World Bank president Robert Zoellick said that Singapore's unique development experience can be of great value to the developing world. Developing countries, most notably China and India, are facing large-scale challenges as millions of people move from rural areas to the cities.
“Countries across the world are struggling with the sheer scale of the urban challenge before them,” said Mr Zoellick. “The challenge is for governments to find sensible solutions to managing the increased demand for land, water, and jobs while ensuring that the cities remain livable and socially cohesive,” he added.
Zoellick spoke to a packed audience of more than 300 people at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy on 18th December. Responding to a rapid volley of questions from a panel of students who shared the stage with him along with the Dean of the LKY School, Kishore Mahbubani in a dialogue, Zoellick said the Bank is addressing key criticisms it faces such as the underrepresentation of developing countries.
The World Bank is giving representatives of developing countries a greater voice in decision making, he said.
“I’ve appointed eight officers, seven of which are from the developing world,” he said, highlighting the appointment of Justin Lin from China as chief economist.
He also mentioned that the Bank has reduced the number of conditions countries must fulfill to receive loans. The recent global financial crisis has increased the demand for quick economic solutions, he said.
“We have a faster paced demand,” Zoellick said. “We have an economic crisis whose depth and scope are very difficult to assess.”
Commenting on the food crisis, he said that although grain prices have fallen recently, the problem of malnutrition due to high food costs is still acute.
|We have an economic crisis whose depth and scope are very difficult to assess.
|Robert B. Zoellick|
11th President of the World Bank Group
“The world food problem is one that will come back and be with us,” he said. “When growth resumes, prices will rise. We must focus more on safety net systems for those in need.”
Innovations such as giving developing countries access to long-range weather forecasting are possible tools to reduce malnutrition, he said.
Zoellick said he is “deeply disappointed” the Doha round of trade talks has run aground. He said he’s concerned the current economic recession will lead to new waves of protectionism.
Zoellick said he doesn’t believe in “decoupling logic” regarding world growth patterns. As recently as 1992, no one would have thought China and India would be growth drivers, he said.
“Until September or October we saw multiple poles of growth in the international system,” he said. “One of the challenges in the World Bank is, can we help Africa become a pole of growth?”
Zoellick signed a new agreement with Foreign Minister George Yeo to set up an urban hub in Singapore that would provide advice and technical assistance to developing countries on urban management, water and resource management, city financing and urban design.
“You could not think of a better partner for the World Bank than Singapore,” Zoellick said. “Singapore has the ability to be an interconnecting point in the region. It is a wonderful testimony to the ongoing process of building a stronger international system. “
Zoellick also praised the Lee Kuan Yew School for providing leadership in the region.
“This school really is a fantastic idea,” he said. “You have to have blinders on not to realize that Asia Pacific will be a critical part of world development and opportunities. The hardest challenges are the ones in public policy.”