The World Bank appears to be willing to go a long way to satisfy the Reagan administration's demands for changes in the bank's policies and operations, including, in general, more emphasis on the private sector, and in particular, greater cofinancing of projects with commercial banks.
This is made clear in the bank's annual report, published over the weekend, and stressed at a press conference by Munir Benjenk, vice president for external relations.
"Our desire to cofinance with the private sector is stronger than ever," Benjenk said. "It is the way we want to go." The Reagan administration and the bank's new president, A. W. Clausen, have called for greater involvement of the private sector in the development aid process.
All told, the annual report says the World Bank Group of agencies had boosted loan commitments by 8 percent in the fiscal year ending June 30, 198l, to $13.1 billion. Of this, the commitments by the bank itself were $8.8 billion, and those of the International Finance Corp. (which deals with the private sector), $811 million.
But the bank counted $3.5 billion in its total for its soft-loan affiliate, the International Development Association, whereas actual IDA commitments fell about $1 billion short of loan approvals because the United States was late in coming through with its share.
Benjenk contended that apart from new pressure to stress the private sector, the bank's emphasis on cofinancing had been increasing for the past five or six years, during which time the money put up by private banks for developing-country projects cofinanced with the World Bank had multiplied from about $200 million to $1.7 billion last year.
The way cofinancing works, a commercial bank or consortium of banks makes a loan to the borrowing country at market rates, and the World Bank simultaneously enters into a separate agreement with the country. Typically, the two loan agreements are linked by an optional cross-default clause, and there is a memorandum of agreement that provides for an exchange of information on the project.
Often, bank aide Helen Hughes pointed out, "the developing countries get money at a lower spread (that is, interest cost) without affecting the commercial bank's profitability," because the World Bank will already have made appraisals and performed other services.
In addition to the new emphasis on co-financing, the World Bank has also been responsive to the Reagan administration's skepticism about an expanded program for energy development in Third World countries. The annual report limits its discussion of proposed 1981-1985 energy outlays to $13 billion, rather than the desirable $25 billion proposed by former president Robert S. McNamara last year.
At that time, McNamara contemplated an energy affiliate of the bank, supported by additional financial commitments to the bank by the United States and other major nations, including the oil-exporting countries. But the affiliate proposal was rejected by the administration, which feared the bank was contributing to the support of public sector projects and freezing out private oil companies.
The U.S. Treasury on July 28, 1981 published a biting criticism of the McNamara proposal titled "The World Bank Energy Lending Program," which said that the bank had vastly overestimated rich and poor nation economic-growth prospects, and hence the need for energy expansion. The bulk of resources for whatever energy expansion is necessary, the Treasury said "must . . . come from the private sector."
In reponse to questions about the Treasury report, Benjenk said the bank would not hesitate to make a loan for energy development to a public-sector agency, but only if the private sector is not capable of handling the project.
Financing of IDA remains a concern. Funding for the three-year, $12 billion program -- biggest source of subsidized aid to the poorest countries -- can go ahead only when 80 percent of the money is advanced, a "trigger" necessitating American participation. This finally came Aug. 24 when Congress appropriated the first $500 million out of the U.S. commitment of $3.24 billion over three years.
Advance contributions from 22 other member countries allowed IDA to go ahead on a partial basis, but the program is now behind schedule.
Even bigger problems may lie ahead. To complete the $3.24 billion authorization endorsed by the Reagan administration, Congress will have to appropriate an additional $2.74 billion for IDA in fiscal years 1982 and 1983, a task -- given the present emphasis on budget reductions -- that worries bank officials and strong supporters of the IDA concept among other member nations.