Source AP ©

World Bank chief visits rapid-growing Vietnam

World Bank chief Robert Zoellick said Monday that Vietnam could serve as a model for other countries in reducing poverty and praised the government for its efforts to root out corruption.

Zoellick, making his first official overseas trip, toured several World Bank projects in Yen Bai province, one of the nation's poorest areas, about 200 kilometers (125 miles) northwest of Hanoi. He said he was especially impressed with the government's ability to spread electricity to the poor.

"Vietnam is a tremendous success story and we are very proud to work with the country on its development," Zoellick told reporters.

"When I go back to Washington, I'm looking for ways that we can help put additional funding into Vietnam."

He also met with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and other key officials.

"We have agreed on the objectives of our cooperation in the future," Dung said, adding those goals ranged from environmental protection to sustainable economic development.

Zoellick recently replaced former bank President Paul Wolfowitz, who resigned amid a furor over his handling of a bank pay package for his girlfriend.

Earlier this year, the bank described Vietnam as having the potential to be one of the great economic development success stories, and said it expected to provide it with more than US$800 million (EUR 584 million) annually over the next five years in interest-free grants and loans.

However, the bank also warned that Vietnam faces challenges in realizing its goal of becoming a middle-income country by 2010.

Last year, Vietnam's economy grew by 8.2 percent, making it one of the world's fastest-growing countries. But rampant graft has plagued its development, and the government and Communist Party has made combating it a top priorities.

Earlier this year, World Bank officials announced they had found some irregularities with aid distributed at the provincial level, but Zoellick downplayed the findings saying there were "problems but not specific corruption."

"The prime minister raised the anti-corruption issue before I mentioned it," Zoellick said. "The government wants to root out corruption because they realize corruption steals from the people."

Zoellick attended an Asia Pacific finance ministers' meeting in Australia before visiting Cambodia. He is to visit Japan after leaving Vietnam on Tuesday.

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