19 OCTOBER 1991, Page 30

Hong Kong for '97

IT SHOULD end, said Nigel Lawson, not with a Bangkok but a whimper. He meant the custom which, one year in three, makes the IMF and World Bank move out of Washington. Their staff grumble at the cost, the disturbance, the food and the plumbing. Busy ministers (as Mr Lawson was) grumble at the change of routine. Bankers grumble to their colleagues, so as not to be suspected of going to Bangkok for fun. It does them all a power of good, and everyone to do with international finance and development comes back with a better chance of knowing what they are talking about. There is no lack of host countries who want to show themselves off. Some do it all too well, in regimented Seoul or sullen Berlin. Bangkok is doing it in style, the stay-at-home lobby has suffered a setback, and I find support for my plan to move the World Bank out of its cosy Washington nest and put it somewhere among its cus- tomers. The next out-of-town meetings are in 1994 in Madrid and already the con- tenders are at work on its successor, three years later. I can report that a heavy pitch is being made for Hong Kong. Its promoters tell of its splendid facilities and its econom- ic and financial success, but play down their real motive — which is that the next out-of- town meeting but one is due in the climac- tic year 1997.