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Test time for Paul Wolfowitz as Bank president

Test time for Paul Wolfowitz as Bank president

The World Bank Annual Meetings in September must make debt cancellation top priority, says Oxfam International Advocacy Director Bernice Romero. The first test of Wolfowitz's presidency is to ensure the debt deal is agreed to this weekend (24-25 September).

Wolfowitz clearly laid down the gauntlet to the rich countries to come up with the money to pay for the debt deal. We have heard positive rhetoric from Wolfowitz as World Bank head but he must now use all his influence to make sure the debt deal is done this weekend.

Wolfowitz said that the Bank is eager to help deliver the debt deal but this is not good enough. He must now use his influence to force rich countries to fulfill their promises to the poor.

What does Oxfam want from World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz?

When Paul Wolfowitz was appointed head of the World Bank in March, anti-poverty activists around the world questioned whether he would be willing and able to fulfill the World Bank's 60 year-old mission to reduce poverty. The Bank's annual meeting, which starts this weekend, is Mr. Wolfowitz's first test. At the top of the agenda is debt cancellation for the world's poorest countries.

Debt cancellation is critical in the fight against poverty. Every day poor countries spend 100 million dollars repaying rich countries. This 100 million dollars could be spent putting children in school or buying live-saving drugs for HIV/AIDS or malaria. Activists celebrated in July when the G8 leaders agreed to cancel 100 per cent of the debts owed by some poor countries to the World Bank, the IMF and the African Development Fund. Only two months later that deal is in danger.

The key test of Mr. Wolfowitz's leadership will be whether he can ensure that the G8 deal is finalized and expanded. He must use his negotiating skills and access to the US administration to guarantee that creditors will fully finance debt cancellation without simply reducing their aid by the same amount. He must also curb calls by several countries for unnecessary extra conditions on poor countries and support the G8 commitment to make the cancellation of the debt irrevocable.

The G8 deal must be the beginning of a comprehensive debt cancellation process for all countries that need it to fight poverty. Mr. Wolfowitz must advocate for this extension, echoing the agreement at the UN World Summit last week. For Iraq he and others argued that debts should be cancelled because they were incurred by a dictator and the repayments were starving the country of vital resources. These are strong arguments and equally applicable to many other poor and middle-income countries including Chile, Nigeria, Haiti, Georgia, Kenya and elsewhere.

If Mr. Wolfowitz champions the deal and its expansion by brokering relationships between Bank shareholders and using his influence with the US, he will play a crucial role in the fight against poverty. If he ducks the challenge, millions of people will pay with their lives.

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