Web site revived to speculate on World Bank chief

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz has so far offered no indication he may resign but Internet chatter is already speculating over a possible successor to the former Bush administration official.

World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz arrives at the International Monetary and Financial Committee meeting during a second day of the IMF and World Bank spring meeting in Washington April 14, 2007. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Web site first came to prominence in 2005 airing speculation over who would replace former World Bank chief James Wolfensohn, making available to all the backroom gossip around the capital.

The Web site was revived this week as the scandal over Wolfowitz’s pay rise and promotion for his girlfriend escalated and many commentators predicted it was only a matter of time before he would be forced to quit his post.

Web-site contributors are touting South African Finance Minister Trevor Manuel and Nigeria’s former finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, as possible successors to Wolfowitz.

Either of those would break the unwritten tradition that the head of the World Bank is an American, just as the boss of the International Monetary Fund is always a European.

But Wolfowitz, one of the chief architects of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, was a controversial choice even before the current scandal broke of his approval of a whopping pay rise and big promotion for his girlfriend -- a World Bank staffer.

“If they’re smart, they’ll cut the loss, give up on putting one of their own into the president’s seat this time around, but preserve the prerogative for choosing the person who sits there,” wrote one blogger on the Web site.

“They could get enormous credit for choosing a non-American, and someone from the global south at that, to head the World Bank.”

Wolfowitz’s fate is still being decided by the World Bank’s board but some European countries appear to have the knives out.

“This whole business has damaged the bank and should not have happened,” Britain’s development minister, Hilary Benn, said shortly after arriving in Washington.

His German counterpart, Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, told Reuters that Wolfowitz had to decide whether he still commanded the credibility to run the World Bank.