Integrity is core to rebuilding World Bank

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 May, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 May, 2007, 12:00am

The rich nations that fund the World Bank have been handed a golden opportunity to reform the institution now that wrangling over the future of its president, Paul Wolfowitz, has ended with his resignation. Much needs to be done to restore confidence in the organisation, and that work must start with openly choosing a qualified successor imbued with integrity.

Dr Wolfowitz brought the poverty-fighting institution into disrepute by breaking its ethics rules by ensuring that his girlfriend, an employee, benefited financially as a result of his position. As long as he remained the bank's head, its efforts to achieve its aims through good governance and fighting corruption would always be questioned.

His being an architect of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 and an advocate of his nation's hardline foreign policy sat uneasily with many in and outside the bank. This overshadowed his qualifications to be its head through being a diplomat, intellect and humanitarian.

Months of wrangling between Dr Wolfowitz, the bank's member nations, its directors and staff have culminated in a deal under which he will leave at the end of next month. Never has the bank - founded in 1944 - had its president leave office under such circumstances; nor can it be allowed to happen again.

Much of the fault lies in the way the president is chosen. Under a colonial-era agreement between the US and European nations, the former gets to choose the head of the World Bank and the latter the chief of its sister organisation, the International Monetary Fund.

The geopolitical nature of the world has shifted greatly in the six decades since then and a transparent and accountable method of selecting the leaders of both powerful institutions has to be found. Dr Wolfowitz's departure offers a perfect opportunity for that process to start through selecting a replacement based on merit.

But the reforms must not end there. Restoring the bank's credibility and integrity will take more than a new leader, and broader governance reforms need to be implemented to ensure that it can most effectively alleviate global poverty.