WASHINGTON (AFP) – World Bank President Robert Zoellick said Arab countries have been “underserved” by the development lender and that he wants to develop an initiative to get more involved in the Arab world, according to an interview published in the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday.
Zoellick also said that the bank will continue to lend to middle-income countries like China, Brazil and India despite criticism of the practice because a large majority of the world’s poor live in those countries.
“There are some 70 percent of the poor in middle-income countries. If we are going to deal with the poverty agenda, we need to be engaged with these countries,” he told the Journal, ahead of a major policy address planned for Wednesday.
“(Also) if you look at what’s happening in the fields of diplomacy and political and security affairs, one of the big challenges is how we integrate the Indias, the Chinas and the Brazils in the multilateral system.
“It strikes me as illogical that you would be trying to engage them in creating a new multilateral order, and not do it in the multilateral economic system.”
Zoellick has been trying to motivate staff at the bank who were dispirited by the tenure of Paul Wolfowitz, who left the bank’s presidency earlier this year over his management style and a favoritism scandal, the Journal said.
The paper said Zoellick, unlike Wolfowitz, had not recruited aids from the administration of US President George W. Bush, and had not “frozen out” top bank staff since he took the bank’s helm on July 1.
“I have tried to spend considerable amount of time listening to some people, hearing the anxieties, trying to give people a chance, but my purpose is always to start to turn that towards productive energy.”
Zoellick, 54, former Deputy Secretary of State and US Trade Representative, said the World Bank needed to do more work in the Arab states.
“This is a set of countries (that have) probably been underserved by the bank, and so what I’m trying to identify is how can we work with some of these governments and the private sector to create additional opportunity and development.
“I think you have a changed approach among a number of these governments, that they’re trying to pursue economic reforms to create opportunity, create jobs, but — critically important — also meet social development needs.
“If you look at Egypt, one of the challenges will be, can people create jobs and opportunity and have a sense that the government is meeting social needs?
“(If not), others will try to meet those needs, as you have seen elsewhere in the Arab world.”
He insisted that lending to large middle-income states like China, India and Brazil remained a crucial role of the bank.
In late September he scored a key success by getting the bank’s interest rate to those countries cut by a quarter percentage point, which he argued at the time would in turn lead to their own greater contributions to poverty-fighting programs in the world’s poorest states.
He told the Journal it was also important to stay engaged with mid-income states because of the impact of their development on the environment.
“China and India and Brazil and others have huge energy needs, so if we are going to be able to contribute to the big economic environmental challenges of the day, we’ve got to be partners with these countries.”