View from City Road: A spending, not a savings, bank

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Lewis Preston, World Bank president, said yesterday: 'Change is the name of the game.' The World Bank of the future is going to be better, faster and cheaper. Finding evidence of his claims is a challenge.

Since 1990, staff numbers at the bloated organisation have risen 37 per cent to 10,906, while administrative costs have gone up 48 per cent to dollars 1.4bn.

The 50th anniversary report said the bank will in future focus more on fundamental development objectives, such as eliminating starvation and providing basic health care, and be more responsive to the needs of its clients.

This has raised an ironic laugh or two among the 'clients'. For the past 50 years World Bank officials have not so much parachuted into developing countries as jetted in first-class en route to a five-star hotel. An easy jibe, perhaps, but the bank's luxury habits have created almost as much resentment as its arrogance.

Mr Preston, a former JP Morgan executive, has shown some sensitivity to his customer base. The secrecy of one of the most entrenched bureaucracies on the planet has eased a little. It has listened to development experts and set up new environment and human resource departments - although one environmental lobbyist in Washington said he still trusted the World Bank about as much as he trusted Exxon.

The bank says the volume of lending will no longer be the only measure of success. Efficiency and cost effectiveness will matter more.

Does the bank really believe efficiency is more important than size? Or is it just mouthing it, because of the reviews member governments have started of its activities? Until there is real evidence of change, this should be seen as pure cant.