Wednesday, May 02, 2007

NYT Steven R. Weisman reporting on Wolfowitz

(Update, Wednesday, May 2, 2007. On the (very) off chance that Steven Weisman has actually seen this post, I want to apologize for my pissiness below - I'm taking out the more peevish stuff. I also want to add that I do know well and have often worked with Bank staff on various things, and many, many of them are very dedicated and able. The comments that people have posted have been courteous and worthwhile, and my thanks for that.)

(Let me respond, though, to two comments on this post. The first observes, quite correctly, that Wolfowitz's problems ultimately stem from politics, which was the source of his appointment. True enough, but not a reason, surely, to attack him on what I regard as baseless ethical issues as politics by other means; surely, too, it was no less politics in the case of Wolfensohn or any other Bank president. As to the second comment, which provides a sample of what Wolfowitz, it is said, ought to have done - well, I am struck, in regards to this comment and many others floating around the blogosphere, that this is more properly what these commentators seem to wish that the ethics committe had done, and had instructed Wolfowitz to do. To fault Wolfowitz for following the ethics committee's (seemingly intentionally) vague instructions rather than faulting the ethics committee for not being clear what procedure should be followed - well, having been a general counsel for a large philanthropy, sure, one can fault anyone for what they should have done or should have known to do - but the buck stops, so far as I can tell, with what the committee charged with setting out the procedures and instructions said and didn't say to do. Not with Wolfowitz. And if that's a hanging offense - not to read the minds of the ethics committee - then the Bank is a good deal less transparent than even I would have guessed. And its governance - not Wolfowitz's governance, but the Bank's overall governance, preceding Wolfowitz and persisting, is in even greater disarray than I would have imagined.)

The New York Times' Steven R. Weisman has a story in today's paper, "Former World Bank Officials Detail Discord Over Wolfowitz," NYT, Wednesday, May 2, 2007, A11, behind the NYT subscriber wall.

The story recounts statements given to the World Bank board, released yesterday, that dispute Wolfowitz's accounts. One of them, from former Bank general counsel Roberto Danino, is reproduced in the comments in the post below. The other is from Ad Melkert, the former head of the Bank's ethics committee who, according to the story, is "deeply hurt by efforts to manipulate information." [Deleted by author as pointlessly pissy.]

Weisman offers a reasonably straight account of what the two statements said. Fine. But shouldn't the article not merely reproduced their allegations and Wolfowitz's counterclaims - but actually go to the documents at issue to see whether they support one claim or another? If Weisman has spent hours and hours going through the ethics committee's earlier reports on the matter, great, but it is not evident in the reporting.

Consider, for example, Danino's point 17(i) (see comments to post below for complete Danino text):

17. In my opinion, this was incorrect because: (i) PW was in a de facto conflict of interest under Staff Rule 3.01, paragraph 4.02, which should have precluded him from providing these benefits to the very person who was part of the conflict.

Well, maybe. But Weisman's reporting does not go back to the Ad Melkert-chaired ethics committee's minutes of August 29, 2005, which state that:

"Members of the [Ethics] Commitee 'cannot interact directly with staff member situations'. Therefore, the Chairman appropriately declined to meet with the staff member concerned as the Requestor had suggested. Instead, it was proposed that the VP HR be instructed by the Requestor to do so."

Might it not be reasonable to think, on the basis of what Ad Melkert's own report from the time said, that Wolfowitz was forcibly reinserted back into all this on the Bank's ethics committee's own instructions? Sure, I suppose you can have all sorts of discussions from that point forward about what that meant, and who should conduct it, and so on - but doesn't Weisman have some obligation to his readers to point out that on the basis of one of these officials' own report from the time, there is an explanation and it is not consistent with what is being asserted now?

Moreover, reading the remainder of the statements, including Riza's, along with the ethics committee's repeated statements from the time that there was nothing wrong with these arrangements, it remains as hard as ever to see what the scandal is supposed to be about. The evidence seems to say that Wolfowitz went to the VP per the ethics committee's instructions, and told the VP to see what Riza wanted in the way of a package that, in the circumstances, amounted to a buy out for her lost opportunities (which, considering what she gave up through yet with no fault on her part, seems cheap at the price - a few tens of thousands of dollars? With every good reason, the salary hike was not considered an issue at the time, because it wasn't and isn't, especially if one looks at World Bank pay scales.).

Riza brought her own lawyer to the meeting, and apparenlyt there were some strong negotiations. Isn't that what lawyers are for? Yet, as Riza says in her statement and I am not aware has been disputed (although, mysteriously, I suppose, as with so many matters involving Ad Melkert in this affair, it might yet suddenly be), no suggestion was made that the terms were inconsistent with the Bank's far from transparent rules. There was no request, for example, by the Ethics Committee that this should be reported back to them, nor was there guidance whatsoever as to what the pay level within the GH range should be.

If all of this is so dead wrong, as Bank staff now claim post hoc, well shouldn't any of this stuff - even to rebut it, even to show that Weisman is aware of the documentary story, even to state how and why it is wrong - show up in the Times' reporting? Should the reader have to do all the background checking and investigative work?


Unknown said...

Yes, what you say about this whole business is probably true... but that's not the point. PW's troubles are about politics as much as about ethics. And that's probably as it should be, since his appointment was about politics in the first place.

Anonymous said...

This is how the President should have handled this case.

It is clear from the documentation that he did not recuse himself and his memo of 11 August to Xavier Coll (document 10 in the original disclosed package, page 74 of the 102 page pdf) was the fundamental breach of his contract and the Ethics Committee advice, ie “conflict of interest”.

So rather than send the memo he did on 11 August, he should have sent the following memo to Xavier Coll instead:


“As you know, I have asked the Ethics Committee for advice on how to resolved the de facto conflict of interest arising from my relationship with Ms Shaha Riza.

“I have received the attached advice from Ad Melkert (his memo of 27 July), which I have accepted in full.

“I would therefore be grateful if you, in consultation with the Vice President (MNA) and the General Counsel, could now take the necessary steps to implement this advice, with immediate effect.

“Because of my conflict of interest, and consistent with my recusal from any personnel action or decision bearing on Ms Riza’s employment, I cannot take any part in your discussions, and do not wish to be informed or involved in any way. I would, however, be grateful if you could inform me once you have reached an agreement with Ms Riza, so that I can inform the Ethics Committee that the conflict of interest has been resolved.

“I am sending a copy of this memo to Ad Melkert.”