SANTIAGO (Reuters) - A World Bank economist in charge of the lender's annual competitiveness rankings denied accusations that the reports treated Chile unfairly for several years, according to an interview with the El Mercurio newspaper published on Sunday.
Chilean officials criticized the World Bank after its chief economist, Paul Romer, said changes to the "Doing Business" report's methodology caused the South American country's ranking to decline under socialist President Michelle Bachelet, and that the changes may have been politically motivated.
In the interview, economist Augusto Lopez-Claros - who was responsible for the rankings before taking a leave of absence last year for a fellowship at Georgetown University - defended the study, noting that his unit consulted with people both within and outside the World Bank before making big changes.
"The whole process took place in a transparent and open context," Lopez-Claros told El Mercurio, denying any political bias.
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In explaining Chile's decline, he said other countries in the region had instituted reforms at a quicker pace. He said Chile especially lost ground after the index added a gender component, since its legislation has "various restrictions against women."
On Saturday, Bachelet called on the World Bank to investigate, while her economy minister called its actions "immoral."
The World Bank said its methodology was not designed with any single country in mind but that it would conduct an external review of Chile's indicators in light of Romer's comments.
(Reporting by Antonio de la Jara; Writing by Luc Cohen; Editing by Nick Zieminski)