistan. On Saturday, after three days in India, he left for Bangladesh. There he is to hold meetings Sunday with the leaders of the interim government, private sector representatives and is to tour several bank-supported projects.