At World Bank Meeting, Frustrations Boiled Over
At World Bank Meeting, Frustrations Boiled Over
WASHINGTON - At a meeting between Paul D. Wolfowitz and his top managers at the World Bank last week, Mr. Wolfowitz made an unusual confession. "I understand that I've lost a lot of trust, and I want to build that trust back up," he said, according to people present.
But the beleaguered bank president was immediately confronted by one of his top deputies, who asserted that Mr. Wolfowitz was wrong to think that the furor over his leadership sprang only from his handling of the pay and promotion for his companion or from unease over his support of the Iraq war while at the Pentagon.
He said it arose from a range of issues, including fears that Mr. Wolfowitz and his aides were trying to impose Bush administration ideas on family planning and climate change at the bank and worries over a possible conflict of interest in the bank's hiring of a Washington law firm, Williams & Connolly, to investigate leaks. A partner at the firm had earlier negotiated Mr. Wolfowitz's employment contract with the bank.
Mr. Wheeler also said Mr. Wolfowitz's staying on would cause "fantastic damage" to the bank's reputation and effectiveness.
The exchange, described in detail by people who attended the closed meeting, illustrated how far the turmoil surrounding Mr. Wolfowitz has spread since it erupted in public a few weeks ago. It also revealed his determination to remain on the job and the deep wellspring of antipathy toward him among the bank's board and senior staff.
With the hiring of Robert S. Bennett, a prominent lawyer, to defend his record before the board, Mr. Wolfowitz has effectively revealed that his hope is to play for time, overhaul his management team and plead that a hasty exit would be disruptive to the bank, especially since he was not planning to stay for more than three more years anyway.
According to the people at the meeting last week, the vice presidents were startled when Mr. Wolfowitz said he might not even be at the bank for another year, though this was not said to be a sign that he would resign, only that a fight over whether he should stay was not worth the trouble.
Mr. Wolfowitz has promised to mend his ways and has warned that a forced ouster would damage the bank. But it has become clear that there is a larger sense of unease, especially among Europeans, about American influence over the bank and its strategies toward ending poverty. There is also tension between the United States and Europe over who is to blame for the shortfall in commitments to raise $30 billion to reach that goal.
"There is no one issue that is motivating people," said Robert B. Holland III, a Texas businessman who served as the United States member of the bank's board until last year and who is a strong supporter of Mr. Wolfowitz. "There is a built-in ideological opposition to Wolfowitz that was there from day one. The opposition has been looking for any opportunity to exploit to get him out of there."
Mr. Holland said that Mr. Wolfowitz had sought from the outset to trim the bank's bureaucracy and enforce new standards of honesty in countries receiving bank assistance.
But such steps as cutting off money to programs and countries suspected of graft alienated two groups of officials: the bank's 24-member board of directors, which runs the bank's daily affairs in tandem with Mr. Wolfowitz, and a group of 30 or so vice presidents and their equivalent.
Early in his tenure, Mr. Wolfowitz suspended $1 billion in funding for a program providing health services, including maternal health, to India. That enraged aides to Prime Minister Tony Blair, since Britain was helping to fund the program.
The board then stepped in to rewrite Mr. Wolfowitz's approach on corruption. Last month, it promulgated an anticorruption policy that handcuffed Mr. Wolfowitz by preventing him from acting to freeze programs without consultation and by asserting that the bank would not finance groups in countries over the objections of their governments.
The corruption issue exposed a cleavage at the bank between Mr. Wolfowitz, who initially wanted to make "governance" a priority equal to, or even ahead of, poverty alleviation, and Europeans who argued that poverty alleviation must trump all other considerations.
The people who agreed to describe the closed meeting of vice presidents last week would do so only when promised anonymity. The descriptions were provided both by critics and defenders of Mr. Wolfowitz, who said they wanted to ensure that the public got an accurate account of the proceedings.
Those who attended the meeting said that Mr. Wheeler, the managing director, did not raise the issue of the anticorruption agenda, but that the residue of the battles on that issue continued to be felt. Mr. Wheeler said that if Mr. Wolfowitz did not resign, bank staff and colleagues would direct their ire at the board of directors and also the finance ministries around the world for not taking action against him.
The board is studying whether Mr. Wolfowitz violated bank rules in arranging a pay-and-promotion package for Shaha Ali Riza, his companion, and whether she violated bank rules in traveling to Iraq in 2003 as a temporary employee of a defense contractor.
Mr. Bennett, the lawyer, is seeking to make the case that Mr. Wolfowitz's role in arranging the package when Ms. Riza was detailed to the State Department in 2005 was not a "hanging offense." But he has apparently failed in his effort to persuade the bank board to give Mr. Wolfowitz more time to make his case on the matter of Ms. Riza.
"I have heard that the board is not inclined to meet with me," Mr. Bennett said in an interview. "I'm very concerned about that because I think there's a lot of bad information out there, and I want to make sure the board has all the information, some of which I believe is exculpatory."
A new indication of how deep the divisions are over Mr. Wolfowitz surfaced Tuesday. The bank board met to give support to a broad strategy on maternal health policies and got into a wrangle with the American director, Eli Whitney Debevoise II, over language referring to comprehensive reproductive "services," which some equate with abortion.
Bank officials said that word of the dispute touched off a new round of e-mail messages and telephone calls at the bank, with most officials charging that the United States was trying to impose a conservative agenda on bank policies. Mr. Wolfowitz, seeking to allay suspicions on this issue, has told many bank officials that he favors all aspects of the bank's family planning approaches.
By the end of the day, some bank officials said that the dispute had been resolved, and the word "services" stayed in the paper.
There were few details on Tuesday of what changes in his management team Mr. Wolfowitz might make. Bank officials said he had told colleagues that he might bring in a senior operating officer or even a "coach" to help him manage the bank without alienating people.
This was apparently a reference to what some said was an abrasive style by some of his aides. Officials said he also told the bank vice presidents last week that although many of them distrusted him, he regarded them as his top aides and looked to them for leadership on helping him run the bank.
He was said to have told the vice presidents that his future was now in the hands of the bank board, but his assumption was that at the end of the process, "I'll be here."
Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company