Attali pledges to learn from criticism of spending

JACQUES ATTALI, President of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, yesterday attempted to defuse criticism of the bank's pounds 55.5m refurbishment of its headquarters with a pledge to learn from the recent barrage of criticism.

While there are indications that John Major, the Prime Minister, and several other senior ministers from leading industrial countries will urge more cost-conscious behaviour next week at the bank's annual meeting, Mr Attali denied any plans to resign.

He confirmed that the powers of the board of directors would be strengthened, as urged by Theo Waigel, the German Finance Minister, earlier this week.

The EBRD president also denied he had called for the removal of the Canadian executive director, Donald McCutchan, who has long criticised the bank's spending record. 'No one asked for that, I learned with regret that he was leaving.' The EBRD president also called the board, with whom he has often been at odds, 'amazingly useful' and said he had the directors' full confidence in his performance.

Though Mr Attali declined to apologise for the Bank's extensive spending, he did say that it should not have replaced the marble in the entrance hall at a cost of pounds 750,000.

He promised that Pierre Pissaloux, his chef de cabinet, would no longer take responsibility for budgets and corporate planning - a particular concern of the directors. Other reforms include a comprehensive audit of the start-up costs.

Mr Attali also pledged greater loan disbursements to Eastern Europe.

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