World Bank, IMF Heads Under Fire for Skipping Summit

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 25 (IPS) – The chief executive officers of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), two financial institutions based in Washington, have come under heavy fire for their decision to skip a major U.N. conference on Financing for Development (FfD), scheduled to take place in the Qatari capital Doha over the weekend.

“They are not coming,” Father Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, president of the 192-member General Assembly, told reporters Tuesday.

Without identifying the United States by name, he said the two Bretton Woods institutions “are controlled by a member of the United Nations who is anti-United Nations.”

“It’s a shame,” he added.

World Bank President Robert Zoellick and IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn have both opted to skip the U.N. conference, even though it has been upgraded to a summit meeting.

The conference, which is a meeting of the General Assembly, will be attended by over 40 heads of state and heads of government, and is scheduled to take place in Doha, Nov. 29-Dec. 2.

As of last week, the list included political leaders from France, Spain, South Korea, Turkey, South Africa, Japan, Australia, Mexico, and possibly Brazil, Indonesia and Italy, along with the head of the European Commission.

The relevant U.N. resolution on FfD calls for the conference to “be held at the highest possible political level, including with the participation of Heads of State or Government, ministers, special representatives and other representatives, as appropriate.”

D’Escoto told reporters that he was asked whether he received a notification about the absence of the two officials from Doha.

“They wrote to the Secretary-General (Ban Ki-moon),” he said, “But they didn’t write to me.”

Referring to Zoellick and Strauss-Kahn, D’Escoto said: “Of course, they will not tell me that I don’t exist. It is not that I do not exist. It is the General Assembly [of 192 members] that does not exist” [in their eyes],” he added.

At international conferences, it’s the elected president of the General Assembly who is given a higher diplomatic status, protocol-wise, than the secretary-general, according to one U.N. official.

The president of the Assembly is also ranked with heads of state and heads of government, while the secretary-general has the status of a foreign minister. The president, not the secretary-general, represents the U.N.’s 192 member states.

Asked why Zoellick and Strauss-Kahn were not attending the Doha summit, the executive secretary of FfD, Oscar de Rojas, said the IMF managing director had cited “pressing work-related reasons in a personal letter to the secretary-general”.

But the World Bank president had not sent any direct communication, although the organisation had notified the United Nations that its chief economist would head the delegation.

Like the heads of other major global financial institutions, de Rojas said, Strauss-Kahn and Zoellick “were saddled with pressing developments on the international financial markets, which were changing by the day and hour, making it difficult for them to attend the Doha event.”

An Asian diplomat told IPS that nothing should be more important for the two officials than to make their presence felt at a conference which will also discuss the impact of the global financial crisis on developing nations.

“Their excuse is not good enough,” he said, pointing out that the U.N. secretary-general had placed a high priority on the Doha summit and will address the meeting.

Both Zoellick and Strauss-Kahn attended the recent economic summit of G20 countries — a select group of developed and developing nations — hosted by U.S. President George W. Bush.

Ambassador Maged Abdelaziz of Egypt, who is involved in negotiating the final document that will adopted at the summit, told reporters Tuesday that both the World Bank and the IMF were “part and parcel of the FfD process.”

“They have the same privileges and rights like member states and they have participated in the negotiations,” he said. “We would have hoped — and still hope — that both heads [of the World Bank and IMF] will be coming to Doha.”

Abdelaziz said there is a feeling among developing countries that they go only to meetings of developed countries and look after only the interests of developed countries.

He said there is also a feeling that “they don’t care about developing countries.” “I think they should come (to Doha) even for one day,” he said.

He said both Zoellick and Strauss-Kahn attended the G20 summit meeting in Washington. “With all due respect to the G20,” he said, “the G20 is only one side of the coin. There is also another side of that coin.”

The final declaration to be adopted at the conference will deal with several issues relevant to the current financial crisis, including mobilising domestic and international financial resources for development; international trade; an increase in official development assistance (ODA); and innovative sources of financing for development.

D’Escoto, who is a former foreign minister of the left-leaning Sandinista government in Nicaragua, said that Bush came to the United Nations twice to address the General Assembly.

“But they did not even have the minimum politeness to acknowledge me — not once, but twice.”

“He (Bush) spoke before the General Assembly, but he ignored me. He was the only world leader to do that. But I still love him anyway,” D’Escoto added.