WASHINGTON (Reuters) - World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz said on Monday he accepted full responsibility for the promotion of a staffer with whom he is romantically involved.
The bank’s staff association last week questioned Shaha Riza’s promotion and pay increases, and the bank’s board said on Friday they would look into whether the actions possibly violated the bank’s staff rules.
Wolfowitz told the bank’s staff in an e-mail that he would ensure the board has access to the facts in the case “in a manner that also respects the bank’s rules concerning the right of every staff member to the confidentiality of his or her records.”
He said he accepted “full responsibility for the actions taken in this case” and that he had always acted to uphold bank rules on employee rights and treatment.
A copy of the letter was obtained by Reuters.
Riza had been given an external assignment to the U.S. State Department in September 2005, when her involvement with Wolfowitz was made public.
Both are divorced. Riza worked at the bank for eight years and was a senior communications adviser in its Middle East Department when she was transferred to the State Department. She remained on the bank’s payroll.
Wolfowitz joined the World Bank in mid-2005 after serving as U.S. deputy defence secretary, a position in which he acted as a leading architect of the Iraq War.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Riza was no longer working for the department and since September 2006 had been working for the Foundation for the Future, an international nongovernmental organisation largely funded by the United States.
The foundation provides grants to civil society in the broader Middle East and North Africa region to “advance freedom and democratic values and practice,” according to the State Department’s Web site.
The bank’s staff association said last week that before Riza’s assignment to the State Department, she was promoted to a senior position which would normally be “competitive, vetted and approved by the relevant sector board.”
It also said she was given a pay raise that was more than double the amount allowed under staff rules.
Wolfowitz said in the letter that he had sought the advice of the board, which is made up of representatives of the bank’s 185 member countries, regarding Riza soon after he arrived at the bank.
The board’s ethics committee advised him that Riza’s presence presented a conflict of interest and she should be transferred to a job outside the bank.
“I subsequently acted on the advice of the board’s ethics committee to work out an agreement that balanced the interest of the institution and the rights of the staff member in an exceptional and unprecedented situation,” Wolfowitz said.
The Government Accountability Project, a Washington-based whistle-blower agency that exposed Riza’s pay increase to the press, said Wolfowitz’s message was misleading.
It said Riza’s transfer to the State Department was not in question, but the subsequent salary increases were.
the group also questioned Wolfowitz’s pledge to keep the records of staff members confidential during the board review when Riza’s salary was already made public through a whistle-blower.