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Monday, 27 March, 2000, 13:32 GMT 14:32 UK
Quiz the World Bank President
James Wolfensohn, the president of the World Bank, has taken your questions during a live debate on Talking Point On Air.
The World Bank - its proper name is International Bank for Reconstruction and Development - was established in 1944 to back programmes to countries with loans for specific ends.
Today these often include financial support for social networks to protect the poor from some of the worst effects of the economic problems the International Monetary Fund, the organisation which lends money to countries which are in deep economic trouble, is trying to overcome.
Both institutions face criticism. The Fund for its alleged one-size-fits-all policy recommendations, the Bank for its supposed failure to take proper account of human and environmental needs in its projects.
Both deny the charges and both are undertaking various reforms to meet the criticisms.
Why does the IMF not help to write off Mozambique's debt?
Mr President, considering the current disaster situation in Mozambique resulting from the floods that can jeopardise several years of economy recovery efforts. Is your institution considering any special package for this country, if so, how deep and fast would such a package obtain objective results?
We have a team that is currently in Mozambique and we responded the next morning by providing some immediate funding to this terrible tragedy which has fallen your country. Our reaction has been swift, direct and practical. We will continue to do that and I believe your president is quite happy with what we've done already.
Many African regimes are corrupt and undemocratic. Putting money in their hands only creates billionaires - what are you doing to make sure that money does not end up in anonymous foreign bank accounts?
Why should ordinary citizens pay for what dictators did?
Don't you think its bad business when the World Bank is saying "we are helping poor nations" and asking us for "money" that we don't have and we never benefited from. In my opinion we Somalis don't owe one dollar to IMF nor the World Bank. The man you gave your money to is dead and that's bottom line and we don't feel paying you anything
It's common knowledge that African leaders enrich themselves with funds received from the international donor community.
Why does the World Bank continue to pour money into these countries knowing full well that a portion of these loans is funnelled into Swiss Bank accounts?
Simon Sinclair, UK
My question is regarding my country. In the cold war era the world bank gave money to Mobuto and his government knowing very well that money was being used for his personal use and I think that money was to keep there and prevent communism being spread around Africa. Why should the people of the Congo pay for this debt because we never used the money and Mobuto was an illegal government?
I think the whole issue of Mobuto and the Congo troubles you and everyone who has something to do with Africa.
The question of where the money went and what the objections were at the time is something I can't really answer seeing as I wasn't around.
I can tell you that in recent years there has been an enormous effort on the part of the bank to make sure money is used on social and other programmes and the incidents of debt try to be alleviated. Your country is one which is suffering from the most terrible political problems and we are working closely with the UN to try to get the country back on an even keel.
Here the question is something for your national colleagues to do, it's something unfortunately, we can't do for you. What we're ready to do when stability returns is to sit down with the government and see how we can get an economic programme, including the issue of debt, to try to get things running on an even keel but until the politics are clarified there's not a lot we can do about the question of debt.
Would Mr Wolfensohn be willing to make a policy announcement stating that
the World Bank will not finance projects which affect wild tiger habitats ?
Why has the World Bank directly funded 25 coal mines in Eastern India to act
as models for good environmental practice but completely fail to even
consider wildlife corridors?
The World Bank say that it wants to save wild tigers, so why does it encourage destructive coal mining in important tiger forest corridors identified by the World Wildlife Fund in India?
Why does the World Bank continue to fund projects that it knows to be
harmful to the world's eco-systems? Surely you should be investing in
projects that produce affordable, clean, renewable forms of energy, not
making life harder with coal.
My questions concerning coal mining operations the World Bank has funded in eastern India. Everyone knows tigers are in grave danger of extinction so I'm wondering why did the Bank fund the development of these mines in sensitive areas that harbour some of the largest concentrations of India's remaining tigers without first studying the potential impact on the tiger population.
What we're trying to do with the Indian government and the Indian authorities is to have clean mining of coal and to determine not only the impact on tigers but on the people who live in the areas surrounding coal mines is alleviated.
But to contemplate that India would develop without development of its coal mines is something that is probably beyond the context of what the World Bank can do. What we're trying to do is to use our influence so you have proper treatment of people, tigers and environmental considerations in any form of mining there is in India.
We are very conscious of the tiger question as we are of the issues of bio-diversity of all types around the world.
I'm an Ethiopian living in Trinidad and my view is that I think what is happening in Africa, in parts of Asia and South America, the unchecked population explosion is going to have a significant impact on the environment which is going to have a significant impact on life everywhere else.
The World Bank has been around for the last 50 years and has been involved at different levels. How successful has it been in Africa, in parts of Asia or South America?
I've been to more than 100 countries in the last five years and you become very conscious of the demographics and the number of people there are already in developing countries and there will be.
There are 4.7 billion people in developing countries and in the next 25 years there will be approximately two billion more, so we'll be at 6.7 billion. So the first issue, which I must say the Bank hasn't got a lot of control over, is the fact that there will be another two billion people joining the developing world.
We do everything we can to encourage countries to keep the rate of population growth down, but frankly that's not something we can be fully responsible for.
We have to deal with the governments which are in place. If we take the Ethiopian case, we have a leadership in Ethiopia which is well trained, which is trying very hard to do things to the betterment of it country, which is open and which has a real fight against corruption.
What we're trying to do is to work with the Ethiopia government and try and get programmes which go directly to the people. I have a lot of confidence that in the case of Ethiopia the government is achieving this objective.
Could you shortly explain how sustainability is incorporated into World Bank's highest level decisions? For example do you yourself weigh your decisions from financial, social and environmental viewpoints?
As someone who was raised in the Third World and who lives now in the developed world, I have a problem with the World Bank in part because I do not see how the World Bank can help Third World countries when most of its policy and most of its aid is moulded and created by people who come from the developed countries. I do not think the World Bank can make a vital and important contribution to the Third World until it addresses this problem.
Governments should do what's in the best interest of their own country, not what's in the best interest of the World Bank. How can you put forward a plan for a country that you have never lived in and have no idea of the opinion of the people?
Both questions address a fundamental misunderstanding of the Bank.
First of all we have 2,000 people who live in the countries themselves and they are predominately nationals of those countries. The Bank itself has 140 to 150 nationalities represented in our staff.
In fact the regional vice president of Africa is African. Our institution is a cross section of the world. It is not a group of Englishmen or Americans or developed country people sitting in Washington without ever leaving Washington trying to dream up what goes on in the rest of the world.
The second point is that in our approach to coming up with development programmes, we are committed to having these programmes country led. It is not for us to govern countries. It's for us to work in countries and discover, not just what the government feels, but also what civil society and private sector feels.
We know that for projects to be effective and programmes to be effective, they must be owned in the countries and must be of the countries themselves.
I agree with you completely, that it is essential to have country ownership and country direction of programmes and I can say categorically that that is the way the bank is now operating.
The World Bank is very influential overall in analysing and framing development policy in its very influential research, external relations and media work, conferences, structural adjustment loans and Mr Wolfensohn's role as a global statesman on poverty issues.
Even if the world bank isn't staffed by people from the richest countries, it is still politically dominated by them and the board of the world bank is controlled by the US, the UK and three other countries, because that's where most of the money comes from.
For many of us the world bank is merely the American President's stooge. Isn't it the case that the Bank does what Washington wants?
Over five years, while we have lots of fights and different views at the board, broadly management is able to get through what it wants to do.
I'm not suggesting its always smooth sailing but there's always a fair debate and broadly we make decisions by everyone agreeing we should go forward, developing and developed countries alike.
What do you think of recent suggestions from the US Congress that the Bank should withdraw from Asia and Latin America, leaving other development banks to do the work? Should this principle also be applied to Africa?
We're dealing in a world where we have a burgeoning issue of poverty and to withdraw from that now, the single, perhaps best informed and influential institution, I think would be very hazardous. I don't say that because I want to keep my job for the next 10 years, I say it because I believe it.
What purpose does the World Bank serve to the economically sound nations of the world? Why should the bank continue to be funded by the first world nations?
The difference between developing and developed countries is something which in this new millennium we're going to have to understand is less and less real. We live in one world today. Each world is influenced by the other. You can't have poverty, wars, disease and migration in developing countries without there being a real impact on the so-called developed world.
There's no way the developed world say we are not interested in 4.8 billion and 6.8 billion people. We are on one planet.
Will the world bank continue with its current policy of loans to African countries?
We are going to try to continue to do loans. We'll try to do them in conjunction with governments and the people of the countries and we're addressing very openly and directly the issues of corruption.
But I would challenge that nothing the World Bank has ever done has had any benefit for any developing country. That sort of comment is considerably extreme. There have been some substantial advances on the part of developing countries. The notion of us withdrawing is something I doubt would be in the interests of poor people across the developing world.
The Poor's Plutocrat
World Bank's Wolfensohn
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