A Post editorial on Sept. 25 described the World Bank and the IMF as "enormously valuable global assets," but on the same day the Style section carried a long article based on criticisms of the World Bank by the former head of our medical department.
The article implied that Dr. Irwin's charges have become a major preoccupation for the bank and its staff. The reality is that the staff of the bank has not been wasting its time worrying about his allegations but has been getting on with the difficult and challenging work to which it is committed: helping developing countries to achieve economic growth and alleviate poverty.
Despite Dr. Irwin's claim to be "an insider," his responsibility was providing health services to the staff, and he, therefore, had almost no direct contact with this basic work of the bank and the staff that carries it out.
The article refers to the bank's "obsessive secrecy," but the staff benefits disclosed in the article are not confidential and have often been published. Some parts of the article are simply incorrect. Others are accurate, but they are cast in a misleading light.
The benefits described are only for foreign nationals based away from their home country. They are very similar and, in many cases, more modest than comparable benefits provided to employees of U.S. corporations when they are stationed overseas.
Dr. Irwin's statement that the bank spends its net profit on itself is wrong. The net profit directly benefits the bank's developing member countries, not its staff. The bank's gross income comes mainly from interest payments on its loans, and out of this gross income all expenses are paid -- salaries, benefits, travel and all other operating costs -- and funds are set aside for potential loan losses. What is left is the bank's net income or profit -- which this year was $1 billion. Most is added to reserves, and none goes to employees. A solid net profit and high reserves are signs of financial strength. When the bank goes to the capital markets to raise the money it needs for its lending, it can sell its bonds at lower interest rates because investors have confidence in the bank's strength. This in turn permits poor countries, most of which do not have direct access to capital markets, to borrow from the bank at most favorable rates for sound development purposes.
There is no "World Bank Country Club." The International Monetary Fund operates the Bretton Woods Recreation Center, which was established in the 1960s, when similar facilities in the Washington area were racially exclusive. Along with employees of other international organizations, World Bank staff can obtain associate membership at an annual (unsubsidized) fee of $1,250. At present, 314 World Bank families belong -- about 5 percent of the staff.
In the course of a 2 1/2-hour interview, I gave detailed answers to reporter Ken Ringle. The Post ignored many of these explanations and selectively edited others, I hope this letter will give some perspective and balance to the article. TIM CULLEN Chief, Information and Public Affairs The World Bank Washington