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Wolfowitz's Well-Traveled Travails

Cristina Beato will take the oath of office as deputy director of the Pan American Health Organization on Friday.
Cristina Beato will take the oath of office as deputy director of the Pan American Health Organization on Friday. (By Nati Harnik -- Associated Press)

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By Al Kamen
Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Lest anyone think the travails of embattled World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz are solely a Washington obsession, let's take note of a bank videoconference meeting yesterday between new communications managing director Marwan Muasher, D.C. aides and folks based in Senegal, India, Bulgaria, Indonesia and Brazil.

Wolfowitz had a lot of support and friends there from his days as ambassador during the Reagan administration, the Indonesia staffer reported. Indonesia was where he launched his anti-corruption strategy last year.

One focus of the bank's aid efforts is in remote Banda Aceh, plagued by civil war and then blasted by the tsunami a few years ago. The bank has raised the threat of holding up money for a development project in that area because of concerns over transparency and a lack of accountability among local officials.

The locals' response to the suggestion that the project may be slowed or that there may be more concerns in Washington, the bank's Jakarta official reported, was to question "what standing do you have to raise problems like this when" there's the turmoil over Wolfowitz's ordering promotions and raises for his girlfriend, Shaha Riza.

A bank official in New Delhi reported that a bank move last year to hold up a project because of corruption problems had the Indians also chafing about the hypocrisy factor.

Meanwhile, in distant Ouagadougou, the weekly Journal du Jeudi, in its latest issue, had an analysis titled: "Wolfo and Riza's Greenbacks."

Slowing Down 'The Current Situation'

It seems Wolfowitz's priority is to put the brakes on the uproar -- something known at the bank as "The Current Situation," or TCS for short. In a bank-wide e-mail yesterday, Wolfowitz urged everyone to avoid a rush to judgment in "the current situation" and asked "for your continued patience . . . while we wait for the Board's decision."

"Yesterday," he wrote, "I briefly met with VPs and Actings to update them on the current situation and how to move forward. . . . The Vice Presidents have been very candid with their feedback to me on the challenges facing the Bank and I appreciate this." You betcha.

But Wolfowitz backers cannot be happy that the board said it has expanded the ad hoc committee's mandate to include assessing things such as "conflict of interest, ethical, reputational, and other relevant standards." The board also indicated that it is not interested in meeting with Wolfowitz's high-powered lawyer, Robert Bennett, the lawyer said yesterday.

And a look at the committee's composition finds several Wolfowitz detractors -- the French, the Dutch and the Norwegians -- and precious few supporters. The other members are China, Russia, Mexico and Ethiopia.

Norway's development minister, for example, told Reuters yesterday in Oslo that "there is no doubt confidence in World Bank leadership has been undermined," and Wolfowitz "will have a very hard job to repair this confidence."

This is not a crowd that's likely to pay attention to highly relevant facts, because it was Wolfowitz himself who brought the potential conflict of interest to the attention of the bank's ethics committee in May 2005 before he took over.


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