New Internationalist

The suitable Mr Wolfowitz?

It was just sitting there, waiting to happen – the Paul Wolfowitz corruption scandal.

But over so small a thing! I don’t want to belittle the World Bank chief’s actions, but using his position to ensure a plum job (salary $200,000) for his lover Shaha Riza is chicken feed by World Bank standards.

Okay, so 430 Haitians could live on Ms Riza’s annual salary, but do let’s get this into proportion.

During its 60-year history the Bank has managed to ‘lose’ $100 billion to corruption; it has backed and funded projects that have made fortunes for corrupt officials and corporations at the expense of the world’s poorest people. (see NI 396, Corruption, 'Killer sting' )

It has imposed polices that have enforced privatization of state assets and has made loans on condition that governments hack public health, education and food subsidy provision. This has torpedoed development, benefited élites, fuelled corruption and had a devastating effect on the most vulnerable people, even driving down life expectancy in some places.

But, alas, none of this seems to register on the radars of Mr Wolfowitz’s sensitive colleagues who bemoan the fact that their boss’s misdemeanour has undermined credibility and brought their anti-corruption drive into disrepute.

Disrepute? Surely there has to be some ‘repute’ there in the first place for it to be dissed?

While genuine attempts to encourage good governance and tackle corruption must be lauded, there are several things about the World Bank’s campaign that arouse suspicion. Buried on page 20 of the Bank’s latest strategy, revised is March of this year, is an encouragement for governments fighting corruption to ‘transparently and competitively privatize state-owned businesses’.  So, like everything else it does, the Bank’s anti-corruption agenda is to be used as a Trojan horse for its neoliberal prescriptions.

Meanwhile, Wolfowitz is also accused of watering down reports on global warming in order to continue the Bank’s policy support for fossil fuels.
But to return to Paul Wolfowitz’s ‘outraged’ and ‘dismayed’ colleagues at the Bank: what on earth did they imagine life would be like with him at the helm? We are talking about the man who, as Bush’s former Defence Secretary, was architect of the most deadly and surreal campaign of corruption in modern history – the invasion of Iraq. ( see NI 396 Corruption, 'Can the rot be stopped?' )

The discovery that the World Bank chief now appears to be using public office for private gain – a usual definition of corruption – should surely come as no surprise. Is it a surprise that Al Capone evaded tax – the misdemeanour that finally landed him in the soup?

Naturally, questions are being asked as to whether Wolfowitz was a suitable candidate for the big job in the first place. Well, it depends on whether you think a World Bank chief should genuinely reflect the ethos of the institution she or he heads. If you think they should, then you could argue that this particular appointee was most suitable.

And if that seems too perverse a twist, how about this: the right-wing press in the US is saying that Wolfowitz has been unfairly targeted precisely because he was tackling corrupt governments (not his own, notably) and that is why some donor countries, European ones especially, have been holding back funds from the Bank and want to see the back of Wolfie.

Nothing is too complex in the bluff and counter-bluff world of anti-corruption. Only one voice rings clear and true – that of Kenyan anti-corruption tsar John Githongo who says, ‘if you are going to try and tackle corruption you must start with your own people’.

If – and it’s a huge ‘if’ – that is what Mr Wolfowitz’s colleagues are trying to do, they are going to have to rid themselves of a lot more than one bad apple.

There’s an entire institution, held together by neoliberal dogma, to get started on.

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