Accessibility links

Breaking News

World: Wolfowitz Defiant In Defeat

Wolfowitz says much was achieved during his tenure as World Bank head (epa) May 19, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Paul Wolfowitz has praised his performance as the World Bank's president in his first public comments since resigning as head of the global lending body.

Wolfowitz had come under pressure to step down after a special bank committee determined he had violated bank rules by overseeing a wage increase for his girlfriend, a bank employee.

Some analysts say Wolfowitz has done more harm to the bank than he accomplished.

But in comments May 18, Wolfowitz defended his two years as head of the organization, saying much had been achieved. He thanked World Bank staffers for their role in the institution's success.

'Accomplished A Lot'

"I've gotten a lot of very gracious comments, notes,and e-mails from staff. I'm grateful for that, and I am particularly grateful for the hard work they've put in the last two years," Wolfowitz said. "We've accomplished a lot in the last two years, I said that in [my written] statement. And I say 'we' -- I'm happy to claim a little bit of credit, but it couldn't happen without them."

Wolfowitz's exit as World Bank president takes effect on June 30.

Critics contend that Wolfowitz has hurt his reputation, as well as the bank's, by not quitting earlier.

John Cavanagh of the Institute for Policy Studies alleged that Wolfowitz had made the bank "a place synonymous with hypocrisy."

"It was a bank [Wolfowitz] said was fighting corruption in the world, and yet he created a climate of corruption," Cavanagh told Reuters. "He so damaged the name and reputation of the bank that the fact there are alternatives to what it does will speed up countries shifting to the alternatives."

"There's no precedent for forcing out a leader like this from an institution like this." -- John Cavanagh

The World Bank has more than 180 member countries worldwide. It is responsible for billions of dollars of aid projects in developing nations, and has taken a strong and vocal stance against corruption.

Legacy Of The Controversy

Cavanagh is a former economist for the United Nations and the World Health Organization. He said the controversy could contribute to diminishing the bank's role as the major lender to poor countries.

The controversy has also intensified tensions between the United States and Europe. Cavanagh said the United States was wise to not let the matter come to a vote by the bank's board.

"I think the pressure for a deal became so great because neither the Unites States, Americans or Europeans, wanted that kind of open warfare," Cavanagh said. "It was as bad as we have seen with this institution, from any institution. There's no precedent for forcing out a leader like this from an institution like this."

Not everybody is so critical of Wolfowitz. He has won praise from some in Africa and Asia for his bank policies, including his campaign against corruption in aid programs and in the governments of recipient nations.

U.S. President George W. Bush has reluctantly accepted Wolfowitz's resignation, saying Wolfowitz had always acted in the best interests of the bank.

"I regret that it's come to this," Bush said. "I admire Paul Wolfowitz. I admire his heart, and I particularly admired his focus on helping the poor. Now, there is a board meeting going on as we speak. I can tell you is, I know that Paul Wolfowitz has an interest in what's best for the bank."

Wolfowitz, who served as U.S. deputy defense secretary during the start and first couple years of the Iraq war, took the top post in the bank in 2005.

Looking Ahead

U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson will lead a search for a new bank president, but ultimately President Bush will make the choice. According to tradition, a U.S. citizen is chosen to lead the World Bank, while a European runs the bank's sister institution, the International Monetary Fund.

But Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize-winning economist and former senior vice president and chief economist at the World Bank, told BBC radio that outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair "is one of the people that is clearly being discussed."

The list of Wolfowitz's possible successors also includes Robert Zoellick, a former U.S. trade representative and deputy secretary of state;U.S. Treasury Deputy Secretary Robert Kimmitt;and former U.S. Federal Reserve Cairman Paul Volcker.