Douglas Alexander: If we want to help the poorest, the World Bank must be reformed

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When the World Bank was established, those countries borrowing substantially from it – the countries of post-war Europe – had a major say in the running of the organisation. Today, in areas ranging from strategy, policy and budget to the detail of operational issues, the voice of the poorest must again be heard. So we look to the London summit in April to recognise the need and agree principles for reform at the World Bank. And alongside the articulation of principles, we need a clear process for putting them into practice.

I would like to propose that the governors of the bank should have a substantive discussions at this year's annual meetings, based on those principles outlined at the London summit. By next year's spring meetings, we could then be in a position to reach agreement on a reform package which includes a more equitable allocation of votes between developed and developing members.

The bank could also strengthen its approach to partnership working by moving more staff and more decision making outside Washington DC. The bank needs to get closer to its clients. The main board is too large for everyone to share perspectives and views at length. Too often, the members representing many of the poorest countries struggle to be heard. I would therefore suggest that the board concentrates on strategy, accountability and results, and delegates oversight of much of the bank's country work to regional committees so that developing countries can have more say in the decisions that affect them most. My own department has undergone a process of devolving to the countries in which we work – to the benefit of our impact in those countries.

I would finally suggest that the bank should address accountability. If we can get the right reforms in order to make the bank management more accountable, shareholders would also be ready to give the bank more freedom to deliver. Each of us must be willing to stand back from the detailed operations which are the bank management's job and play an effective oversight role as the strategic board directors, accountable to our domestic populations.

Douglas Alexander, the Secretary of State for International Development, addressed the Royal Institute of International Affairs on Tuesday

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