- The Washington Times - Friday, October 24, 2014

The World Bank’s president acknowledged for the first time publicly on Friday internal clashes at the international lending institution, where hundreds of rank-and-file economists and staffers have walked off the job in recent weeks to protest what they say is management secrecy over budget cuts and a massive structural reorganization.

“We’re in the middle of this, and people are absolutely, understandably worried about their jobs,” Jim Yong Kim told reporters in Washington on Friday morning, adding that he knew when he took the job two years ago that bringing long-overdue change to the vast bureaucracy would “be really hard.”

“I have great, great empathy and sympathy for the people who have to go through this and are still uncertain about their jobs,” he said at a breakfast hosted by The Christian Science Monitor. “But the only thing we can do is you keep going, make sure that the changes happen, and then everybody will know soon enough whether or not they have a job — or how the process of making decisions around jobs will go forward.”

Another anonymous protest memo circulated just this week among the World Bank staffers, calling on them to walk off the job and gather in the lobby of the institution’s headquarters in Washington every Thursday until their concerns are addressed.

“EVERY Thursday at 10:30am … Shut Down Your Computers & Come … until we have clear answers … Pass It On!” stated the memo, according to a report by Business Insider, which quoted an unnamed World Bank staff member as saying there is “a culture of fear” inside the institution because of perceptions that “you get fired if you disagree” with Mr. Kim.

Bank staffers who spoke with The Washington Times in early October also spoke of the culture of fear gripping the 10,000 career economists. They said internal protests, including one that drew some 200 employees into the headquarters lobby on Oct. 7, have been organized clandestinely for fear of retaliation.

The staffers said anger was widespread when Mr. Kim gave Chief Financial Officer Bertrand Badre a hefty bonus while pushing an aggressive cost-cutting agenda expected to include salary reductions and layoffs for lower-level staff.

Others voiced outrage over the way Mr. Kim, an American nominated by President Obama in early 2012, has implemented a reorganization he says will help the bank better achieve its goals of ending extreme poverty in the world by 2030 and help the globe’s poorest 40 percent. The crux of the reorganization, announced in April, would double the bank’s annual lending to middle-income nations from $15 billion to $27 billion a year while shaving $400 million off the institution’s annual budget.

Mr. Kim has previously sidestepped public questions about divisions within the bank. He told Foreign Affairs in April that “grumbling” among staffers was primarily about “parking” and “breakfast” likely to get cut from the budget as part of the reforms.

But he publicly acknowledged Friday the protests and said he’s hosted two town hall meetings in recent weeks to directly answer questions from concerned staffers.

“I’ve learned a lot from this process,” he said, adding that it is simply “tough” to bring effective change to a massive bureaucracy with 188 governors, 25 executive directors and staffers from 100 different nations.

He also defended his efforts, saying he warned employees of the difficulties ahead, at a time when the bank’s income was falling because of lower global interest rates.

“There’s been really no structural change for 20 years,” Mr. Kim said. “This talk of moving toward a global knowledge system, talk of trying to increase our lending capacity, all of this was on the table, but nothing had happened, literally, since 1997.”

 

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