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Could the Bank do its work better?

Under James Wolfensohn the World Bank has beaten off influential enemies through polished public relations, but there are still widespread doubts about the effectiveness of Bank policies. Projects continue to fail and adjustment lending has in many cases been granted without proper safeguards. Bank insiders claim that programmes are increasingly effective but critics point to the weakness of Bank models for measuring success.

Self-appointed sophisticates among Washington's chattering class have been mercilessly sniping at secretary of the US Treasury Paul O'Neill for his alleged gaffes since the Bush administration took office. They ignore one key aspect: his well-deserved reputation for getting results. O'Neill, after all, spent 23 years coming out on top in the dog-eat-dog world of American business: first as vice-president and president of International Paper, and then as chairman of Alcoa. And already he has added a feather to his cap since arriving in Washington by spearheading the president's push to move a tax cut through Congress. The result: new legislation signed into law months ahead of schedule. That was no mean feat for an administration that supposedly lacked a mandate.

Today, O'Neill is the point man for the World Bank's largest shareholder. And the Bank, to his mind, hasn't been performing as well as it should. "The World Bank group alone has lent $470 billion since its inception and $225 billion in just the last decade," O'Neill told the Economic Club of Detroit in June. "We have too little to show for it."

A mixed record

Few would argue the point with O'Neill.

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