Journal Issue

Bretton Woods institutions, World Council of Churches find common ground?

International Monetary Fund. External Relations Dept.
Published Date:
November 2004
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The main meeting, moderated by Cornelio Sommaruga, former president of the International Red Cross, took place in the WCC headquarters before members of its governing council and staff, participants from affiliated institutions, representatives of the Christian press, and World Bank and IMF staff. Rev. Dr. Sam Kobia, General Secretary of the WCC, explained that his organization, the main interdenominational organization of Protestant churches, established in 1948, has a proud history of giving voice to the voiceless. The WCC is committed, he said, to a people-centered world economy and development process. Growth and “trickle down” are not enough to reduce poverty; inequalities must also be dealt with, and he called on reasonable people to acknowledge that environmental realities leave no room for assuming that there can be “growth without limit.”

Dr. Agnes Abuom, the WCC’s President for Africa, pointed to the highly visible gaps between rich and poor, and argued that redistributive measures are needed to encourage just, participatory, and sustainable communities. She also criticized the lack of democracy in the Bretton Woods institutions, saying that at present they essentially function as a platform for industrial countries.

World Bank President James Wolfensohn said he had long been convinced of the valuable role of faith-based groups in development and had sought to build bridges with these groups—sometimes over the objections of his own Board. A 2002 WCC publication had questioned the Bank’s commitment to fighting poverty, but that commitment, he said, was not only deep, it was often driven, at the staff level, by faith-based beliefs. Wolfensohn also called on critics of governance in the Bretton Woods institutions to recognize that it is their member countries, not management, that can change the situation. What concerned him most, he said, was the possibility that the fight against global poverty could fall victim to the current preoccupation with security and to a crisis of inaction that has left many promises unfulfilled.

For the IMF’s part, Deputy Managing Director Agustín Carstens said, one of the key steps in a dialogue such as this one is to ensure that the organization’s mandate is understood. The IMF helps member countries create the stable macroeconomic foundations needed for sustained growth and poverty reduction, and, in times of crisis, helps countries take the steps needed to ward off serious damage. In addition, Carstens underscored the importance of trade in facilitating development and poverty reduction. In response to questions about the IMF’s work, he emphasized that the organization’s surveillance of member countries’ policies ensures that all countries receive the same rigorous analysis and that its global economic and financial reviews keep an eye on the effects of industrial country policies on developing countries.

In summing up, Sommaruga praised the “high quality” of the dialogue and suggested, partly on the basis of questions that had arisen in the discussion, five areas for future consideration: issues relating to indigenous peoples; country feedback on the poverty reduction strategy process; continued efforts to implement the UN Millennium Development Goals, with a particular emphasis on community programs and education; governance issues; and stepped-up measures to treat and reduce the incidence of HIV/AIDS. There was agreement that the dialogue between the Bretton Woods institutions and the WCC would continue at the staff level, including through case studies of country experiences.

The three organizations also released a joint statement and a paper, “Common Ground and Differences of View Between the Bretton Woods Institutions and the World Council of Churches.” The paper emphasizes that “the three organizations share the objective of reducing poverty and are working to achieve this objective in the respective areas of our mandates and responsibilities. Important among the aims of our dialogue are that it should help to increase the effectiveness of our work to reduce poverty, including by improving the communication and cooperation between the Bretton Woods institutions and the WCC.”

The paper, which reflects work in progress in the continuing dialogue, focuses on four areas:

• institutional and governance issues in the Bretton Woods institutions (including voice and representation of developing and emerging market countries);

• the evolving roles and activities of the IMF and the World Bank in improving human welfare and assisting its member countries in reducing poverty and achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals;

• the domestic and international strategies needed to achieve successful economic and social development (strategies that will need to address such issues as market failures, international trade and capital flows, balance of payments problems, resource transfers, country ownership of its policies, debt relief and debt reduction, and globalization); and

• a report on economic and social progress, which welcomes sharp reductions in poverty in Asia but notes that there is much that still needs to be done elsewhere, including tackling the HIV/AIDS scourge.

The joint statement and paper are available on the websites of the three organizations, including the IMF’s (http://www. Also on the IMF’s site is the full text of Agustín Carstens’s remarks.

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