World Bank Board Weighs Fate of Wolfowitz
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
The executive board of the World Bank met behind closed doors today to consider the fate of its beleaguered president, Paul Wolfowitz. The 24 directors are reviewing whether Wolfowitz broke bank rules in his management of the assignment and promotion of a female companion who was also a bank employee. Again today, the White House said President Bush has confidence in Wolfowitz, but NPR's Tom Gjelton reports calls for his resignation are growing by the day.
TOM GJELTON: Nancy Birdsaw(ph), a former World Bank vice president, says the board is struggling with its long tradition of acting only by consensus. Global institutions like the World Bank or the United Nations, she says, have a hard time breaking with the status quo.
NANCY BIRDSAW: It's easy to stop things. Every country and many of these institutions have effective veto power, certainly every powerful country, but it's very difficult to make decisions that are unusual.
GJELTON: The drama around the executive board deliberations has, to an extent, obscured the facts of the controversy involving Wolfowitz's female companion, Shaha Riza. Critics suggest she was promoted and given pay raises due to Wolfowitz's direct intervention, but writer Christopher Hitchens, who has known Riza for years, deeply objects to that characterization.
CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: Shaha Riza does not owe any of her positions in the World Bank or any of the other institutions she's worked for in Washington to anybody's patronage, and girlfriend and mistress very strongly suggests or very insulting implies that she does.
GJELTON: And it is no longer only Wolfowitz's job that is at stake. Countries must soon make new pledges to contribute funds to the International Development Association, or IDA, the branch of the bank that provides much of the funding for poor countries. The goal is $30 billion. Nancy Birdsaw, now the president of the Center for Global Development, fears the replenishment of IDA funds may suffer.
BIRDSAW: Ideally, this controversy would not influence the IDA replenishment. The risk of course is that some countries might use the controversy as an excuse to not contribute as much as they might have.
GJELTON: No one inside or outside the bank is guessing how quickly Paul Wolfowitz's fate is to be resolved. The bank's executive board meets privately, and today's session could be prolonged. Tom Gjelton, NPR News, Washington.
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