The selective leakers are getting the full support of almost all the media. Fortunately the Wall Street Journal continues to provide critical missing perspective:
One of the most revealing subplots in the European coup attempt against World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz is who is coming to the American’s defense. The rich European donor countries want him to resign, while the Africans who are the bank’s major clients are encouraging him to stay.
You wouldn’t know this from the press coverage, which continues to report selective leaks from the bank staff and European sources who started this political putsch. The latest “news” is that the European Parliament has asked Mr. Wolfowitz to resign, thus sustaining that body’s reputation for irrelevant but politically correct gestures. If Mr. Wolfowitz leaves, no doubt some of the europols will angle for the job.
The more telling story is the support for the bank president from reform-minded Africans. At a press conference during this month’s World Bank-IMF meetings in Washington, four of the more progressive African finance ministers were asked about the Wolfowitz flap. Here’s how Antoinette Sayeh, Liberia’s finance minister, responded:
“I would say that Wolfowitz’s performance over the last several years and his leadership on African issues should certainly feature prominently in the discussions . . . . In the Liberian case and the case of many forgotten post-conflict fragile countries, he has been a visionary. He has been absolutely supportive, responsive, there for us . . . . We think that he has done a lot to bring Africa in general . . . into the limelight and has certainly championed our cause over the last two years of his leadership, and we look forward to it continuing.”
The deputy prime minister for Mauritius, Rama Krishna Sithanen, then piped in that “he has been supportive of reforms in our country . . . . We think that he has done a good job. More specifically, he has apologized for what has happened.”
Sub-Saharan Africa is the world’s poorest region, and Mr. Wolfowitz has appropriately made it his top priority. On his first day on the job, he met with a large group of African ambassadors and advocates. His first trip as bank president was a swing through Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Rwanda and South Africa. He also recruited two African-born women vice presidents, a rarity at the bank.
If you’re surprised by that last fact, then you don’t appreciate that the World Bank has always been a sinecure for developed-world politicians. They get handsome salaries, tax free, and their performance is measured not by how much poverty they cure but by how much money they disperse.
Mr. Wolfowitz has upset this sweetheart status quo by focusing more on results, and especially on the corruption that undermines development and squanders foreign aid. Yet many of the poor countries themselves welcome such intervention. At the same April 14 press conference, Zambian Finance Minister N’Gandu Peter Magande endorsed the anticorruption agenda:
“We should keep positive that whatever happens to the president, if, for example, he was to leave, I think whoever comes, we insist that he continues where we have been left, in particular on this issue of anticorruption. That is a cancer that has seen quite a lot of our countries lose development and has seen the poverty continuing in our countries. And therefore . . . we want to live up to what [Wolfowitz] made us believe” that “it is important for ourselves to keep to those high standards.”
The noisy leaking and staff protests are aimed at getting Mr. Wolfowitz to make their life easy by resigning. But that would only validate their campaign to oust him for giving his girlfriend a raise that the bank’s own ethics committee advised him to deliver after he had tried to recuse himself. Since our editorial reported on all of these “ethics” details two weeks ago, no one has even tried to dispute our facts. The critics have shifted to a new line that, because his “credibility” has been damaged by these selective smears, Mr. Wolfowitz must now resign “for the good of the bank.”
Let’s hope the White House doesn’t fall for this rot, and, by the way, it’s about time Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson spent some of his political capital and defended Mr. Wolfowitz. He’d be in good company among Africa’s progressive leaders.