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UN makes overtures to Bretton Woods institutions

The head of the UN Development Programme has been visiting Switzerland to outline the organisation's future strategy. Mark Malloch Brown also thanked Switzerland for its strong financial support.

Malloch Brown kicked off his visit by thanking the foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, for Switzerland's continuing financial to the UNDP: this year Berne handed over 52 million francs to assist development programmes around the world.

His trip coincided with the UN development summit in Geneva, where the general assembly acknowledged it had failed miserably to meet its commitments to reduce poverty, unemployment and social exclusion.

Malloch Brown admitted the UNDP was partly to blame, but assured his Swiss hosts that the organisation had turned a corner, and now had new strategy which would yield better results.

The central pillar of this new approach is to work more closely with the Bretton Woods institutions, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. "We have made the tactical decision to engage with [these institutions] to help countries prepare their macroeconomic strategy with a much sharper emphasis on pro-poor policies," said Malloch Brown.

He is taking a hard sell approach to this strategy. And well he might. The World Bank and IMF are regarded as pariahs in much of the developing world. The Bank has taken to publicly admitting that its policies have often resulted in disaster, but its credibility gap remains vast.

As a former World Bank employee, Malloch Brown is facing a potential credibility problem himself, and there's a risk this could adversely affect the way the UNDP is perceived by the people it is there to help.

Nevertheless, he stressed that it was not feasible for the UNDP to work independently of these institutions. "We're accepting that there is a World Bank/IMF system in these countries [and] we're working to maximise their opportunities under those."

Malloch Brown's strategy seems politically astute. But by working closely with institutions that are so much wealthier and better-connected, he risks throwing away the UNDP's greatest asset - the goodwill it has built up with developing countries.



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