Appointing Wolfowitz as the President of the World Bank in 2005 was a risky decision in the first place. After the severe criticism in the late 1990s (Seattle etc.) the bank was slowly regaining trust, credibility and legitimacy. Putting a political figure like Wolfowitz in charge obviously provoked a lot of criticism from outside the bank but also from within. From outside because of his role in the Iraq war. From within because of his critique on bank officials and the lack of accountability within the World Bank.

But let’s be fair. An organisation that has anti-corruption as its main policy priority can obviously not afford to have a president involved in nepotistic behaviour. And a President of an institution like the World Bank should understand the importance of credibility and legitimacy and should therefore resign.

…but not Mr. Wolfowitz. He vowed to stay on at the bank eventhough the bank’s moral authority is at stake. In the words of the Financial Times:

If the president stays, it risks becoming an object not of respect, but of scorn, and its campaign in favor of good governance not a believable struggle, but blatant hypocrisy. …

No one said international politics is a fair business… For others, this is an opportunity to point the fingers at the World Bank officials and the ‘development industry’ and to turn this into some kind of conspiracy like affair. The Wall Street Journal for instance:

When Paul Wolfowitz became President of the World Bank in 2005, our private prediction was that it would take about a year before the bureaucratic interests at the bank and in the global “development” industry made a play to oust him. We were off by a few months.

The forces of the World Bank status quo are now making their power play, demanding that the bank’s board ask him to resign over an ethics flap involving his girlfriend. The dispute is so trivial that it betrays that this fracas has little to do with Mr. Wolfowitz’s ethics. The real fight here is over his attempt to make the bank and its borrowers more accountable for results, especially by exposing and punishing corruption.

(…) Mr. Wolfowitz has tried to institute more accountability, especially on corruption. Who could be against fighting corruption? Well, for starters, a global poverty industry that thinks “governance” is a distraction from the only real measure of development, which is how much money “rich” nations choose to redistribute to poor ones. Never mind that many of these countries stay poor year after year precisely because they squander or steal foreign aid. “Governance” ought to be a crucial lending criterion, but in trying to make it so Mr. Wolfowitz is bucking decades of old
thinking.

I indeed think that the ‘global poverty industry’ is in need of transformation. I am sure that not all people involved in development cooperation do this for altruistic reasons. But I am also sure that the most important organisation in this field should not lose its credibility again because one person’s pride or career is at stake.

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