Wolfowitz and the World Bank at Bay

Will World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz’s troubles finally catalyze real change at the World Bank? Will there finally be an end to the archaic practice by which the President of the United States unilaterally appoints the head of the world’s most important development agency?

Facing an extraordinary rebuke from the Bank’s ministerial oversight committee and open revolt from his professional staff, Wolfowitz has faint hope of limping through the last three years of his term. The immediate uproar is over the exceedingly generous pay and promotion package that Wolfowitz awarded in 2005 to his girlfriend as compensation for leaving the Bank to pave the way for his arrival. At a time when the Bank has been emphasizing high governance standards as the key to development, the recent revelation of that arrangement’s details have dealt a serious blow to the Bank’s credibility.

But even if Wolfowitz is eventually forced to resign, nothing will be gained if US President George W. Bush is allowed summarily to choose his replacement, as US Presidents have been doing ever since the Bank was founded after World War II. Instead, the Bank’s head should be chosen in an open and transparent process that aims to select the best-qualified candidate, whether from the US, Europe, or the developing world.

Indeed, a big part of Wolfowitz’s weakness today is the way he came to his job, as an in-your-face appointment from a US administration weak at international cooperation. The World Bank is a development finance institution. But Wolfowitz’s background at the US State and Defense Departments gave him no real expertise or experience in either area. Instead, his claim to fame was his role as architect of America’s failed war in Iraq. By all accounts, Wolfowitz is brilliant, but it seems inconceivable that an open, transparent, and multilateral selection process would have chosen him to head the World Bank.