Activists Urge World Bank to Fire Wolfowitz

Internet-based advocacy group protests, calls on Wolfowitz's resignation.

February 9, 2009, 7:51 PM

May 9, 2007 — -- An international activist group staged a rally outside the World Bank Wednesday, demanding that the development institution's president, Paul Wolfowitz, be fired for admitting he arranged a job and inflated salary for his girlfriend.

"Paul Wolfowitz has run the bank, like he ran and helped run the Iraq war, relying on political cronies, ignoring experts, alienating other countries, acting unilaterally," said Ben Wikler, campaign director for, a global advocacy group funded by philanthropist and financier George Soros, and the labor group SEIU.

"And as we now know, allowing corruption and hypocrisy to flourish amidst high-minded rhetoric," said Wikler, referring to Wolfowitz's role in securing his girlfriend a lucrative job at the State Department, with a salary higher than Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's.

Unfurling a banner reading: 'World to Bank: Fire Wolfowitz', about two dozen activists stood behind the banner holding up flags from countries around the world, chanting, "unless he quits, fire Wolfowitz!".

"We're a small group of folks representing the 51,779 people from every corner of the world who have signed an online petition calling on the World Bank's board to fire Paul Wolfowitz," Wikler said into a blowhorn.

"He's fighting to keep his position instead of focusing on what's best for the world's poor, which is what the institution is supposed to be focused on," he said.

World Bank Employees Say Morale is Low

At a nearby park outside the World Bank, employees on their lunch break watched the rally and voiced mixed feelings about the controversy surrounding Wolfowitz.

"Everybody is demoralized, we all want a swift resolution," said Mark, a World Bank staffer who refused to give his last name.

Some employees walked with a blue ribbon on their briefcases and purses, given to them by their staff association to signify that 'good governance' is still a key principle at the World Bank.

"I represent a lot of the bank staff and I think we're all pretty discouraged about it," said a World Bank performance manager who wouldn't give his name because he was told not to talk to reporters. "It's caused a lot of harm to the bank and especially to morale," he said, arguing Wolfowitz is selfish for not stepping down.

Some employees said because of the scandal, staff whose job it is to fight corruption in developing nations are being laughed off. Meanwhile, European nations and other donors are threatening to withhold financing to the institution if Wolfowitz doesn't go.

"He's been standing on this pillar about anti-corruption and governance and it's kind of hypocritical," said the World Bank performance manager.

However, another World Bank employee said he felt sorry for Wolfowitz.

"He doesn't deserve this," said a South African economist who has worked for the World Bank for two years.

"I think those European countries and some major donors, they've always been looking for excuses not to contribute to the coffers of the World Bank," he said. "Now they seem to have found some kind of an escape goat so that they can cite it as a reason not to contribute."

White House spokesman Tony Snow, traveling with the president en route to survey tornado damage in Kansas, insisted, "We still fully support him," reiterating Bush's support for the embattled former Pentagon official best known as the "architect" of the Iraq War.

Monday, April 30, the president said, "My position is that he ought to stay; he ought to be given a fair hearing. And I appreciate the fact that he has advanced -- he's helped the World Bank recognize that the eradication of world poverty is an important priority for the bank."

Snow elaborated today: "This is not hanging Paul Wolfowitz out to dry. We still support him fully."

The activist group plans to deliver an Internet petition, which has been signed by more than 50,000 people from around the world, to the World Bank board of directors Wednesday.

"It's time they let Wolfowitz go," Wikler said.

Last month, Wikler and "Hillary 1984" ad creator Phil de Vellis created a YouTube ad about Wolfowitz's problems.

The video, titled "The Bank," spliced video of Wolfowitz with video from the television show "The Office."

"We were watching video of Wolfowitz and we just got this overwhelming impression that he reminds us of watching the boss in 'The Office,'" he said. "It's a show about a nightmare boss ... when the wrong person's in charge, nothing gets done."

Wikler said he's heard that his video, which has been viewed more than a hundred thousand times on the popular video-sharing site YouTube, has made the rounds at the World Bank, where Wikler said some staff are frustrated with Wolfowitz's management style.

"The more we read about the way that he'd mismanaged the World Bank, the more the comparison felt apt," he said.

Wolfowitz has been fighting to keep his job for months amid controversy surrounding his involvement in securing a pay raise and promotion for his girlfriend, Shaha Ali Riza.

Riza had been a World Bank employee for eight years when Wolfowitz was named president of the institution in 2005. Against the wishes of Riza, the bank's ethics committee determined Riza needed to leave the bank when Wolfowitz took control to avoid a conflict of interest.

Under a lucrative compensation package that Wolfowitz arranged with the World Bank's vice president of human resources, Riza was moved to the State Department and given a promotion to communications specialist but was still kept on the World Bank's payroll. Her income jumped from $133,000 to $193, 590 in just two years -- more money than Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice makes before taxes.

In a written statement to the World Bank's board of directors in April, Wolfowitz wrote that the deal was reasonable because it avoided any potential lawsuit from Riza from being forced to leave her position at the World Bank.

A special bank committee was created to investigate his handling of the matter and issued a report Sunday, finding that Wolfowitz was guilty of breaking bank rules by arranging the lucrative deal for his girlfriend.

However, the panel also said the bank shared some blame because the advice given to Wolfowitz by ethics officials at the bank wasn't clear and was easily misinterpreted. Ultimately, however, the report found Wolfowitz breached his obligations by interfering in his girlfriend's promotion and pay raise.

The scandal has topped a long list of complaints within the World Bank about Wolfowitz's managerial style, triggering an open revolt from staff. Some of the institution's top managers have in recent weeks openly called for Wolfowitz to resign.

Hundreds of World Bank employees met in an auditorium Monday, according to The New York Times, to hear a top bank official say that with Wolfowitz as president, the bank's anti-poverty agenda was at risk because European countries refused to give financing.

In April, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, as European Union chief, called for Wolfowitz to resign, saying she reflected the majority view of European countries.

Highlighting the souring relationship between Wolfowitz and the World Bank's board of directors, his top aide, Kevin Kellems, resigned Monday.

Kellems had moved with Wolfowitz from the Pentagon to the World Bank, serving as a senior adviser and director of external relations strategy at the bank.

In a statement to the press, Kellems cited poor working conditions inside the bank for his departure and said he is looking for new opportunities.

"Given the current environment surrounding the leadership of the World Bank Group, it is very difficult to be effective in helping to advance the mission of the institution," Kellems' statement read.

Critics say that Kellems and another top Wolfowitz aide, Robin Cleveland, were considered by bank staff to be more loyal to Bush administration policy than to the international development mission of the bank.

Wolfowitz had accused his critics of trying to undermine his leadership and discredit his anti-corruption campaign.

"The goal of this smear campaign, I believe, is to create a self-fulfilling prophecy that I am an ineffective leader and must step down for that reason alone, even if the ethics charges are unwarranted," read a statement by Wolfowitz to the board of directors in April.

Taking on the job in 2005, he vowed to rid developing countries receiving World Bank aid of government corruption by bypassing their administrations.

However, some critics said Wolfowitz's plans kept aid from getting to countries that needed it.

Wolfowitz garnered embarrassing headlines from around the world in January when he visited a mosque in Turkey. Shoeless, Wolfowitz was photographed with a hole in his sock so large his toe poked through it.

Many of Wolfowitz's early critics were dismayed that an official so closely tied to the Iraq War would lead the world's anti-poverty institution.