World Bank, IMF need major ‘reboot’, US Treasury Secretary Yellen says

Dr Janet Yellen said the bank was not built to address multiple and overlapping global crises. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - United States Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and a top White House adviser called for major reforms at the World Bank on Thursday (April 21), saying the seven-decade-old multilateral development bank was not built to address multiple and overlapping global crises.

Dr Yellen told reporters that both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) were not designed to handle the multiple global crises they now face, including fallout from Russia's war in Ukraine and the Covid-19 pandemic, and they lack the resources to tackle climate change.

She said the IMF, which has about US$1 trillion (S$1.4 trillion) in total lending resources, was intended to help individual countries deal with isolated crises, while the World Bank was created to finance development projects in countries that lacked access to capital markets.

"We face challenges that will now require investment on a scale that an international institution can't manage on its own, like climate change," said Dr Yellen.

"The investments for climate change will add up to just trillions and trillions of dollars."

She said she could not say what reforms are needed to scale up the institutions, but added that they needed to be able to harness large pools of private capital.

The World Bank's lending totalled US$99 billion in fiscal year 2021.

The institutions also need to be better capable of delivering "public goods" such as improved public health infrastructure to handle future pandemics, which may require alterations to the World Bank's mandate.

In separate remarks, Deputy National Security Adviser Daleep Singh said he was in "full-throated agreement" with Dr Yellen, and believed the bank's business model - which puts a premium on maintaining an AAA credit rating - was not well-suited to catalysing global change.

"It's really past time to reimagine, and reboot the mission and the business model of the World Bank," Mr Singh told an event hosted by the Bretton Woods Committee.

The comments come amid growing calls by civil society groups, developing countries and academics for a new "Bretton Woods", a reference to the conference held in 1941 that led to the creation of the IMF and World Bank.

"I think the bank has made a fetish out of its triple-A rating over the course of many years," said Mr Singh, citing studies that showed a small downgrade in the bank's credit rating could triple its lending capacity or more.

Shifting its stance would allow the bank to have more risk appetite and become more of a "first mover" in terms of investments in the developing world, Mr Singh said.

The bank could take on "first loss positions" that could potentially motivate private sector investors to come in and expand the pool of resources available for climate finance or health security into the trillions of dollars needed.

"That's what's going to be needed to hit the Paris goals when it comes to climate, both on emissions reduction and adaptation," said Mr Singh.

He added that the World Bank also needed to "get a lot louder" about the need for debt restructuring for low-income countries, given that 60 per cent are in or near debt distress.

"We're going to need China in particular, but also the private sector, to step up and take burden sharing seriously through the common framework," he said, referring to the Group of 20 framework agreed with the Paris Club of official creditors.

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