Washington's nomination of Paul Wolfowitz as the World Bank's next president has triggered an outcry among the bank's staff, who have demanded the right to have a say in his confirmation, it emerged yesterday.
The staff association has met the bank's executives to voice its concerns after it was swamped with complaints from employees over the selection of Mr Wolfowitz, the US deputy defense secretary and one of the architects of the Iraq war.
One bank employee said yesterday: "When you work for the bank you have to be a compromise-seeker. Everyone sees him as a divisive figure."
In an e-mail to members, the staff association's chairwoman, Alison Cave, said: "While recognizing that the selection and confirmation of the next World Bank president is the prerogative of the shareholders, staff are asking that their views be taken into consideration and taken seriously by the decision-makers."
"The staff association is preparing to act as a conduit for these views, and the executive committee is urgently considering the most effective way to help staff be heard."
Staff representatives met the outgoing bank president, James Wolfensohn, on Thursday to express the level of alarm. A bank official said: "There have been wild emails about petitions and rallies, but the association has assured us it definitively is not going to involved in any of that."
Mr Wolfowitz's relationship with a member of World Bank staff, Shaha Ali Riza, a Tunisian-born British citizen who works as a communications adviser for the Middle East and North Africa department, also appears to have become an issue.
Ms Riza, a divorcee like Mr Wolfowitz, does not work directly for the bank president's office and their relationship would not be prohibited by the banks internal guidelines.
But one official said yesterday: "It should be covered [by World Bank rules], because the bank president does have a lot of power." A colleague of Ms Riza said: "There's no obvious reason she should lose her job just because her boyfriend is made president." Ms Riza did not return calls yesterday.
Staff at the World Bank fear Mr Wolfowitz might push through longstanding US proposals to make it an organization that gives out grants rather than loans. "It's much easier to politicize grants," an official said. "Loans have to be economically feasible."
Sebastian Mallaby, the author of The World's Banker, a profile of Mr Wolfensohn, said: "All incoming bank presidents face skepticism and hostility from an entrenched and proud staff of development professionals who think they know ten times as much as the new president."
The World Bank's executive directors, representing its shareholder nations, announced yesterday they would be interviewing Mr Wolfowitz in the next few days before making a final decision.
Mr Mallaby said he expected European states to block the appointment.
He said Mr Wolfowitz's biggest problem would be that his reputation would be the focus of the World Bank's enemies once he took up the job.
"The permanent establishment of World Bank critics - who had been diverted to protesting [about] the Iraq war - can now do both at once," Mr Mallaby said. "It's like Christmas for them."
Not every bank official was up in arms yesterday. One said: "It's better to have someone dynamic and [who] knows about development than somebody who has just been put out to pasture. I would rather be led strongly even if I don't agree with[ him]."
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005