USIS Washington 

23 February 1999


(World Bank President addresses GCA forum) (1000)
By Charles W. Corey
USIA Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- Bribery and corruption is "not a fringe issue" but a
concern that must be dealt with openly, decisively and forthrightly by
any nation that aspires to become a fully functioning member of the
world economy, says World Bank President James Wolfensohn.

In remarks opening a one day anti-corruption meeting co-sponsored by
the Global Coalition on Africa [GCA] and the U.S. Department of State
on February 23, Wolfensohn said "The very first item on the agenda,
the very first issue that we address of the things that we think are
needed to have an appropriate and equitable development in a state, is
[attention] to governance and corruption."

Second in importance, he said, is establishing a fully functioning
legal and justice system.

"I don't start with finance," he said. "I don't start with water. I
don't start with education -- as important as all those things are....
If you cannot have in a country a sense of proper governance within a
framework that is unambiguous in its opposition to corruption, and if
you cannot have a justice system and the protection of rights, then
general statements or even specific statements that we make will fall
to the ground."

For that reason, Wolfensohn told ministers representing 11 African
nations, a handful of European nations, Canada, the United States and
the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development [OECD] and
World Bank, "Our direction is very very clear here.

"We believe that central to development is the issue of governance and
corruption," he said. "We feel humble in the sense of how we
participate and help in changing it. We are prepared to take an active
role, a supportive role or no role at your request. But we feel
extraordinarily comfortable that a group such as this and many groups
like these are coming together so that together we can gain a sense of
momentum and strength" in the fight against corruption.

"I want to assure you from the point of view of this institution," he
pledged, that "we are literally prepared to do anything that you would
like in pursuance of your decisions today."

Robert McNamara, co-chairman of the Global Coalition for Africa, a
former U.S. Secretary of Defense and World Bank president, interrupted
Wolfensohn to credit him with putting the corruption issue onto "the
world stage."

It was "absurd" that the issue could not be addressed by earlier World
Bank presidents because of legal interpretations of Bank rules,
McNamara said, while asking participants "What is more fundamental
than economic and social advance and good governance?"

Wolfensohn recalled that he first used the word corruption in a public
speech in 1996. "Prior to that time," he added, "I had been told by
our general consul that under...the regulations of the bank...I was
not allowed to enter into political issues and that the activities of
the bank were only concerned with economic issues.

"We could have a social overtone but politics was not possible," he
said. "So I was told literally when I got here, that the 'C word' as
it was called...was not to be uttered by me because it was a
transgression on political independence, and an intrusion on the ways
and lives of the people who we were serving.

"That seemed to me -- after having visited most of our client
countries and living in a country that has Salt Lake City [site of the
recent Olympic bribery scandal] -- that the issue of bribery and
corruption is not an issue that can be put aside as a fringe issue,
but is an issue which impacts economics and social life more than any
other single issue."

Wolfensohn acknowledged that confronting corruption is not easy. "I
know how damned difficult it is to deal with.... I figure that we
should look inside the bank and (determine) what it is that we are
doing that either aids, abets or does not intrude on issues of
corruption. At what level do we declare misprocurement? At what level
do we pursue things that smell?" he asked rhetorically.

Witney Schneideman, deputy assistant secretary of state for African
affairs who co-chaired the session, praised Wolfensohn for his
"profound leadership" in fighting corruption.

"You have definitely opened a whole new debate in the area of ethics
and most importantly, in...economic development.... At the end of the
day, what this group is about is trying to improve the lives of
individuals. The best way to start that is in the area of waste, fraud
and corruption. Without that, there is no chance for the small person,
the medium person to get a leg up" and achieve economic independence,
he said.

Schneidman praised the 11 African countries in attendance as being at
the "forefront of fighting corruption" not only in Africa but
worldwide. 20"We are very keen to work with everybody here at the
table to ensrhine these practices to let the international community
know that Africa is joining the table, is joining the group to fight
corruption and is prepared to do what needs to be done," he said.

[The African representatives were in Washington to attend the February
24-26 "International Conference on Fighting Corruption and
Safeguarding Integrity Among Justice and Security Officials," to be
hosted by Vice-President Al Gore at the State Department. The African
countries represented at the GCA event included Benin, Botswana,
Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Senegal, South Africa,
Tanzania and Uganda.]

General Amadou T. Toure, former head of state of Mali, speaking for
the African delegates, praised Wolfensohn for his dedication to Africa
and for battling corruption worldwide.

The French-speaking Toure said the continent of Africa is "confronted
with several types of diseases, including AIDS." Unfortunately,
another disease, that is even more "insidious and destructive and
older" known as corruption still grips the continent and must be dealt
with as well, he said.