Thursday, May 17, 2007

World Bank Sleaze Oozes Around Wolfowitz Scandal

In the light of Paul Wolfowitz's troubles, Bret Stephens reports in today's Wall Street Journal on a new allegation of hanky-panky at the World Bank:
"Please know," read the text of the email written by a bank employee, "that UK ED Tom Scholar is continuing an affair with [a bank employee]. This woman has been given preferential treatment in [the department] because of her relationship with this powerful ED, this affair is well known, and is in violation of the Bank Staff Rules and the Boards Standards of Conduct."

"ED" means executive director. There are 24 such directors at the World Bank; collectively, they form the board that oversees the bank's work on behalf of its 185 member countries. Mr. Scholar is the ED from the United Kingdom. This week, all eyes were upon these officials as they decided on Paul Wolfowitz's future as president of the bank. Whether their conclusion is fair is a subject for another time. But no less important is whether, while penalizing Mr. Wolfowitz, the board isn't also covering up its own multitude of sins.

I first became aware of the 37-year-old Mr. Scholar--a former private secretary to British Chancellor Gordon Brown who also serves as an executive director at the International Monetary Fund--following the publication of my May 1 column, "Notes on a Scandal." The column, which detailed the hypocrisy of some of Mr. Wolfowitz's public detractors, including former World Bank senior managers with conflict-of-interest issues of their own, clearly struck a nerve within the bank. Many former and current bank staff wrote me to share stories of other bank managers or directors who, they claimed, had violated staff rules with impunity. Mr. Scholar's name kept coming up.

In one email, a correspondent wrote to say that "just like Wolfowitz, Scholar has a romantic relationship with a female employee at the World Bank. Scholar has never officially disclosed this relationship even though it clearly interferes with his oversight responsibilities as a Board member." The author signed off by saying that he (or she) "regrets to have to stay anonymous for fear of reprisal and hope for your understanding in this respect." ...

...Why does any of this matter? For one thing, it suggests the board lacks the most basic institutional mechanisms to police the conduct of its own members. This ought to call into question its fitness--and particularly Mr. Scholar's fitness--to judge the conduct of others. For another, the Daily Telegraph has reported that Mr. Scholar is likely to become Gordon Brown's chief of staff once the latter moves to 10 Downing Street.

But it matters most of all because the departure of Mr. Wolfowitz is being demanded by his most vehement critics to show that the World Bank is serious about setting the right example when it comes to governance. If it's a spring cleaning they want, why stop there?