Finance ministers on Monday endorsed a controversial new World Bank strategy for tackling corruption in developing countries but said they would keep a close eye on how it is carried out.
World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz, backed by the United States, has put the fight against graft at the heart of the bank's work, but big European countries are concerned that his zeal could slow the flow of lending and punish the poor.
After lengthy haggling behind the scenes, ministers approved a revised plan and said their representatives on the bank's board would oversee its implementation. In a communiqué, they also told Wolfowitz to make a progress report next April.
The deal follows months of tension between Wolfowitz and member governments over how best to position the bank to tackle corruption without imposing itself as judge and jury.
The issue of corruption has been a lightning rod for broader dissatisfaction with Wolfowitz, who pledged to cooperate with his board to implement a plan that he called a major step forward.
We want to work to develop transparent, predictable, objective standards so people know what to expect. We want to get the proportions right, he told a news conference.
His comments were a riposte to critics who have complained at what they see as the arbitrary way in which the bank suspended loans to Kenya, Bangladesh, India, Cameroon and others.
Wolfowitz said corruption raised complex issues but he made no apologies for his campaign.
It is of fundamental importance. It is about making certain that money goes to schools and textbooks for children, medicines for mothers and creating job opportunities for the poor not to line the pockets of the rich and powerful, he said.
Hilary Benn, development secretary, who had been critical of Wolfowitz's handling of the corruption campaign, said he was pleased with Monday's outcome. It's clear that the board oversees its development, he said of the strategy.
Benn told reporters that he yielded to no one in his opposition to corruption, but it was important to ensure a continuing flow of aid to alleviate poverty. The bank should not dictate solutions.
None of us should walk away from assisting poor people, even where the situations are difficult, Benn earlier told the bank's main policy steering committee.
Max Lawson, a policy adviser to the development agency Oxfam, said he was pleased the bank's board would oversee the corruption fight but said it must be implemented in a way that puts poor people first.
Corruption is too important to be politicised. It must be treated in a transparent way so that countries know where they stand and there is proper oversight, Lawson said.