If the truth were to be told, the joint annual meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund are often a time of frustration for the World Bank: Although both dispense huge amounts of money to the less fortunate nations, the IMF often seems to gain and hold the headlines.
It is likely to be much the same this year because, as the world debt crisis has proceeded, the IMF has been forced into the lead emergency role, chief fireman, as it were. While the World Bank, under President A. W. Clausen, has speeded up those loans that might help out in the current crisis, its main function essentially is to make longer-term loans that are designed to boost a borrowing nation's industrial potential and growth.
But like the IMF, the World Bank is on the hunt for money: Clausen feels the strong need for increased capitalization for the bank's normal loan operation, and a boosted commitment of grants from the rich nations for the International Development Association, the soft-loan arm of the World Bank.
In a way, Clausen's money problems are even more difficult to solve than the IMF's. Not only does the World Bank face the same problems in tapping the richer nations for hard cash, but it has been forced to play second fiddle in the United States, while the administration is struggling to get the $8.4 billion IMF appropriation through.
The bitter fight on Capitol Hill this summer over the IMF--still not settled--made plain a wide, popular distrust in America of international banks for charging what are regarded as excessively high interest rates. The World Bank wasn't directly involved, but the debate spells trouble for it and Clausen as well.
Thus, when asked about a general capital increase for the World Bank, Treasury Undersecretary Beryl Sprinkel came up with a flat negative, saying the administration had no stomach for another bruising fight with Congress. Against Clausen's desire for a $20 billion "selective" increase in capitalization for the World Bank, which would realign voting power in the bank, Sprinkel said the Reagan administration is thinking in terms of only $3 billion.
Sprinkel also feels that, in view of recent developments in the world oil market, the World Bank is spending too much money on energy projects in the Third World. According to the United States, the World Bank is now committing about one-third of its resources to energy development, a level that Sprinkel says could be cut back, with the funds so released spent on general development.
But what Clausen spends most of his waking hours worrying about is IDA, the soft-loan agency on which the poorest of the poor countries depend for the bulk of their subsidized official aid. The Reagan administration is determined to slash its commitments to IDA by between 25 and 30 percent. Because other nations match the American contribution on roughly a 3-to-1 basis, the curtailed U.S. commitment would limit the IDA-7 program, scheduled to begin in mid-1984, to $9 billion over three years instead of the $16 billion that Clausen says is the minimum.
With the same emotional impact former World Bank president Robert S. McNamara brought to this question, Clausen argues that to ignore the massive economic problems of the Third World by cutting IDA funds is not only to condemn millions to abject poverty, but to invite global political instability.
"Almost every flash point of East-West confrontation in the last 20 years has been in the Third World," Clausen says with a tone of frustration.
Clausen's pleading has had little impact on the U.S. government. At a meeting in Tokyo of the IDA deputies last July, Treasury Assistant Secretary Marc Leland seemed perfectly willing to risk confrontation with major American allies--who want to be more generous with IDA--by asserting flatly that Congress would never appropriate more than $750 million a year for IDA, and therefore the administration will not ask for more.
Treasury Secretary Donald T. Regan confirms that there is no "give" in this policy: If the other IDA donors want to put in more than their usual shares (amounting in IDA-6 to 73 percent of a scheduled $12 billion), that is up to them. But the United States will not go to Congress with a recommendation of more than $750 million a year for IDA-7, starting in mid-1984.
Says a World Bank official: "What a distorted concept of burden-sharing!"