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31 March 2005 Edition

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Big bad Wolf

It's now almost certain that Paul Wolfowitz, US Deputy Secretary of Defence and nominee for the top post at the World Bank, will be appointed President when the Bank's 24-member Board meets on Thursday to choose a successor to James Wolfensohn.

Wolfowitz's appointment is seen as one of the most controversial ever to the development bank, which is charged with fighting world poverty.

A neo-conservative, Wolfowitz was also one of the main architects of the US-led invasion of Iraq.

NGOs have reacted angrily to his nomination, with the London-based World Development Network, calling it a "terrifying appointment". A petition against his nomination has been signed by 1,300 development organisations in 68 countries.

His lack of economic and development experience has been pointed to, but there is also a fear that he will attempt to further politicise the lending institution by using it to promote US foreign policy.

Wolfowitz's assertion earlier this week, that he saw helping people lift themselves out of poverty as a "truly noble mission," will have done little to reassure his critics, who heard him echo similar sentiments when referring to the 'liberation' of Iraq.

However, backing from the EU means he is now more or less assured the position.

On Wednesday, Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker introduced him to a meeting of senior European finance and development officials as the "incoming president of the World Bank".

The EU was never likely to seriously challenge Bush's nominee, despite reservations being expressed by several of its members. The body is looking for US support for its candidate to take over the World Trade Organisation and is seeking backing for a European to head the UN Development Programme. There is also a strong tradition of Europe backing US candidates for the Bank job, with the top job at its sister organisation, the International Monetary Fund, going to a European as a quid pro quo.

The lack of democracy in the appointment of these strategic posts is overwhelming and has not gone unnoticed by the developing world.

The hypocrisy of first world countries, who lecture their third world counterparts about democracy and then sew up all the world's best jobs between themselves, has been pointed to as one of the most divisive forces in international relations.

Wolfowitz's appointment will do little to improve matters.

The World Bank does not need a neo-conservative; it requires someone who is committed to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals on global poverty reduction and a long-term strategy to promote a more equal world.


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