World Bank Expresses 'Great Concern' Over Wolfowitz

Friday, April 20th 2007, 6:48 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The World Bank's board on Friday ordered an ad hoc group to discuss the fate of president Paul Wolfowitz, whose leadership has been thrown into turmoil by revelations that he helped his girlfriend get a high-paying job.

The 24-member board, in a statement released in the early morning, expressed its ``great concern'' over the matter and instructed the ad hoc group to take up the matter ``immediately.'' Officials believed the ad hoc group _ whose representatives were not identified _ would convene later on Friday.

It remained unclear what action, if any, would ultimately be taken in the matter. Many of the bank's employees, aid groups and some Democratic politicians want Wolfowitz to resign.

His nearly two-year tenure at the institution, which fights global poverty, has been marked by trouble. The current controversy _ that he arranged a promotion and generous compensation for Shaha Riza, a bank employee whom he has dated _ is calling into question his leadership and has put his job in jeopardy.

The 24-member board said the situation should be dealt with ``urgently, effectively and in an orderly manner.'' The ad hoc group will make recommendations to the board's executive directors. No timetable was provided.

The United States _ the bank's largest shareholder _ is standing by Wolfowitz.

``As we've said before, the president has confidence in Paul Wolfowitz,'' White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Thursday in a fresh statement of support. She also said it is appropriate to let the board's review process take place.

Although they have not said so publicly, some European governments would like to see Wolfowitz go but do not want to provoke a fight with the United States.

Under an informal agreement, the United States names the head of the 185-nation World Bank and the Europeans choose the leader of its sister institution, the International Monetary Fund. The controversy over Wolfowitz could bring this informal arrangement into question.

Documents released last week showed that Wolfowitz had a direct hand in securing a State Department job for Riza in September 2005 that pays her $193,590. Before the transfer, Riza was earning close to $133,000 as a communications adviser in the bank's Middle East department.

Riza remains on the World Bank's payroll even though she left the State Department job in 2006 and now works for Foundation for the Future, an international organization that gets some money from the department. ``I have now been victimized'' for agreeing to the arrangement, Riza said in a memo to the bank last week.

The bank's staff association, which accounts for around 7,000 of the bank's 10,000 employees worldwide, wants Wolfowitz to resign, saying his actions have tarnished the reputation of the bank.

Critics fear the controversy will hobble efforts _ now under way _ to come up with close to $30 billion in funding for a World Bank program that provides financial help to poor countries.