A Brave Woman Scorned
The campaign against Shaha Riza is the nastiest character assassination I have ever seen.
It appears that, with a relatively fair wind from the media, the campaign to destroy or discredit Paul Wolfowitz's presidency at the World Bank is almost certain to succeed one way or another. Though now I wonder why I use the word fair in relation to all this wind. The fork is nicely shaped and double-pointed: Even if there is nothing actually venal or corrupt about Wolfowitz's more-apparent-than-real "conflict of interest," the mere appearance of it has itself become real, and thus—pull a very solemn face at this point—he has lost the confidence of his subordinates and thereby the ability to do his job. For the sake of the world's poor, one injustice must therefore follow another.
What was the first injustice? Allow me to quote from the statement of Shaha Riza to the "ad hoc committee" of the World Bank's board of executive directors—a statement that ought to be more widely known than it is. She makes the following points in the order cited, and I have never seen any of them refuted:
1) My professional status at the Bank predates the arrival of the new President. I began work in the Bank in 1997.
2) There is no Bank regulation or staff rule that required me to leave the Bank in order to resolve this situation.
3) I was not given a choice to stay and, against my personal preference and professional interests, I agreed to accept an external assignment in 2005 upon the insistence of the Ethics Committee.
4) Against Bank rules and the agreement I signed with the Bank, the details of the assignment and my personnel file have been leaked to the press and staff. As you well know my salary and grade level are quite common for World Bank staff that have years of experience, background and education similar to mine.
Riza then proceeds to reproduce extremely positive testimonials from senior officials about her performance, including at least one very unequivocal recommendation for promotion. She does this with some diffidence but under immense provocation. Why should she not be allowed to list her virtues and qualifications? In what is an amazing breach of ordinary media etiquette (where longstanding unmarried couples are routinely described as being "partners" or sometimes "companions"), this very reserved and private lady has been called—in reputable newspapers—not only a "mistress" but a "girlfriend." One really is compelled to ask whether there is any decency left.
Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) was a columnist for Vanity Fair and the author, most recently, of Arguably, a collection of essays.
Photograph of Paul Wolfowitz by Alex Wong/Getty Images.