Moving to update the international financial system and draw lessons from Asia's financial firestorm, the world's money managers assemble here this week to consider ways to protect global economic order.
Finance ministers, central bankers and business people from 180 nations will attend the spring meetings of the World Bank, financier of global development, and the International Monetary Fund, watchdog for countries' finances.The two institutions, established in 1944, are facing mounting criticism for failing to foresee the Asian crisis. At the same time, the Republican-led Congress is weighing a Clinton administration request for $18 billion to boost IMF's coffers, depleted by multibillion-dollar bailouts in Asia.
Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin said he wants officials to mull over how the international financial system can modernize and change the way it does business in order to respond more quickly to monetary crises.
Some financial officials have said it might be time for another Bretton Woods conference, named for the town in New Hampshire where the World Bank and the IMF were established near the end of World War II. Then, capital mobility was limited and exchange rates were fixed. Now billions of dollars flow around the world by computer keystroke and currency fluctuates by the second.
The first task of finance ministers on Tuesday will be to focus on what caused the collapse in Thailand, Indonesia and South Korea last summer. The IMF and many analysts say it was a combination of economic mismanagement by countries and panic by institutional investors who pulled money out when currencies started to fall.
Among solutions Rubin has proposed is improving openness and disclosure of financial information that some governments like to keep secret. IMF officials say the organization often is put in a difficult position because it has to consider information countries give confidentially in deciding what it can say publicly.
The ministers are expected to debate a "code of conduct" on transparency under which countries will be encouraged to be more open about their public finances.
The ministers also will review an 18-month old initiative to provide debt relief to the world's poorest nations, most of them in Africa.