Leadership Changes Prompt New Calls for a World Bank Overhaul

The imminent departure of World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz on June 30, leaves open many questions about the institution’s operating effectiveness.  Many groups are calling for a thorough reassessment of the 63-year-old bank.  Last week, the bank and Mr. Wolfowitz parted ways over an ethics violation for which both parties assumed partial responsibility, but neither acknowledged fault.  Longtime critics, such as the US Network for Global Economic Justice, are renewing their challenges of bank structural health and its staff morale.  Njoki Njehu is the Executive Director of the US Network’s “50 Years is Enough” movement.  She says that the selection process for a successor to Paul Wolfowitz should signal a change in overall bank policy and attitudes toward developing countries.

“They can find the best president of the World Bank.  I don’t know who that person is.  But there needs to be a change of policy.  There needs to be a change of the attitude of the institution in terms of their know-it-all kind of attitude, where they give governments and countries time to shape their own future.  There needs to be a change, and it can’t be done by one person,” she says.

Njehu says she does not believe the ouster of Mr. Wolfowitz represents an attack on US interests, even though Washington has traditionally been the power entrusted with naming the president of the bank.

“It’s not an international attitude towards the United States.  I think there was a lot of agreement, even in the United States, about how poorly qualified Mr. Wolfowitz was, and I think that whoever is the next president of the World Bank, there’s a lot of talk about this being the moment to break the tradition and get someone from the global south.  I think they should be under a great deal of scrutiny, to make sure that they’re both qualified to do the job, but also that they would do the job that needs to be done,” she said.

Bank critics have charged that former Deputy Defense Secretary Wolfowitz was too closely identified with US government policy to play an objective role in relations at the World Bank.  But Njehu of “50 Years is Enough” says his departure was caused most likely by the perception of corruption at the international institution.

“I think he was done in by his own corruption.  He did represent the relationship with the Bush Administration.  He was a failed assistant defense secretary, and they rewarded him.  It’s a really messed up system where when you screw up in one position, you are rewarded by being given a bigger job and a bigger profile,” she said.

The US Network for Global Economic Justice is a coalition of more than 200 US grassroots, women's, solidarity, faith-based, policy, social- and economic-justice, youth, labor and development organizations dedicated to transforming the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).  Executive Director Njehu says an addition of new blood at the helm of the lending institution could help reverse a bank tradition of prosperous societies marshaling resources and dictating terms to help relieve the poverty of disadvantaged, developing nations.

“I am a very strong believer in that if Africa is going to get out of poverty, it is because they are doing it themselves.  It’s not because of how world administrators and policy makers make decisions because for the most part, people living in London, or in Washington, or in Tokyo for that matter have no idea of what the reality for poor people in Africa is.    I believe that Africa’s future and Africa’s coming out of poverty and impoverishment will be done by Africans themselves.  If it could be done by outsiders, for goodness sake, it would have happened by now,” she says.  

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