IF the Paul Wofowitz affair has achieved nothing else it has certainly focussed attention on the World Bank. Normally years go by without anyone bothering much about the institution and assuming that it must be doing a good job. But one question that is increasingly being heard is why the United States has the right to name the President of the Bank with only minimal consultation with other countries. The answer if easy: in July 1944 Franlin D Roosevelt convened the Bretton Woods Conference in New Hampshire to establish international monetary cooperation that would prevent the financial crashes which had harmed world trade in the 1920s and early 1930s. Twenty eight nations participated and agreed to set up two institutions: an International Monetary Fund to operate a system of cash reserves for countries in temporary financial difficulty; a World Bank to advance loans for viable major projects in a country's development. It was also agreed that the chief executive of the IMF should normally come from Europe and of the World Bank from the United States. That was then and this is now. Although the United States is still the biggest contributor to World Bank funds there seems no good reason why an institution operating on a global scale should not itself be able to choose a President from outside America. Unless, that is, the reluctance of the US Congress to vote funds for the Bank proves to be dependent on having an American at its head.


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