As the World Bank handed out a communiqué
that talked about "transparency" and "equity," beleaguered
bank President Paul Wolfowitz deflected a barrage of questions from journalists
seeking more information about allegations of nepotism involving a bank employee
who is personally involved with him.
But despite his diminishing credibility at the helm of the bank, Wolfowitz,
who started his tenure in June 2005, said he wants to keep his job.
"This is important work, and I intend to continue it. I have many expressions
of support," Wolfowitz told reporters at the close of the annual spring
meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, which were largely
overshadowed by the scandal.
"I believe in the mission of this organization, and I can carry it out.
We need to work our way through this," he added.
During a 30-minute press conference, Wolfowitz kept referring reporters to
the 24-member Board of Directors of the bank, which is dominated by countries
from the Group of Seven most-industrialized nations and which is investigating
"The board is looking into the matter. We'll let them complete their work,"
His words failed to appease a roomful of reporters thirsty for details over
why he paid his girlfriend and co-worker at the bank, Shaha Riza, an unusually
high salary above and beyond bank rules, and seemingly tried to cover it up
In a near chaotic scene, the moderator of the panel on which Wolfowitz spoke
tried to cut short a Swiss reporter who told Wolfowitz that he had "lost
the trust" of his staff and some of the shareholders at the bank. A bank
employee even tried to seize the microphone from the reporter.
Another reporter asked whether it was "hypocritical" on Wolfowitz's
part to continue at the bank, preaching anti-corruption and transparency
especially to African nations when he is embroiled in allegations of
A third sounded awkward as he searched for a word to describe the 52-year-old
woman at the heart of the scandal. "Your girlfriend," he finally told
Wolfowitz, president of an institution that lent $23 billion to developing nations
Of the nine questions allowed during the session, six were about the Riza affair.
The issue also dominated the two-day meetings.
Finance and development ministers from around the world who gathered under
tight security in Washington for the spring meetings of the World Bank and the
IMF appended their statement with a call for openness and good governance at
the World Bank.
"The current situation is of great concern to all of us," the communiqué
said. "We expect the bank to adhere to a high standard of internal governance."
The governors, however, said they would endorse the board's actions in looking
into the matter.
"We have to ensure that the Bank can effectively carry out its mandate
and maintain its credibility and reputation as well as the motivation of its
staff," they said.
Meanwhile, calls for Wolfowitz's resignation which started on Thursday with
the 10,000-member World Bank Staff Association continued to trickle in.
"He has become a distraction, not a leader, at a moment when leadership
is sorely needed," said Nancy Birdsall, president of the Washington-based
Center for Global Development, in a statement earlier in the meetings.
"There are other reasons, too: With shareholders and staff questioning
his judgment on the conflict of interest issue, he cannot lead by influence
and inspiration, as the World Bank's global mission so obviously requires,"
Birdsall said that the scandal is a major diversion from other pressing global
issues such as poverty, climate change, cross-national money laundering, drug
and sex trafficking, and avian flu, among others.
"We are in a new and dangerous global century. We need a strong World
Bank to wield its financial and technical weight in a concerted collective attack
on these global challenges," she said. "By resigning now, Mr. Wolfowitz
can rescue for himself a lasting legacy. He can do so by linking his own resignation
to a clarion call for a transparent and openly competitive process in the selection
of his successor, in which it is merit not politics and power that matter."
These sentiments were echoed by several development groups.
"With Wolfowitz, the World Bank is losing face. If it wants its policies
on corruption to be taken seriously, it must first look within," said Amy
Gray of ActionAid.
However, others fear that if Wolfowitz leaves, the anti-corruption campaign
at the bank that he started may be derailed.
"Has he damaged the bank's reputation as the Bank staff representative
association suggested? Get real, I'd say," said Pat Adams of the Canadian
anti-corruption watchdog Probe International. "The bank's role as architect
and sponsor of Third World corruption and bad governance was firmly established
by the bank and its previous presidents, Boards of Governors, ED's (executive
directors), and staff long before Wolfowitz came on the scene."
But she added that despite criticisms of Wolfowitz's signature crusade in the
bank, it had the seeds of seriousness.
"I do think Wolfowitz took tougher measures to rein in the bank as an
accomplice to the crime of corruption. I don't think he went far enough, but
I think he went further than his predecessors," she said.
(Inter Press Service)