Published on Wednesday, April 13, 2005 by Reuters
World Bank Head Says Was at Odds with Bush White House
by Lesley Wroughton
WASHINGTON -- Outgoing World Bank chief James Wolfensohn said on Tuesday he spent his last five years at the helm of the development agency mostly at odds with the Bush administration, which kept him at arm's length.
"The Bush administration had less confidence in me ... although I am saddened by it because I was never partial to Democrats or Republicans," Wolfensohn, who will be replaced by administration insider Paul Wolfowitz in June, told Reuters in an interview at his Washington office.
The Australian-born Wolfensohn, a Clinton appointee who became an American citizen to take the job, failed to win a third term when the Bush administration made it clear it wanted its own person to take control at the development bank.
Wolfowitz fit the bill and his appointment was confirmed on March 31 despite quiet misgivings by some member countries about his role as an architect of the Iraq war.
Wolfensohn clashed with the Bush administration over how the bank gave out funds to poor countries. The administration wanted more evidence that projects were reducing poverty and not being wasted in ill-conceived programs or bureaucracy.
In the interview, Wolfensohn said he personally believed Wolfowitz would do well in the job because he is part of President Bush's inner circle.
"We got our work done but I never had the backing ... and in case of most presidents of the bank they have been backed by somebody," Wolfensohn, who will this weekend preside over his final World Bank spring meeting in Washington, said.
"That is not a bad thing but it would have been very comfortable if I could have called somebody and said I need your help on something."
Instead, Wolfensohn said, he sought advice on how to run the development agency from outside the United States.
By tradition, an American leads the World Bank while a European takes the top post at its sister institution, the International Monetary Fund.
Wolfensohn said he advised Wolfowitz, who is in the process of moving from the Pentagon, to listen and not jump to conclusions.
NO MAJOR POLICY SHIFTS
"He should take six months in which he tries to get to know an extraordinary complex set of issues and it seems to me that is what he is doing," he said.
According to Wolfensohn, his successor says he does not plan any major directional shifts for the bank, "and it will be my hope that he doesn't."
"The analysis and diagnosis of what needs to be done is already there," he said. "I don't think if he does three more years of analyzes he will come up with a different answer.
"He needs to know, and this is where I hope he will be effective, to mobilize political support to deal with the prescriptions and I think he has a good chance of doing that."
Looking ahead, the World Bank chief said he plans to stay in the same line of work, focusing on poverty, development and job creation in developing countries.
That could mean working for himself or for another organization based in Washington, said Wolfensohn, who is an accomplished concert cellist. The Harvard-educated former investment banker said he also hoped to resume business activities tied to developing nations.
"I hoped to focus on seven to eight things but regrettably I have a list of 28 things. So at this point, I need to define my focus -- I have discovered I am interested in so many things," he said.
Wolfensohn looked back on his decade at the World Bank with pride, saying he believes he will leave a significantly changed institution in both performance and reputation.
"I think we have a relationship with our clients which is more of a partnership now and less of being perceived as a policeman or a professor," he said.
"I think also this is a place now that understands that economic growth is at the center and also understands that economic growth without regard to the human condition is not enough."
Wolfensohn said the institution now regarded poverty "not as an anonymous clinical activity" but as a human drama.
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