Wolfowitz under attack for World Bank leadership

By David Dieudonne WASHINGTON, AFP

Two years after he was named to take over the World Bank, former Pentagon deputy chief Paul Wolfowitz is under broad and sustained fire for his leadership of the powerful global lender. Debate among World Bank members is intensifying as the International Development Association (IDA) — the group’s arm for lending to the poorest countries — seeks to replenish its coffers to help fund debt-relief promises. According to insiders, Wolfowitz is under attack for lacking strategic vision and for devoting too much energy to his flagship campaign to drive out corruption in Bank-funded projects. Anti-poverty campaigners have accused Wolfowitz of neglecting the World Bank’s traditional focus of activity in boosting education and health care. But Wolfowitz has denied the accusations of strategic drift. Before leaving for a trip to Africa last week, he said: “For the World Bank Group, Africa is a top priority because of its enormous needs and the challenges it faces.” Leaked minutes from a January board meeting showed national representatives in open revolt against Wolfowitz, who was controversially nominated two years ago by the U.S. government to succeed James Wolfensohn. According to Fox News, which carried the minutes in both a “raw” version and a “sanitized” official one, the January meeting descended into “trench warfare.” “Many members pointed out that the content of the paper did not meet their expectations,” the “raw” minutes read after Wolfowitz outlined his thinking to the board. “They were puzzled by the listing and categorization of priorities in the paper. In the absence of an adequately articulated framework, speakers found it difficult to understand or assess budgetary implications,” they read. Representatives from France and Switzerland called Wolfowitz’s paper a “lost opportunity,” according to the minutes. Those from Canada and China complained that a World Bank budget could not be discussed without a proper list of strategic priorities, while even the U.S. representative said Wolfowitz’s priorities should be “clarified.” Wolfowitz has already had to alter his contentious anti-corruption drive after a chorus of criticism from both rich and poor nations. At the Bank’s annual meeting in Singapore in September, he was admonished by several European countries and by developing nations for putting the anti-corruption initiative ahead of the needs of the poor. Countries like Britain, France and Germany were all wary about attaching restrictive conditions to the World Bank’s multi-billion-dollar development assistance. Wolfowitz said in late January that it was “almost surprising how strong the consensus was” in favor of his rejigged campaign, after he went back to the drawing board and consulted widely with governments and civil-society groups. But he has yet to win everyone over. “It’s like using a sledgehammer to smash a nut,” one European diplomat said, reflecting high-level grumbling over the amount of time and energy that is going into the anti-graft campaign. Nobody doubts the merits of rooting out corruption, the diplomat said, but it should not be so “front and center.” Disquiet about Wolfowitz’s staff management also runs deep, according to current and former personnel. The disquiet began early on in his tenure when Wolfowitz appointed personal allies drawn from Republican ranks to key posts.

In August, the Bank’s vice-president in charge of the Middle East, Christiaan Poortman, announced his resignation after opposing plans by Wolfowitz to post more staff to war-torn Iraq. “Wolfowitz has now been there 21 months and we still don’t know what he wants to do with the World Bank,” said one expert in development policy.