Thursday, April 12, 2007

World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz apologized yesterday for helping his girlfriend get transferred to a high-paying job.

“In hindsight, I wish I had trusted my original instincts and kept myself out of the negotiations,” he said. “I made a mistake, for which I am sorry.”

His apology didn’t ease concerns among the bank’s staff association, which wants him to resign.

The growing controversy has overshadowed the semiannual meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in Washington this weekend and is raising new questions about whether Mr. Wolfowitz will stay on the job.

At issue are the generous compensation and pay raises of a bank employee, Shaha Riza, who has dated Mr. Wolfowitz. She was given an assignment at the State Department in September 2005, shortly after he became bank president.

The World Bank Group Staff Association, which represents 13,000 World Bank employees, is demanding that he step down.

“The president must 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,” the association said yesterday. “He must act honorably and resign.”

Mr. Wolfowitz said he met yesterday morning with the World Bank’s board and that members were looking into the matter. He declined to discuss what actions, if any, the board could take.

“I proposed to the board that they establish some mechanism to judge whether the agreement reached was a reasonable outcome,” he said, referring to Miss Riza’s transfer. “I will accept any remedies they propose.”

Mr. Wolfowitz dodged a question about whether he would resign over the flap. “I cannot speculate on what the board is going to decide,” he said.

A World Bank spokeswoman would not comment on what range of options the board could consider or when it would finish its deliberations.

Mr. Wolfowitz later addressed the Staff Association in the atrium of the bank’s headquarters, where they shouted “resign, resign.”

Timothy Adams, the Treasury Department’s undersecretary for international affairs, declined to say whether the U.S. — the bank’s largest shareholder — continues to support Mr. Wolfowitz’s presidency. Mr. Adams said the prudent course of action was to let the board handle the matter. “There is a mechanism in place,” he said.

The Government Accountability Project, a watchdog group, estimated Miss Riza’s salary at $193,590 as a result of the job transfer and pay raises. The group said she was paid by the World Bank and remains on the bank’s payroll. The World Bank would not comment on the compensation, citing confidentiality concerns.

“I take full responsibility for the details,” of the job transfer, Mr. Wolfowitz said. “I did not attempt to hide my actions nor make anyone else responsible.”

The job change was made to avoid a conflict of interest when he took his post at the World Bank, where Miss Riza already worked, he said.

World Bank rules bar employees from supervising anyone with whom they had a personal relationship.

“I took the issue to the Ethics Committee and after extensive discussions … the committee’s advice was to promote and relocate Ms. Shaha Riza,” Mr. Wolfowitz said.

“I made a good-faith effort to implement my understanding of that advice,” he explained.

Miss Riza worked as a communications adviser in the bank’s Middle East Department before she was moved to the State Department.

The State Department said Miss Riza left in September 2006 and now works for Foundation for the Future, an international organization that receives money from the agency.

Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide