WASHINGTON -The World Bank\u0026#039;s Staff Association, which represents 10,000 employees, asked Bank President Paul Wolfowitz to step down Thursday amid charges that he gave his girlfriend, a Bank employee, improper pay raises and attempted to cover it up.The association made the call during an informal press conference inside the Bank at which dozens of employees showed up, the first time anyone inside the Washington-headquartered institution has demanded his ouster. \n\nThe gathering became dramatic when Wolfowitz himself appeared uninvited and sought to defend his actions.\n\n\u0022The president must acknowledge that his conduct has compromised the integrity and effectiveness of the World Bank Group and has destroyed the staff\u0026#039;s trust in his leadership,\u0022 said a statement from the Staff Association signed by its chairwoman Alison Cave. \u0022He must act honourably and resign.\u0022\n\nThe call came less than an hour after Wolfowitz issued his own statement. \u0022I made a mistake, for which I am sorry,\u0022 said the 64-year-old World Bank president.\n\nThe Staff Association said it decided to call for his resignation even though the Bank\u0026#039;s Board, which runs the institution\u0026#039;s day to day affairs, announced that it is prepared to officially investigate the allegations that Wolfowitz used his position to enrich Shaha Riza, a Bank employee with whom he had a personal relationship, through large pay hikes that violated Bank protocols.\n\nThe association said it feared that the Board may not act quickly enough, and called for the release of all relevant documents, including a memorandum from Wolfowitz to the human resources vice president instructing him to second Riza to the U.S. State Department on a generous package that brought her salary to 193,000 dollars a year -- 7,000 dollars more than that earned by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.\n\nWolfowitz defended himself on Thursday, saying that he had already sought the advice of the Ethics Committee at the Bank and that he acted \u0022in good faith\u0022.\n\nHe also said he was trying to ward off a possible legal problem for the Bank. He did not elaborate on whether Riza had threatened to sue the Bank if she was involuntarily assigned to the State Department -- a necessary move since Bank employees who are personally involved may not work together.\n\n\u0022This was an involuntary reassignment and I believed there was a legal risk if this was not resolved by mutual agreement,\u0022 he said. \u0022I take full responsibility for the details.\u0022\n\nBut Wolfowitz\u0026#039;s statement did not allay concerns among staff that he may have placed his girlfriend\u0026#039;s interests before the institution\u0026#039;s.\n\nThe Staff Association says, for example, that there was no representation by the Bank\u0026#039;s legal counsel during negotiations of the new contract for Riza, although her own attorney was present.\n\nWolfowitz has taken several hits over the past week, the last of which came from Ad Melkert, former chairman of the ethics committee, who denied that the committee directed or agreed to Riza\u0026#039;s contract terms, as the Bank president alleged.\n\nThe Staff Association also says that the former general counsel of the Bank, Roberto Danino, rejected the terms for Riza\u0026#039;s reassignment, leading to his exclusion by Wolfowitz from the actual contract negotiations.\n\nThe association said the affair is taking a toll on morale inside the Bank. \u0022It therefore seems impossible for the institution to move forward with any sense of purpose under the present leadership, especially in our endeavor to assist governments and their people in improving their own governance,\u0022 it said.\n\nThe controversy has been particularly embarrassing for Wolfowitz and the Bank because since he came to office in 2005, Wolfowitz has sought to make an anti-corruption crusade the signature of his tenure.\n\nLast year, he announced a \u0022long-term strategy\u0022 for using the Bank\u0026#039;s funds and expertise to help developing countries rid their governments of bribe-taking and other dishonest practices.\n\nBut even as he assumed responsibility for decisions related to Riza, Wolfowitz went on the offensive, implying that the staff\u0026#039;s reaction may have been motivated by displeasure with his role in the Pentagon as a main architect of the U.S. invasion and later occupation or Iraq, now in its fifth year and exacting huge human and financial costs.\n\n\u0022For those people who disagree with the things that they associate me with in my previous job, I\u0026#039;m not in my previous job,\u0022 Wolfowitz said in a statement. \u0022I\u0026#039;m not working for the U.S. government; I\u0026#039;m working for this institution and its 185 shareholders.\u0022\n\nWolfowitz came to the World Bank in mid-2005 from his post as the U.S. deputy secretary of defence.\n\nHis appointment to the World Bank sent ripples through many at the institution and within development circles who feared that his neo-conservative credentials and close association with the carnage caused by the Iraq war could undermine the Bank\u0026#039;s image as one of the world\u0026#039;s leading development agencies.\n\nBut the controversy over Riza\u0026#039;s salary increases has mostly skirted his role in the Iraq war -- with Wolfowitz himself bringing it up.\nCopyright © 2007 IPS-Inter Press Service.