- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 2, 2007

ASSOCIATED PRESS

World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz said yesterday that attention should be “focused on the very, very important work of the bank” and not on the investigation that has put his job in jeopardy.

His comments to a European Union-hosted meeting in Brussels came after the bank’s board expressed fresh concern that the agitation over Mr. Wolfowitz’s handling of pay for his girlfriend, Shaha Riza, is hurting the poverty-fighting institution’s ability to do its job.

The flap has led to calls for Mr. Wolfowitz’s resignation and has hurt morale among the bank’s 10,000 employees worldwide. Critics contend the bank’s reputation has been damaged and its efforts to raise billions of dollars to help poor countries may be hobbled.

“The bank’s work goes on,” Mr. Wolfowitz said. “It is critical, there are millions of poor people who depend on us.”

The 24-member board, after meeting several hours with a special panel probing Mr. Wolfowitz’s handling of the 2005 promotion and pay package of bank employee Miss Riza, issued a statement late Tuesday saying it is “very concerned about the impact on the work” of the poverty-fighting institution.

For the last two days, the special panel has heard from Mr. Wolfowitz, Miss Riza and other present and former bank officials about Miss Riza’s promotion and pay raises that lifted her compensation from about $133,000 to $193,590.

The board said the next step is for that panel to “draw its conclusions from the information obtained from the documents and during the course of the interviews” and submit a report to the directors expeditiously.

Ultimately, the directors will decide what action should be taken, if any. The board could ask Mr. Wolfowitz to resign, signal it lacks confidence in his leadership, reprimand him, or take no action. There might also be a compromise under which Mr. Wolfowitz would be found to have acted in good faith and he would resign later.

The board promised to make a decision soon.

Miss Riza had worked at the bank for eight years when Mr. Wolfowitz arrived in 2005. She was moved to the State Department to avoid a conflict of interest but stayed on the bank’s payroll. Her pay increases spurred charges among staff that Mr. Wolfowitz showed favoritism to her.

Mr. Wolfowitz has maintained he acted in good faith in helping to secure the compensation package. He said the package’s details were not dictated by him but rather “flowed from the back-and-forth negotiating process” between the bank’s human resources chief and Miss Riza, who had her own counsel in the matter.

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