10 OCTOBER 1998, Page 28

All washed up

A BIG HAND for the Republic of Palau, which this week becomes the IMF's 182nd and newest member. I cannot say where it is but my finger would be on the South Pacific. The last atoll to join from that part of the world at once asked for a loan. This request went down badly. A loan? What do you think we are, the World Bank? What do you want a loan for, anyway? To build a wall, its finance minister suggested. This was even worse: the IMF was not engaged in project finance, and anyway, what did he want a wall for? Well, said the • minister, if we don't build one round our country quickly, the sea will come in and the IMF will be one member short.