Friday, May 18, 2007

the gang which cried 'wolf' !


This is not just another little story off a Tinkle comic. This is a messy tale that has broken the omerta - bringing to light the internal dark tales. With the Bush government not shy of embarrassment of any sorts, adding to the list is the episode from the World Bank, headquartered at Washington, DC. Paul Wolfowitz, the architect of Iraq war, the controversial President of the World Bank finally decided to step down after getting stuck in a favoritism issue.

Wolfie was never anybody's favorite in 1818 H Street. His background and the lack of it - both contributed to the initial hatred. He architected Iraq war, he had no experience in Banking or development any way.. But the biggest reason of hatred was that, he did not involve in discussions with the Staff Association of the World Bank in any way. The very outspoken Alison Cave (Chair of the Staff Association of World Bank), blasted Wolfie right from since he joined.

Now let us just step back and take a look at the big picture. The World Bank is a development institution encompassing the World Bank, IFC and IDA. Headquartered in Washington, DC, just a stone's throw away from the White house, it employs over 12000 people and thousands of consultants. While the goal of the institution is "to drive out poverty from the World", it is ironical that less than 40% of the World Bank staff actually reside in the field. Most of them work out of offices based in the US capital. In addition they earn enviable salaries with NO tax(except in case of US citizens, in which case they are compensated accordingly). Furthermore they receive huge perks which range from home-travel, housing loan, first class air travel, huge retirement benefits etc etc., It is no wonder that the operating budget of the World Bank is over $1 billion!..

Even after all the perks, there is huge inefficiency in the organization - corruption, kickbacks and the like. Jim Wolfensohn, the iBanker who ran the World Bank for past 10 years tried a lot to cleanup the internal mess. He was partly successful. When Paul Wolfowitz stepped in, it was scary for the cozy comfortable and complacent staff who viewed it as a threat - he was a man who demanded action, who was a no-nonsense guy and who wanted answers. This is very evident from what he has achieved in the little time he has been leading the Bank. So from day 1, it is no surprise that the Staff association of the Bank has been voicing opinions against him.

Yes. Wolfie did mistakes. He showed favoritism to his girlfriend. However, he lead the organization well. He tried tightening the screws of the system. It is very unfortunate that he decided to make a wrong judgmental call. But the gang that has clamored him to go is not right in any way either. (Even Alison Cave receives a huge salary without coming to office !!) They have just manipulated Wolfie's weakness into getting him out - and what can one say - Wolfie just gave them a cake. An ethics talk about this gang is most ironical.

However this incident has brought to light the way the Bank has been operating. They are forced to answer questions like "Do World Bank Staff pay taxes" etc., in their homepage ( .. In view of what has happened, the World Bank has to now become more transparent in their functioning - not act like some huge black box conglomerate. The World Bank has a moral social obligation.

The World Bank president seat is not a prize for the US government well-performers. Nor should the President be a puppet in the hands of select staff who want to go about doing the same things as usual without results. The World Bank needs a strong leader - someone who can question, someone who can lead and more importantly someone who can remove the complacency out of the staff and lessen the operational overhead. Someone who will really focus and make his/her team focus really on eliminating poverty from the World.