In their Aug. 23 letter, Lori Pottinger of the International Rivers Network and Korinna Horta of the Environmental Defense Fund expressed concern about alleged corruption in the Lesotho Highlands Water Project. We agree that such allegations must be taken seriously. For this reason, we are pleased that the governments of Lesotho and South Africa have investigated the matter promptly and brought the case to court.

We also agree -- indeed, we are proud -- that the World Bank played a leading role in making this important project happen, even if our financial contribution was less than 5 percent of total costs. Our commitment to preventing corruption extends well beyond our financial involvement in a project. Corruption hurts the poor most of all -- whether it involves official aid, private investment or the use of a developing country's own taxpayers' money. Therefore, we are determined to help African countries fight corruption in all its forms.

The Lesotho project was in the making for more than 20 years and is important for southern Africa as a whole, not just Lesotho. In addition to meeting South Africa's water needs, the project is helping poor communities in Lesotho through a social fund set up with revenues from the project. World Bank involvement helped ensure that the project was designed to the highest economic, social and environmental standards.

Large development projects can carry special risks, but they can be designed successfully. Most non-governmental organizations in Lesotho and South Africa support the project and appreciate the openness and care with which it was prepared. Dealing seriously with corruption is consistent with that openness and with the World Bank's interest in seeing such projects serve the poor.

CALLISTO E. MADAVO

JEAN-LOUIS SARBIB

Washington

The writers are vice presidents for the Africa region at the World Bank.