Woman in World Bank Controversy Working on Mideast Project
Saturday, April 14, 2007
The woman at the center of the storm surrounding World Bank President Paul D. Wolfowitz has spent the past few months trying to get one of the signature efforts of President Bush's Middle East democracy campaign off the ground.
The Foundation for the Future, as the effort is called, has made no grants and held only two board meetings since its creation 1 1/2 years ago. Though Shaha Riza, who has been romantically linked to Wolfowitz, is not listed as part of the staff on the organization's Web site, she is the only person working in the group's offices, located within the Henry L. Stimson Center, a think tank. The Washington office is listed as a "branch," according to the site, which promises that soon a main office will be established in Beirut.
"It is basically just her running this thing," said Tamara Cofman Wittes, research fellow at the Brookings Institution Saban Center for Middle East Policy, who closely tracks democracy programs in the region. She said the board members had no experience in grant-making and thus had "started from zero," with no bylaws or grant-making guidelines. She said the board has had a goal of trying to make its first grant by summer, nearly two years after the organization was formed.
The United States contributed almost two-thirds of the foundation's $56 million budget, according to the State Department, which said last night that the foundation plans to hire a chief operating officer and chief financial officer next month.
Since September 2005, the World Bank has paid Riza's salary -- which under the terms of a contract dictated by Wolfowitz included automatic raises that has brought it to $193,590 tax-free -- while she was seconded to the State Department to assist on Middle East democracy issues. There, she worked under Elizabeth Cheney, who was then principal deputy assistant secretary; Wolfowitz worked for Cheney's father as an undersecretary of defense in the George H.W. Bush administration.
Elizabeth Cheney, who has since left the State Department, was in charge of democracy promotion and was instrumental in creating the Foundation for the Future, which Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced with fanfare at a conference in Bahrain in November 2005. The foundation would make grants that let "reformers to draw upon their ideas and their ideals to nurture grass-roots organizations that support the development of democracy," Rice said.
Riza moved to the foundation in December 2006 to become senior adviser to its executive committee and board of directors, according to documents released yesterday by the World Bank. The one board member from the United States is retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who was traveling yesterday and could not be reached for comment.
A letter dated Oct. 1, 2006, from Anwar Ibrahim, the foundation's chairman, to Robin Cleveland, Wolfowitz's counselor, said that if Riza moved from State to the foundation, she would recruit staff, supervise the hiring and training of senior management in the Middle East, identify programs to receive grants and supervise the implementation of policies on programs, finances and administration. "The Bank concurs with this proposal," Cleveland handwrote on Dec. 14, 2006.
After meeting in Geneva in February, the executive committee announced that it would hold a "logo competition" for the region's youth and had reviewed proposals for a civil society resource center and a conference on rule of law.
Riza, who did not return phone calls or e-mails, wrote the World Bank earlier this week that she had not wanted to take the assignments outside the bank, according to a letter released by the bank.