Leader of World Bank Staff Group Becomes Wolfowitz's Chief Nemesis

"We stand up for staff being treated equitably. There shouldn't be favoritism," said Alison Cave, head of the World Bank staff association. (Courtesy Read Scott Martin)
By Krissah Williams
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 20, 2007

World Bank employees depict their attempt to bring down bank President Paul D. Wolfowitz in epic proportions, casting themselves as David to the president's more powerful Goliath.

The staff member throwing the stones is Alison Cave, a little-known urban planner who chairs the bank's staff association. Cave has gained notoriety in the bank by taking the unprecedented step of seeking a bank president's resignation.

Staff members aligned with Wolfowitz have cast Cave as a lone actor motivated by a personal vendetta to oust the president. It is a claim she denies, but her role as leader of the bank's staff association has put her in a face-off with Wolfowitz, who is under fire for overseeing a promotion and pay raise for a woman to whom he is romantically linked.

"We stand up for the staff rules," said Cave, who was hired at the bank as a consultant in 1994. "We stand up for staff being treated equitably. There shouldn't be favoritism."

The bank's staff association, which represents staff grievances before the bank's board of directors, has pushed hard against past presidents, but acrimony has never been so high. As staff chair, Cave is on leave from her full-time job in the bank's Africa division. The bank pays her salary, and dues paid by the staff association's 5,400 members fund the small office from which she operates.

Cave left her work as a planner because she felt she could "speak frankly and speak up for staff." She has been a firebrand in the institution since joining the staff association as a delegate to push for more benefits for consultants who were paid less and received fewer benefits than full-time staff members.

She is in her final year-long term as chair, a tenure that has coincided with Wolfowitz's presidency. She has opposed him from the start after a staff survey cited overwhelming concerns about his conservative politics and role as an architect of the Iraq war.

Tension has heightened since the disclosures about Wolfowitz's role in the raises and promotions for his friend, Shaha Riza. When Wolfowitz held a news conference to close the World Bank's annual spring meetings with finance ministers from all over the world last week, he reiterated his plan to stay in office despite the calls for his resignation.

Cave then held her own news conference demanding that Wolfowitz leave.

"She might have said it more forcefully than some might have wanted, but what she was expressing is widely shared and strongly held belief by many people in the bank," said Devesh Kapur, a University of Pennsylvania professor and author of a history of the World Bank.

No matter whether Cave has overstepped her bounds, she is the face of a largely anonymous staff, the majority of whom are not permanent U.S. residents and fear losing their jobs. Her methods of gathering staff feedback are largely unscientific. She said a confidential e-mail account and telephone line set up by the association to receive employee grievances have fielded thousands of complaints and posting on internal blogs have been mostly negative about Wolfowitz.

Yesterday, Cave began distributing blue ribbons, which she called "a symbol for our continuing struggle for improved governance," and asked staff members to wear them until "a satisfactory solution is found to this crisis."

She has encountered Wolfowitz personally only once in the past few weeks, during a meeting in the bank's atrium attended by more than 200 employees. There Cave stood on a stage and called for the bank president to "acknowledge that his conduct has compromised the integrity and effectiveness of the World Bank Group and has destroyed the staff's trust in his leadership."

Wolfowitz and his aides entered the atrium as Cave finished her presentation, said bank employees at the meeting, and word passed through the crowd to her. Cave invited him to the stage and handed over the microphone. He apologized and sought understanding.

Cave was unmoved, though she did quiet several staff members who began heckling Wolfowitz with chants of "Resign! Resign!"

"I'm doing my job," she said later. "This is my job."

Staff researcher Richard Drezen contributed to this report.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company