The world's toughest job
Title: The World's Banker: A Story of Failed States, Financial Crises, and the Wealth and Poverty of Nations
Author: Sebastian Mallaby
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA), 2004
ISBN-13: 978-1594200236, 480 pages
Review: The World's Banker
By Patrick Brigger, Editor, getAbstract
Former Iraq War architect and neocon superhawk Paul Wolfowitz was president of the World Bank from 2005 to 2007. Before his forced resignation, he used his office unfairly to promote bank employee Shaha Ali Riza, his girlfriend. If Wolfowitz had not stepped down voluntarily, the bank's board surely would have sacked him. He might be the most notorious former World Bank president, but Jim Wolfensohn is the most intriguing.
Former Olympian, Australian turned American, Harvard Business school graduate, corporate dealmaker, Carnegie Hall cellist, Renaissance man and a bona fide larger-than-life character, Wolfensohn was the World Bank's president from 1995 to 2005. During this period, the restless, energetic Wolfensohn was like a raging tornado, ripping through the bank's stately Washington, D.C., offices, upsetting long-held traditions, tangling daily with the bank's entrenched bureaucrats, determined to make a difference for the three billion people who live in abject poverty.
Journalist Sebastian Mallaby explores Wolfensohn's dramatic decade, along with the bank's changing practices and policies. getAbstract recommends Mallaby's fascinating, behind-the-scenes look at how Wolfensohn and the bank struggled mightily against world poverty for 10 eventful years.
The World's Toughest Job
The professionals at the World Bank tackle hard jobs every day. Consider the bank's Qinghai project in China, the country that borrowed more funds from the bank during the 1990s than any other nation. The Chinese proved remarkably efficient at using World Bank funds to pull millions of people out of poverty. Therefore, the bank was always eager to make more loans to China.
In 1999, China asked for money to relocate nearly 60,000 poor farmers from a severely drought-stricken area of Qinghai, a western Chinese province near Tibet. The Chinese planned to move the farmers to an area of Qinghai with good irrigation, and then construct a dam to provide more water from melting snow. The relocations would be strictly voluntary. Past Chinese relocation efforts had lifted many of people out of poverty, so the World Bank had no reason to think this project would be any different.
One problem: Tibet did not like it. The Tibetans said moving 60,000 Chinese people would "dramatically affect the demography of Qinghai," which was, they claimed, Tibetan in culture. This charge quickly caused a major global uproar. China already had a huge black eye because of its lamentable policy toward Tibet, but in this case, the Chinese were not planning to infringe on Tibetan territorial rights. Quite the contrary: 3,500 of the destitute farmers were Tibetans who would greatly benefit from relocation. Plus, the farmers who remained in the drought area also would benefit, due to a decreased population density on the arid land. Furthermore, the relocated people would move to a largely unsettled area. The only Tibetans there were 276 nomadic herders who set up their tents about 40 miles south of the relocation area. China had ruled this area for two millennia. Its leaders logically felt they could do as they wanted in their sovereign territory.
Once attacked, the bank issued a press release stating that Qinghai was not Tibetan and the project would not harm Tibet. This had little effect. The Tibetans quickly allied with influential nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) opposed to resettlement programs and with environmental groups opposed to dam construction. The NGOs set up rock concerts to raise funds and awareness against the project. The "NGO swarm" flooded the U.S. Congress with petitions to stop the World Bank from funding the project; 60 members of Congress signed and sent an antifunding letter to the bank.
Protesters naturally disliked China, a brutal dictatorship. They claimed a "voluntary" settlement of people in a police state is a contradiction in terms. They warned that the Chinese would build the dam with prison labor. It appeared to the bank that everyone was lining up against the Qinghai project: the Clinton administration, prominent rockers, the NGOs and Congress. Even Jesse Helms, the far right's guiding light in the U.S. Senate, opposed it. Activists illegally placed a huge banner on the exterior of the bank's headquarters in Washington, D.C. It read: "World Bank approves China's genocide in Tibet."
World Bank president Jim Wolfensohn felt betrayed...
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