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Last Updated:[24-03-2011 05:49:29 EDT] Zoom in Zoom out Back to Tradenews

World Bank chief urges new role in Middle East

tradenews The World Bank is rethinking its role in the Middle East and North Africa to tackle economic and social problems that sparked political unrest. The poverty-fighting institution needs to find some way to convince resistant governments change is needed, the bank’s President Robert Zoellick said on Monday.

“We have produced a number of flagship reports on governance, youth inequality, quality of education, special disparities, and the noncompetitive nature of the private sector in the region. But the record of action has been spotty. Like others, we also have much to learn,” Zoellick said in opening remarks at a World Bank conference on Arab issues.

The conference, that was held at the World Bank’s headquarters in Washington was carried live on the Internet and brought together journalists, think tanks, youth and women groups, and academics from the Arab world to discuss changes that was taking place across the region.

Protests that happened against corruption, political repression, increased unemployment and a rise in cost of living tumbled rulers in Egypt and Tunisia and urging revolt in Yemen, Bahrain, Morocco, Jordan, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Libya.

The changes have forced establishments like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to take a closer look at their roles surrounded by disapproval as they supported economic and development policies of authoritarian governments that worsened poverty and unemployment.

Zoellick said “part of the process of modernizing multilateral institutions was to learn from mistakes. The challenge we have as an institution is when a government resists, how we engage? Some people say pull back, don’t do anything, but often there are opportunities to … make a difference,” he told reporters.

Zoellick said such disputes need to be debated by World Bank member countries that fund the establishment and conferences of the World Bank and IMF in mid-April present an opportunity to address different ways the bank can support the transitions.
In the near-term, Zoellick said he was worried about the high expectations for change at a time, when global food prices are mounting, adding to the fiscal burden of countries in the region that import most of their food.

He said while there may be a tendency to want to forget the past, there were vital lessons “not necessarily to be choked by them but to understand what questions to ask going forward. In order to identify and explore these issues, we need first and foremost to open up a genuine and deep dialogue with and between the different voices in the region,” Zoellick told the conference. “They are issues that will not go away simply because one government fell, or one leader replaced another.”

Samer Shehata, a professor at the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University, told Reuters revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt were reactions against economic and social policies campaigned by the World Bank and IMF.

“In many ways the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions were against neo-liberal economic policies that were merciless on poor people because they bet on the future,” Shehata said, pointing at the 14.4 percent unemployment rate in Tunisia.

Shehata said “the institutions needed to change the methods they use to evaluate development and progress in the region, and should not sidestep sensitive political questions.”

“They need to focus on the vast majority of the population and their living conditions, and also political issues like how good is the quality of institutions, is there political participation, and are elections free and fair,” he quoted.
“It can’t just be simply about rates of growth.”

Source - Digitly

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