Britain pulls back threat to withhold WB funds

Singapore, September 18 :

The British government on Monday pulled back its threat to withhold a 50 million pound ($94 million) contribution to the World Bank, after it pledged to improve delivery of aid to poor countries.

The World Bank’s top policy-planning panel discussed measures to fight corruption and agreed that any strategy in this regard needs oversight of its member nations. Britain’s Development Secretary Hilary Benn said he has now “got what I need in terms of a process” to reconsider its earlier threat.

Fighting graft has been a top priority for World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz since he assumed the position last year, and the bank put on hold more than $1 billion in aid for projects in Africa and Asia because of allegations of corruption. That infuriated many countries, which said the decisions were not made with broader consultations and hurt the poor people for abuses committed by their leaders. On Monday, Wolfowitz appeared to soften his stance, saying that poor people should not be penalized for the abuses of their leaders. “We cannot abandon the poor because their governments or institutions are weak,” he said in an address to the World Bank’s Development Committee.

Britain made a core commitment of $2.4 billion last year to the International Development Association of the World Bank. It also announced a further $94 million to be paid in 2007, provided the World Bank cut some of the strings attached to aid.

Last week, Benn said that payment - due in April - will be withheld until Britain sees some evidence that principles to pay greater heed to the priorities of aid recipients are being put in place.