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World Bank President Wolfowitz Rejects Criticism of His Leadership

On the eve of the semi-annual finance ministers meeting at the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in Washington, World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz has rejected criticism of his leadership. VOA's Barry Wood reports.

Speaking to reporters Thursday, Wolfowitz acknowledged that his nearly two-year leadership of the Bank is under close scrutiny. He apologized for recommending a salary increase for a former female employee with whom he is romantically linked. The woman received a large pay raise when she left the bank and was then assigned to the U.S. State Department.

When President Bush nominated Wolfowitz for the top job at the bank, he was the deputy secretary of defense, where he was involved in planning the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Because of his ties with the Bush adminstration, he has been unpopular with many Bank employees. But the pay raise for the former employee, Shaha Ali Reza, has sparked new controversy, and the Bank's staff association is calling for Wolfowitz to resign.

Wolfowitz says he will accept any remedies that top officials at the Bank, who are investigating the incident, propose.

Wolfowitz also said on Thursday that, as World Bank president, he is not pursuing a Bush administration agenda. He said his loyalties are very much with the bank.

"I'm not in my previous job," he said. "I'm not working for the U.S. government. I'm working for this institution and its 185 shareholders. I believe deeply in the mission of this institution and I have a passion for it."

Wolfowitz says Sunday's meeting of the bank's development committee will emphasize an action plan for Africa. He says this is a critical moment for Africa, an historic opportunity for building sustained economic growth.

"We're seeing in many parts of the sub-continent [of Africa] remarkable growth," he noted. "Roughly a third of the non-oil producing countries, with roughly a third of the population, have been growing at four percent or better over the past ten years. That's a pretty good record, and it is leading to progress in education and in health and closing the gender gap."

Wolfowitz called on donor countries to boost their commitments to Africa, saying they have fallen short of their goal to double their assistance to the continent. He called for new donations to the bank's International Development Association (IDA), which makes interest free loans to the world's poorest countries. Donors have also pledged to repay the IDA for loans written off by the World Bank as part of the campaign to eliminate the debt of the poorest African countries.