Agam's Gecko
Friday, May 18, 2007

ell, it's all over but the shouting. And the deranged gloating, not to mention the self-righteous cries of scalp-hunters on the so-called "Left." The sanctimonious pomposity of hypocritical transnational eurocrats, while lower in volume but no less vomit-inducing than the triumphalist songs of "activists," will likely continue long after the shouting dies down. World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz has submitted his resignation, effective the end of next month.

This entire episode -- from the trumped up revelations of "scandal" to the improper leaking of material intended to smear Wolfowitz and his partner Shaha Riza via eager and awaiting "journalists" -- is a window on the dysfunctional nature of so many of the world's multilateral organisations. An organisations's internal power struggles and rivalries tend to take precedence over accomplishing the organisation's own mandated purpose, and on the rare occasions that someone shows up on the scene to shake out the cobwebs, push for reforms and insist on integrity (even if stepping on a few privileged toes when necessary), convoluted methods will be found to protect the castle.

This is how the best UN ambassador in recent memory was shunted out of his position with the connivance of entrenched UN-ocrats, American "new sheriff in town"-ocrats, and a concerted media campaign against him. This is why vile dictatorships sit upon the new, "reformed" UN Human Rights Council, and why the tyranny of Mugabe's Zimbabwe has just been named to head the UN Commission on Sustainable Development. I totally agree with Claudia Rosett in a recent article of hers, that the body needs to be renamed as the "Commission on Sustainable Dictatorships." That's where Mugabe's talent really shines. (And while I'm referencing John Bolton, do not miss this delightful exchange he had with one of the BBC's fabled impartial journalists, John Harrumphries. Hey, how about Bolton for the next World Bank President? Harrumph!

So much for the UN, and back to the WB. I'd given very little attention to the World Bank and its mission, until it got involved with China in mid 2000, and decided to fund a proposed forced resettlement project in occupied Tibet. About 60,000 Han Chinese were to be relocated into a traditional Tibetan area against the wishes of the local population, who were to be pushed out to somewhere else. In the ensuing controversy, many interesting facts came out.

The bank was shamed into conducting an inquiry into how the process of approval was carried out, revealing that "public opinion surveys" in the area were done with Chinese government agents present -- an undeniably intimidating factor for the average Tibetan nomadic family. Other parts of the feasibility studies were later shown to have been fudged in China's favour. The PRC was determined to carry out this plan for its own political reasons, and to have the World Bank (i.e. the world's taxpayers) pay for it. At least seven of the WB's own guidelines were found to have been broken in the process, and abundant evidence was revealed that, when it came to such "development" projects in the "People's" Republic, a nod and a wink from Bank bureaucrats as they skipped over proper procedures were the rule rather than the exception. It was all just a little bit too ugly to paper over, and the Bank eventually withdrew its previous approval for this illegal population transfer within a disputed territory. China went ahead with the project on its own dime, and the "international community" didn't much care by that point.

But that was the first I learned of the World Bank's actual mission: to promote development programmes and prosperity for the world's poor. Supposedly.

When Wolfowitz was nominated to head the Bank two years ago, it seemed like an odd fit. After all, he wasn't a high-flying financier nor a multi-national NGO bigwig. He was however, reputed to be a warmongering neocon Zionist criminal (by his detractors), second only in despicable-ness to his former boss, the Rumsfeld. "How's this going to go over with the Euros?" I wondered, knowing their almost universal hatred of all things Bush-ish. Apparently, it didn't go over very well at all.

By all accounts of his two years in office, Wolfowitz had begun implimenting effective measures against corruption in World Bank projects. He was particularly keen on Africa, and spent more time on that continent than any of his predecessors. His reforms were getting results, and the Africans were among his strongest supporters in the face of this latest assault from Euro-based progressive bureaucrats. Developing countries who were beginning to see the benefits of having integrity at the helm, setting a course for more transparency and less corruption within projects, came out in opposition to the kangaroo court-style ambush aimed at bringing him down. They are after all, the countries which all these taxpayer funds are supposed to be helping in meaningful, sustainable ways rather than getting flushed down the corruption toilet. But these countries have little voting power at the WB, and their objections mattered not.

The mass media, once again, has been shameful during this episode. One simply could not find balanced and fair reporting of the underlying facts in any but one single newspaper, the Wall Street Journal. No other media, print or electronic, even cared to reveal the basic events -- much less do any investigation of their own. It was all innuendo, all the time (as far as I've found), except for Andrew Young a few days ago defending Wolfy's good record of accomplishment at the Bank, and even he had to insist on being heard by an unwilling interviewer on PBS' News Hour. She much preferred hearing the views of an international NGO social worker type who couldn't cite one single fact to back up her claim that "he's lost the ability to lead," much less evidence of any sort of wrongdoing.

I have no doubt left at this point, that the entire "scandal" was a pre-planned ambush by the World Bank's entrenched elites, feeling threatened by the new order in which corruption, and "looking the other way" when rules are bent or broken, might have consequences adverse to their careers. That, and a liberal dose of revenge against a 'Bush-ist neocon warmonger' (did any pop-media outlet fail to use the ubiquitous "Paul Wolfowitz, architect of the Iraq war" construction?) by highly principled "progressives." I have a creepy feeling that his being of the Jewish persuasion didn't help his cause among those types either.

It didn't take long for the stupid version of events to become firmly ensconced in the public mind. This version goes roughly like this: Wolfowitz got himself a girlfriend within the institution's ranks of paper pushers, secretly schemed to get her a promotion and a huge pay increase, and then covered it all up while badmouthing the Bank and detracting from its fabulous credibility. In actual fact, Shaha Riza and Paul Wolfowitz have been life partners (isn't that the politically correct term?) for some time before he was named to his position, though I don't know if the relationship predates her position at the Bank, which she took in 1997. She is divorced from her first husband, and has one child. Normally, such common law relationships are recognised as equivalent to marriage among most progressive circles, but for some reason in this particular case, she is labelled "the girlfriend" with underlying hints of something sleazy going on.

Ms. Riza worked in a position four levels removed from the executive level of the Bank President, who would have had no connection to, nor oversight of her work. Despite this, Wolfowitz asked to recuse himself from any issues related to Ms. Riza before he signed his own contract. As you will see if you read the following linked reportage, the Bank itself has admitted to having nearly 200 employees with potential conflict of interest situations, including some spectacular cases of wives being promoted far above their qualifications, receiving hefty bonuses and benefits and so on. This seems to have been a new phenomenon -- an incoming official who wanted to take steps (before even accepting his position) to remove even any possibility of such conflict.

That should have ended the issue right there, but it didn't. The Board of Directors set up an ethics committee to investigate, which concluded that Ms. Riza's job (she was already slated to receive a promotion, by the way) was a defacto conflict, and she would have to leave the Bank. Which, y'know, really sucks to have one's professional career wiped out just like that. So the ethics committee and other officials came up with a plan for compensation, and Wolfowitz followed their directives at every turn. This is where the ambush was planned out, after he tried to recuse himself and the ethics officials refused to let him do so. It was decided that Ms. Riza would take a position outside the Bank, her salary would be paid by the Bank, and she would accept compensation for her lost career (through no fault of her own). Everyone apparently concurred, including the ethics chairman, who wrote to Wolfowitz in October, 2005 that,
"because the outcome is consistent with the Committee's findings and advice above, the Committee concurs with your view that this matter can be treated as closed."
A month later, the same official sent him a personal handwritten note saying,
"I would like to thank you for the very open and constructive spirit of our discussions, knowing in particular the sensitivity to Shaha, who I hope will be happy in her new assignment."
Anonymous Bank "staffers" began circulating nasty accusatory emails about the compensation affair, and this same ethics chairman dismissed them, telling Wolfowitz that they "did not contain new information warranting any further review by the Committee."

Somehow, between then and now, the nasty emails seem to have won the day. The press lapped up the innuendo, and pounded on it for weeks -- finally coming to the conclusion that Wolfowitz must resign, since his credibility had been so seriously damaged. While he had tried to avoid any impropriety by separating himself from having anything to do with Ms. Riza, Bank officials forced him to play a role in providing the compensation to her. In doing this, they ensured that if this could be ginned up into a nepotism scandal through improper leaks of confidential information and media smears, his fingerprints would already be there. Apparently, it worked very well.

In the settlement just reached between Wolfowitz and the World Bank board of directors, the board has cleared him of any ethical misconduct for having followed their own advice and direction, and in return he resigns from his job. Mistakes were admitted on both sides, though the only mistake I can find on Wolfowitz' part, is having trusted people who already had their knives out for him. You've got to give them this much -- they manoeuvred him skillfully into the trap, played a willfully gullible media like a fiddle, and pulled the whole thing off according to plan.

What I'm wondering now is, since Wolfowitz will be out at the end of June, does Shaha Riza get her career back? Would she even want to work again with such creeps?

I've lined up a number of good examples of investigation into World Bank issues related to this sordid affair, and as I mentioned earlier, the Wall Street Journal was the only news outlet doing so. Rather than going through them and citing quotes, I'll just list them below with a short description, and encourage you to read them for a broader picture of this particular "international institution."

Notes on a Scandal: World Bank director for its Indonesia mission defends corruption which lost billions of dollars in that country during the Soeharto era, now calls for Wolfowitz' resignation. WB managing director promotes his wife far above her qualifications, her salary more than doubles in a remarkably short time, no consequences. WB current official who "allowed" Ms. Riza's compensation now wears a "blue ribbon on his lapel" -- symbolizing the 'get Wolfowitz' movement within the Bank.

World Bank Rolls: Critics charge that Ms. Riza's new position at the State Dept. gives her a salary slightly higher than that of Condoleezza Rice (the salary is to be paid by the WB). Of the Bank's 10,000 employees, 1,393 of them now have higher salaries than Dr. Rice.

The Whistleblowers' Tale: Bank officers who blow the whistle on mismanaged and inefficient programmes are hounded out of their jobs (detailed examples are cited). Those responsible for millions of wasted dollars in failed programmes are promoted, later to call for Wolfowitz' resignation.

Axis of Soros: Mark Malloch Brown, former WB officer, former deputy to Kofi Annan and apologist for the biggest financial scandal in recorded history (the UN's "oil for palaces" kick-back project in Saddam's Iraq), close friend of billionaire George Soros, calls for Wolfowitz' resignation coincident with leaks about the conflict of interest investigation to the press. Threatens that if Wolfy was to stay on, Europeans would withhold funding to the Bank.

World Bank Jobbery: Key witness against Wolfowitz gives testimony completely opposite to what he wrote and said at the time of events. Evidentiary proof that the process amounted to a "kangaroo court." Juicy.

World Bank Scholar: WB Executive Director Tom Scholar, one of the 24 board members charged with deciding Wolfowitz' future, is having a bit of an 'internal affair' of his own, according to an internal complaint mechanism within the Bank. Revelation took place more than a year ago, is widely known within the Bank, and has gone completely ignored. Mr. Scholar's love interest is alleged by Bank employees to have been promoted far above her qualifications. Wolfowitz' two main accusers are also responsible for correcting that situation, but... no comment, no penalty. Scholar won't return phone calls.

World Bank Justice: Post-resignation announcement wrap-up. Nutshell: Wolfowitz was acquitted of wrongdoing by the secretive kangaroo court (the Bank's board of directors) and therefore summarily punished. Bush administration didn't 'get' what was really happening, and important officials sat unnecessarily on the fence. Successful coup by vindictive WB staffers in collusion with willing media, while far more serious ethical problems are given a pass. Recommends Paul Volcker, who investigated the UN's kickbacks with Saddam scandal, to succeed as WB chief.

And I'll leave you with a final thought from Christopher Hitchens, who actually knows Shaha Riza personally. He gives a fine accounting of the background and history of this evidently talented woman, very much worth reading. The Bank was bound by a confidentiality agreement with her, which they tore up without a second thought. She sounds like she must be a very cool lady, and these privileged and secretive mandarins treated her like dirt. Hitch concludes:
I have been living in Washington for a quarter of a century and have said some mean things about people and had some mean things said about me. Fair enough. I sat and thought for quite a while today and decided that this is the nastiest and dirtiest and cheapest campaign of character assassination I have ever seen. Yet almost everyone in my so-called profession seems to regard it with a smirk or as a feather in the cap. Good grief. If it succeeds in ruining two careers and poisoning two lives, I do so much hope that it makes the perpetrators—bankers and reporters working as a team—deliriously happy.
UPDATE: An hour after first posting this, I really have to add (after just watching Brian Lamb interview a Wall Street Journal "diplomatic correspondent" on this issue) that it's the WSJ Editorial Page which provided the quality reporting linked above. The correspondent on C-SPAN just now didn't want to talk about any of these things -- they were brought out by the callers.

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