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World Bank: Bush Names Zoellick As New Chief

Robert Zoellick (file photo) (epa) May 30, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George W. Bush has named Robert Zoellick, a former trade representative and top diplomat as his nominee to head the World Bank.

Bush said the 53-year-old Zoellick is devoted to improving the world economy.

"He has earned the trust and support of leaders from every region of the world," Bush said. "He is deeply devoted to the mission of the World Bank. He wants to help struggling nations defeat poverty, to grow their economies, and offer their people the hope of a better life. Bob Zoellick is deeply committed to this cause."

On May 29, the World Bank's board issued a statement listing the "essential" qualities it needed in its next chief. It said the next bank president should have a "track record of leadership," a "commitment to development" and "multilateral cooperation," and "political objectivity and independence."

And that’s how Bush described his nominee at a White House press conference, with Zoellick at his side.

Zoellick said he wants to move the World Bank beyond its recent turmoil.

"The World Bank has passed through a difficult time for all involved," he said. "There are frustrations, anxieties, and tensions about the past that could inhibit the future. This is understandable, but not without remedy. We need to put yesterday's discord behind us and to focus on the future together. I believe that the World Bank's best days are still to come. I look forward to working with the World Bank team, professionals whose overriding goal is to help others. I want to hear their ideas on how to do so."

Economic, Diplomatic Posts

Over his career, Zoellick has held many high-level appointments, including four years as U.S. trade representative until February 2005. He then served as deputy to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice until June 2006, when he joined the Wall Street investment bank Goldman Sachs.
"His first to get the confidence of the governments who are on the board of the bank and the staff members, so that he can really bring the bank back into working order."

In April last year, Zoellick's combination of economic and diplomatic expertise was on display during a summit in Beijing. Besides negotiating economic issues, Washington's No. 2 diplomat at the time said he was also concerned with China's human rights record.

"Our relationship clearly looks beyond economics -- in particular, to human rights, and the nature of China's system," Zoellick said. "This is a point that President Bush emphasized extensively in his conversations with President Hu [Jintao] last year. He's had a particular focus on our interest in terms of opening up possibilities for greater religious freedom."

The World Bank's board must still approve the Zoellick's nomination to replace Paul Wolfowitz to head the bank, but by tradition it is always an American, while the head of the International Monetary Fund is a European.

Uniting, Focusing The Bank

Wolfowitz resigned, effective June 30, after a bank panel found he broke bank ethics rules when he secured a pay raise and promotion for his girlfriend, a bank employee.

The episode threw the bank's staff into a revolt and strained relations with the Europeans, who already didn't like Wolfowitz's past role as one of the Pentagon's Iraq war architects.

Wolfowitz left the bank divided and isolated (epa file photo)

Zoellick will need to regain trust and mend relations in the bank and with its member countries around the world, says analyst Sheila Page of London's Overseas Development Institute.

"His first challenge of course is to get the confidence of the governments who are on the board of the bank and the staff members, so that he can really bring the bank back into working order," she says.

The bank's new leader will also have to persuade countries to contribute nearly $30 billion over the next few years to fund a centerpiece bank program that provides interest-free loans to the world's poorest countries.

But Page says Zoellick will also have to decide what he wants the bank to focus on. "In particular, he will need to look at areas like, 'Should it be doing more in the poorest countries, or should it be concentrating on new areas like climate change or things like corruption, which Wolfowitz was working on?'" she says.

But with his extensive experience, Zoellick could build on strong relations he developed as a diplomat and trade representative.

He was involved in peace talks in Sudan and as U.S. trade chief, he played a key role in talks to bring China into the World Trade Organization. He also forged free-trade deals between the United States and other countries, including Singapore, Chile, Australia, and Morocco.

Microlending In Focus

Microlending In Focus

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Muhammad Yunus (epa file photo)

FOR AS LITTLE AS $9. Microcredit is the practice of giving very small loans to poor people who are considered too much of a risk for traditional bank loans. These people often do not have collateral -- things like a cow or house to secure their loan -- or even a job. Despite this, microcredit institutions will lend them small amounts of money at a low interest rate.
The average microloan-repayment rate is higher than the repayment rate for traditional lending. As an example, FINCA International -- which establishes its own small banks in villages -- boasts a repayment rate of 97 percent.
Microloans have proven such an effective way to lift people out of poverty that the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations proclaimed 2005 to be the International Year of Microcredit.
In 2006, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to a pioneer in the field: Bangladeshi economist Muhammad Yunus and his Grameen Bank was awarded the prestigious prize for creating major social change in Bangladeshi villages, with loans as small as $9.


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