May 4, 2007 / 8:50 PM / in 10 years

World Bank staff air concern over Wolfowitz controversy

<p>World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz during a news conference at the European Union headquarters in Brussels, May 2, 2007.Francois Lenoir</p>

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - More than 700 World Bank staff have signed a letter expressing concern and calling for a resolution of a crisis involving bank President Paul Wolfowitz as a decision over his leadership looms.

In a rare move, the 718 employees have added their names to a letter first circulated on April 26 by 46 World Bank officials on the frontlines of implementing the bank's anti-corruption strategy, revealing a groundswell of discontent.

The next 72 hours will be critical for the former No. 2 Pentagon official accused of violating staff rules by directing a high-paid promotion for his companion Shaha Riza, a World Bank Middle East expert, as an investigating panel prepares to announce its findings.

Wolfowitz has accused his critics of a smear campaign to oust him and has said he will not be pushed to resign, noting there were directives by the bank's board to assign Riza to an outside job with a promotion.

The letter has become an outlet for staff from all levels at the bank to show their discontent with the controversy and over how it could damage the perception of the poverty-fighting institution in the developing world.

Among the bank's total staff of about 10,000, the letter was signed by anti-corruption chief Daniel Kaufmann and Sanjay Pradhan, director of the bank's public sector governance board.

The letter said the crisis was a critical test for the bank's leadership -- from Wolfowitz to the board of member countries -- to show their commitment to good governance.

It does not call for Wolfowitz's resignation, but wants "clear and decisive actions" to resolve the issue in a way that would illustrate that the institution "practices what it preaches" for good governance and against corruption.

Wolfowitz's tenure at the World Bank has been controversial from the beginning, with some staff and member countries resenting his leading role in the unpopular Iraq war.

Board sources said draft findings by the special panel appointed to investigate the promotion would be circulated among shareholder governments and Wolfowitz this weekend.

One source said the draft would be ready as soon as today, but others thought it was more likely to happen over the weekend.

The 24-nation board will also seek "guidance" from their respective capitals on how to proceed, with the board meeting on Tuesday, possibly followed by another on Wednesday.

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