The recent turbulence surrounding the resignation of Paul Wolfowitz from the Presidency of the World Bank has underscored the need to push ahead with the Bank’s good governance and anti-corruption agenda. This is necessary not only for the sake of the Bank itself, but, more fundamentally, for the sake of the poor in developing countries, whose access to public services and opportunities for a better life are undermined by weak governance and graft.
Some have suggested that the president’s departure is the result of his making too many waves with his anti-corruption agenda. This is simply not true. The leadership crisis did not reflect a weakening commitment to the governance agenda either by the Bank’s professionals or by the countries and shareholders with whom we work. On the contrary, that anti-corruption/good governance agenda precedes and outlives the person at the helm of the institution.
The Bank began focusing its efforts on improving governance and combating graft ten years ago. Breaking the taboo of never mentioning corruption, in 1996 the Bank’s then president, James Wolfensohn, identified the “cancer of corruption” as a major burden for the poor in developing countries.
Over the last decade, improving governance and fighting corruption has been seen as a high priority by governments, civil society, the private sector, and the international community. This is reflected in the World Bank’s lending. The Bank’s loans targeting governance and related areas now amount to roughly $4.5 billion, or almost 20% of total lending.