MAJOR OVERHAULS URGED FOR WORLD BANK, IMF \ SHARP CRITICISM LEVELED AT VENEZUELA SUMMIT

MAJOR OVERHAULS URGED FOR WORLD BANK, IMF \ SHARP CRITICISM LEVELED AT VENEZUELA SUMMIT

Top financial officials from a coalition of developing countries are calling for a face lift - if not more - for the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, the two world economic watchdogs founded at the close of World War II.

Closing out a three-day meeting, the Group of 24 this week urged a major overhaul of the IMF, which comes to the rescue of countries whose economies are in danger, and the World Bank, which focuses on loans to poorer countries.''Uncertainty continues to be present and confidence continues to be absent,'' said Antonio Casas, head of Venezuela's Central Bank and the outgoing president of the G-24.

Twenty-four hour trading on global financial markets that can move billions of dollars in a matter of minutes is overwhelming the IMF and World Bank, which were ''designed for other realities,'' Mr. Casas told reporters.

FOCUS ON ASIA CRISIS

Created in 1944, the bank was established to help rebuild Europe after the devastation of World War II, the IMF to monitor a new monetary system.

But as Europe recovered, both organizations took on new roles. The bank now concerns itself with how poor nations can improve themselves, and the fund with rescuing countries after if economies get in trouble.

But with some Asian recipients of IMF help resisting the tougher measures required under the bailouts, the Asian crisis is raising questions among developing nations about whether the IMF's medicine is worth swallowing.

While it still enjoys a high level of credibility among poor countries, G-24 representatives said the IMF's demands for government belt-tightening and open markets may now be met with greater skepticism.

In South Korea, labor unions are resisting IMF-backed efforts to make layoffs easier, while Indonesia also balked, at first, at fiscal-austerity measures.

In addition, many of the nations are becoming more vocal in their demands for a greater voice in IMF decision-making.

RICH GET RICHER

Colombia's finance minister, Antonio Jose Urdinola, said he felt vindicated by bucking IMF policy and imposing controls on how much money people are allowed to take out of the country.

Several Asian countries have seen their stock markets pummeled by the sudden flight of foreign investors.

''I think everybody is going to be taking (IMF calls for free movement of money) with a grain of salt,'' said John Ohiorhenuan, a Nigerian economist and United Nations Development Program official.

In Caracas, some officials complained of unfair burdens, saying the world's poor suffer the most from IMF-prescribed austerity, while the rich reap the benefits of the fund's bailouts.

Some developing countries have begun to question IMF calls for open markets, fearing that greater openness could make their economies even more vulnerable to fluctuations in global capital flows.

For its part, the IMF says it's not free markets that are to blame for current woes, but countries' failure to break up monopolies, curb corruption and correct such market distortions as overvalued exchange rates.

Still, the fund is coming under increasing pressure from those who say it handled the Asian crisis badly.

JUST REPLACE IT

The most radical proposal made in Caracas was to replace the 54-year-old IMF with a new international agency to monitor global financial markets.

''You can see that people are worried that these issues now are much too important to leave entirely to the IMF alone,'' said Mr. Ohiorhenuan.

Colombia's Mr. Urdinola, however, noted the IMF ''has an immense accumulated experience'' that would be hard to replace.

The IMF now may be poised for some big adjustments. Mr. Ohiorhenuan believes the fund will listen more to organizations like the G-24, which in turn will implement IMF economic recipes with more caution.

Many countries ''are not going to be totally free-market anymore,'' he said.

During a Caracas press conference Saturday, IMF managing director Michel Camdessus hinted the fund may give developing nations a larger say in IMF matters.

Poor nations founded the G-24 in 1971 to lobby for changes in the international monetary system.