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Views from the Center


In 2005 as Paul Wolfowitz began his presidency of the World Bank, I and others set out an agenda for him --- to rescue the World Bank from slow decline into irrelevane and obscurity (see the CGD working group report: The Hardest Job in the World: Five Crucial Tasks for the New President of the World Bank)
We defined a tough agenda of change for the member governments that own the Bank and control its future. We called on the new president -- through intellectual leadership, charm, good judgment and yes horse-trading -- to lead the shareholders in pushing through change. After all, for all its faults, the World Bank is still the single best-placed institution to address a key challenge of the 21st century: the development and transformation of societies where poverty and disease affect billions of people.
One of those five tasks was reform of the governance of the World Bank itself -- to be more representative and thus more legitimate. At the IMF, Mr. de Rato has successfully initiated such a process. The leading wedge of such reform is, as we wrote in The Hardest Job in the World, to "formalize a mechanism for choosing the next president that is credible, rule-based and transparent."
Today finance and development ministers from around the world gather in Washington for the Spring Meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. They will not be talking about reform at the World Bank, or about the singular challenge of ending poverty and transforming the societies where five out of every six people in the world live. They will be talking about the tangle of messes surrounding Paul Wolfowitz. (See, for example, Sebastian Mallaby’s article in today’s Washington Post, The World Bank, Stuck in the Mud ).
If only for that reason, it would be better now for Mr. Wolfowitz to resign -- for the benefit of the institution that he serves, and for the billions of people that that it serves. He has become a distraction not a leader at a moment when leadership is sorely needed. There are other reasons, too. With shareholders and staff questioning his judgment on the conflict of interest issue he cannot lead by influence and inspiration, as the World Bank's global mission so obviously requires.
Poverty, climate change, terrorism, cross-national money laundering, drug and sex trafficking, avian flu and more....We are in a new and dangerous global century. We need a strong World Bank to wield its financial and technical weight in a concerted collective attack on these global challenges.
By resigning now, Mr. Wolfowitz can rescue for himself a lasting legacy. He can do so by linking his own resignation to a clarion call for a transparent and openly competitive process in the selection of his successor, in which it is merit not politics and power that matter.

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CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.