'Outrage' at World Bank Over Colleague's Generous Salary

By Al Kamen
Friday, April 6, 2007

The World Bank rank and file were most upset by our recent column noting that Shaha Riza, linked romantically with bank President Paul Wolfowitz, got some curiously hefty raises upon being detailed to work at the State Department -- but remaining on the bank's payroll.

"Since publication of the . . . column," a bank-wide e-mail Wednesday from the bank's staff association said, the association "has been inundated with messages from staff expressing concern, dismay and outrage."

The association "has looked into those concerns" and concluded that, while it couldn't "determine who drew up and approved" the agreement detailing Riza to State -- which the bank said was necessary to avoid a conflict of interest -- it did find that the terms are "grossly out of line with" bank rules.

Riza, a senior communications officer for the Middle East and North Africa region, was promoted to a higher-paying position on Sept. 19, 2005, the day she left for Foggy Bottom, without any of the required open competition for the job, the association said. She also got a pay raise more than double the amount allowed by the rules, the e-mail said, followed by another allegedly overly large raise.

Before these bumps up, Riza had been earning $132,660. She's now paid $193,590. (Correction: We said last week that this figure was about $7,000 a year more than what is paid to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, for whom Riza now works. That now appears to be very misleading. Riza's reported pay is net, we're told, and Rice's is gross. So Riza takes home a whole lot more than Rice. We regret the error.) The association said that in general it "defends a staff member's right to have" the bank "preserve the confidentiality of certain information -- and we deplore this leak of a staff member's confidential salary information. However, in this case, the information shared with the press reveals a violation of the staff rules and therefore seems to us a clear case of whistleblowing."

The sharply worded e-mail called on the bank's board and top officials to "explain how/why the rules were bent in this case" and noted that "this is not the first instance of such staff rule violations by the current World Bank Group management."

The association e-mail -- and other bank observers -- questioned how this matter squared with Wolfowitz's anti-corruption drive, which demands that recipients of World Bank loans crack down on graft, nepotism and so on.

"It's ironic that Mr. Wolfowitz lectures developing countries about good governance and fighting corruption, while winking at an irregular promotion and overly generous pay increases to a partner," said Bea Edwards, international director of the Government Accountability Project, which first disclosed the pay data.

Foreign Policy magazine's editors opined that "given Wolfowitz's crusade to fight corruption in countries that receive Bank aid, doesn't it seem a little hypocritical to hand your girlfriend inordinate bonuses?"

But these criticisms tend to assign some blame to Wolfowitz, even though his spokesman has assured us that matters involving Riza's "arrangements" were made "at the direction of the bank's board of directors."

And Riza's successor for the Middle East and North Africa region, Karem Elsharkawy, in an e-mail yesterday to his colleagues, implored them to "maintain a balanced position and be rational and fair." No wrongdoing has been proven, he said, and until then "we must give our colleague the benefit of all reasonable doubt."

Market Watch

Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), in an op-ed yesterday in USA Today, revised and extended his remarks on how safe he found the Shorja market in Baghdad.

"We milled around for more than an hour," he wrote. "I told reporters afterward that it was just like any open-air market in Indiana in the summertime. I didn't mean that Baghdad was as safe as the Bargersville Flea Market; I just meant that that was what it looked and felt like: lots of people, lots of booths and a friendly relaxed atmosphere."

Well, there are few places on earth as safe as the Bargersville Flea Market. But you know, if you ignored your flak jacket, the scores of heavily armed troops, the military choppers overhead and those armored Humvees circling about, it probably did feel pretty much like most other Indiana markets.

Ah, to Be in Brussels . . .

Credit the State Department for spectacular timing. Less than a day after GOP mega-fundraiser and Swift Boat donor Sam Fox received a recess appointment to be ambassador to Belgium, BNET, the department's internal television station, was airing a guide to diplomatic living in Brussels. It came complete with suggestions for embassy staff on fine dining, shopping (luxury items, household supplies, food, plants, entertainment, etc.), children's activities and schools in the city.

"Brussels is a very big city with countless parks," a narrator says. "Parks and ponds abound. . . . Belgium is an explorer's paradise." The video included shots of pristine parks, the insides of delis and supermarkets, video rental stores, bookshops.

The half-hour video is titled "Post Video: A Taste of Brussels." And of course there's the statue of that kid peeing in the fountain and the absolute best thing about Brussels: Paris is only 1 hour 22 minutes away by train.

The next video featured a report on living in Thailand.

Sounds Like the Man for the Job

The White House has tapped Michael G. Vickers, a former Army Special Forces officer and CIA operations officer, to be assistant secretary of defense for SOLIC (Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict). Vickers, now at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, played a key role in the CIA's army of the Afghan resistance to the Soviets. His background should help him navigate the often bruising bureaucratic tussles in his new job: He was once stabbed in the leg teaching knife fighting and other hand-to-hand combat techniques at West Point.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company