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World Bank President Advised Not to Attend Africa Development Meeting


With Paul Wolfowitz reportedly negotiating his future with the World Bank’s board of directors, the embattled bank president has been advised not to attend a two-day forum on development aid for Africa. The summit is scheduled to start Monday in Berlin, and Wolfowitz’s input on issues like agricultural subsidies and poverty reduction would make his absence and the prospect of an end to his two-year tenure as head of the bank a focus of attention for African finance ministers. Lasalle University economics professor Richard Mshomba says that African countries understand that fighting corruption is a standard that extends beyond the developing world and reaches all levels of international finance and lending institutions.

“Certainly a number of them had wanted him to stay initially because of what Paul Wolfowitz had said when he assumed his position almost two years ago, when he said that his first priority was going to be to help poor countries to grow their economy and to alleviate poverty. So they wanted at least that theme to continue. But at the same time, there are some who felt, well here is a person who was going to fight corruption, and apparently, as the minister of finance of Liberia, I think, said, ‘corruption is not the property of African countries alone’,” Mshomba indicated.

On Tuesday, Wolfowitz addressed bank directors trying to refute a damaging World Bank report that investigated ethics violation charges against him. The US-named bank chief has been fighting conflict of interest allegations that he failed to disclose arrangements to secure a substantial salary increase for his girlfriend, Shaha Riza, a bank employee.

President Bush and other US officials have stood by Wolfowitz, a former Deputy Secretary of Defense, saying they did not consider his conduct justified his being fired. But pressure has been mounting, most vocally from European officials, who have criticized his failure to clear Riza’s promotion and transfer to a job at the US State Department in advance with the bank’s chief legal adviser. Wolfowitz maintains he followed ethics panel guidelines in arranging Riza’s transfer outside the bank so that he could avoid being her supervisor.

News reports say that Wolfowitz has received advice from Germany’s Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul not to attend the summit that her country is hosting in Berlin on Monday for African countries. Tanzanian-born Professor Mshomba says the recommendation probably is a sign of the talks that are taking place in Washington.

“He was advised not to go, and that is what is giving me an indication that he is about to lose his position. And I think probably, if he were to go, the meeting will lose its focus. His absence will certainly be conspicuous, and people will say something about it. But probably I would agree at this point, it is good for him and for the summit for him not to be there because it may just take the focus out of what had been planned to be the main agenda items,” he pointed out.

Traditionally, the presidency of the World Bank has been a position filled by a US-appointed candidate. Mshomba says he does not think that role will be altered by the outcome of the current controversy.

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