WASHINGTON, Oct. 1 -- World Bank President James D. Wolfensohn charged Tuesday that a 'cancer of corruption' is diverting resources from the world's poor to the rich. In his speech at the annual joint meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the bank, Wolfensohn said corruption must be fought from within a country. He said the bank cannot impose its solutions from the outside. 'Corruption is a problem that all countries have to confront,' Wolfensohn said. 'Let's not mince words: We need to deal with the cancer of corruption.' Wolfensohn's strong remarks were expected by many, but observers from Africa and Asia said the call to arms against bribery and corruption is at best well-meaning but ineffectual rhetoric and at worst a hypocritical attempt to foist Western value judgments upon the rest of the world. The critics, who asked not to be identified, noted that the West and its international financial institutions have backed a long list of corrupt dictators, including current despots like Gen. Sani Abacha of Nigeria and President Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire. But Wolfensohn argued it is not the West, but 'the people who are demanding action on this issue. 'They know that corruption diverts resources from the poor to the rich, increases the cost of running businesses, distorts public expenditures and deters foreign investors,' Wolfensohn said. 'Simply put, capital goes to those countries that get the fundamentals right,' the bank president said. Wolfensohn's attack on corruption was part of new agenda for the bank he outlined in his speech.
Wolfensohn, who has been in charge of the chief development agency for about 16 months, trumpeted his successes in turning around the culture at the bank. He said the bank must focus on results, not on lending volume. He also said his visits to 40 countries had taught him 'the poor and disadvantaged...do not want charity; they want opportunities. They do not want to be lectured to; they wanted to be listened to.' 'Like all of us, they want a better life for themselves and for their children,' he said. Wolfensohn said poverty reduction remains the bank's central task. He said the bank, governments and nongovernmental organizations need to create partnerships that respect local social and cultural institutions in order to achieve sustainable development.