IMF and World Bank hit critics with Prague date

THE International Monetary Fund and World Bank have pre-empted pressure to drop the practice of holding one in three of their annual meetings overseas by accepting an invitation to hold the convention in Prague in the year 2000, writes Ian Griffiths.

The annual meetings are normally held in Washington, where the two organisations have their headquarters, but every third year they are transported to a foreign venue. However, there has been opposition to the overseas meetings because of the additional cost incurred.

That cost has been estimated at anything between $10m (pounds 6.5m) and $50m, some of which is picked up by the host country.

Already, next year's meeting in Hong Kong is under threat because of concern about the treatment of Mr Yang Hong, a Chinese member of the IMF's staff who was abducted while on an IMF mission to China earlier this year.

The decision to hold the meeting in Hong Kong is politically sensitive, since it will take place only a few weeks after the colony returns to Chinese control on 1 July.

There are as yet no moves to relocate next year's meetings but if Hong Kong were to be abandoned and the venue transferred to Washington it would set a precedent that many would like to see repeated.

Sources in Washington and London have expressed disquiet about the extra cost of the overseas meeting at a time when spending at the IMF and World Bank is under intense scrutiny.

The World Bank will open a new headquarters building in Washington next month, which has cost $314m - an over-spend of more than $100m.

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