Statement of Shaha Riza Before the World Bank Board of Executive Directors, Ad Hoc Committee
Shaha Riza Statement
Board of Executive Directors, Ad Hoc Committee
April 30, 2007
I come before you today with my counsel, Victoria Toensing, at your request to assist you and the World Bank in resolving a problem that is not of my making. Let me summarize quickly what I consider to be the key facts of this difficult and painful situation, which has grown out of all proportion to the merits of the circumstance, and has now done harm to the Bank as well as to me.
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.
5. The cumulative effect of the decision made in 2005 and the recent media circus over the issue have done significant harm to my career, my personal well-being, and my prospects to continue the work I love and where my expertise resides.
Let me start with some personal reflections and then address each of these issues.
Over the weekend I met a wonderful American woman who told me that I should fight back for “us”: WOMEN. It never occurred to me as an Arab and Moslem woman that one day I would be asked by an American woman to fight on her behalf. I take her plea as a tribute to all Arab and Moslem women who have fought and are fighting for their rights.
The irony of my working to ensure women’s participation and rights through the work of the World Bank and to be then stripped of my own rights by this same institution seems to have escaped most journalists, commentators and women’s rights activists.
I have been told by many friends at the World Bank and outside the Bank that I should speak out about my professional accomplishments to counter the one-dimensional and insulting portrayal in the media, not just in my defense but for the sake of all professional women--including women at the World Bank. It is difficult for me to do so because I have always tried to focus on my work and not on publicity and I simply do not know how to blow my own trumpet. However, in deference to the advice I have received from so many women I respect, I will quote the testimonies of my former managers in the World Bank in their evaluation of my performance.
My status at the Bank
As the gender coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa region (MNA) in the World Bank from 1998 to 2001, I was described as follows: “Shaha brought an unprecedented level of energy, enthusiasm, commitment and professionalism to this work….[and] an in depth understanding of issues and situations in the region that has enabled her to guide our approach to clients and made her a real asset to the region’s work.” (2002) This is indeed praise from Ngozi N. Okonjo-Iweala, a woman I admire and respect for her accomplishments in the World Bank who went on to become Finance Minister of her country, Nigeria.
In 2003, after I had been appointed the Acting Manager for External Communications, my supervisor wrote: “Her leadership on gender issues in her previous job in MNA has paid handsome dividends as MNA was way above the Bank average in mainstreaming gender issues in our work.” He continued: “What Shaha has done for gender (sensitization, practical solutions and effective outreach) she is well on her way to accopmplish for outreach and external communications. She is clearly operating at level GH and I strongly recommend that she be promoted to that level as lead Communications Specialist.” Jean-Louis Sarbib, Vice President for MNA, then goes on to justify his reasons for my promotion.
Despite his testimony, I never got the grade level promotion either as an in situ promotion, which accounts for 80% of promotions to grade H in the World Bank. Nor was the position opened for a competitive process, as I had requested from two consecutive MNA Vice Presidents. I can only attribute this to discrimination -- not because I am a woman, but because I am a Moslem Arab woman who dares to question the status quo both in the work of the institution and within the institution itself. The open hostility against me by at least one Member of the Board of Directors who the former US Executive Director, Robert Holland, referred to in his Wall Street Journal Op. Ed. of April 20, was well known on the Board and by Bank staff.
Request that I leave the Bank
It was a shock to me when, after the nomination of the new President, a senior member of management, in the name of three Vice Presidents, strongly suggested that I leave the Bank. I felt under attack by a powerful group that had no right to make assumptions or come to this conclusion given there was no Bank rule requiring my exit.
When, after eight years in the service of the World Bank, I was told that the Board’s Ethics Committee had resolved that I should leave-- through no fault of mine, but because of an alleged conflict of interest, it was not just a blow to my career and professional trajectory but also a blow to my faith in the ability of the institution to protect its staff, and to its claim over the past ten years, to pay more attention to gender and diversity.
I could not understand at the time or now why I was being singled out for this treatment when the then-Managing Director Shengman Zhang’s spouse, Lingzhi Xu, was working at the Bank and before her Marittta Koch-Weser, Caio Koch-Weser’s spouse, when he was a Managing Director. Neither of them was asked to leave the institution. It is very important to note that in all the years that I had worked in the World Bank I had not directly or indirectly reported to the previous President and my professional interaction with him was limited to a handful of times. Thus, I was surprised I was being asked to leave because under Staff Rule 4.01, Paragraph 5.02, the requirement is that neither person may “supervise the other, directly or indirectly, and their duties [should not be] likely to bring them into routine professional contact.” In this regard, recusal from all my personnel decisions, as requested by the President, should have sufficed to resolve any alleged “conflict” as recusal went further than at least one of the situations described above.
Leaks and recent exposure
As this artificially created crisis swirled around me, I have continued to work hard on what I have spent the last 20 years advocating: reforms, women’s rights and citizen’s participation in the Middle East and North Africa. Two years ago, my life and career were torn asunder. In the past month I have suffered anguish that I cannot fully describe at this proceeding because it is so painful. I have been made to appear to have no qualifications for my position when, in fact, I am clearly well qualified. I am sad to say leaks and off-the-record statements have encouraged hurtful and inaccurate media. Whatever happened to my Confidentiality Agreement with the Bank? Why were my rights as a World Bank staff member violated -- and who allowed them to be violated?
And so I come back to you, the ad hoc group, to ask you and other Members of the Board about what you plan to do about the breach of the Agreement signed with me -- and about the disclosure of my personnel file in violation of Staff Rule 2.01 “Confidentiality of Personnel Information.” As you know, I am a staff member of this institution and I have rights that this institution has not protected. Yet to date I have been offered no protection -- which would be offered any staff member -- against the leaking of documents that are, according to the formal policy of the Bank, part of confidential personnel matters.
Damage to Career
In normal circumstances I might not have minded being assigned a year or two to another agency. That type of assignment is not new to this institution. But I did not want to leave the Bank for five or possibly ten years with no guarantee of whether, or how, or at what level I could return. I was being banished from the Bank without regard to the quality of my work performance or my commitment to the mission of the Bank. To review a few of my concerns;
I was 51 years old and being asked to remove myself from a career path to an employment limbo for five, if not ten years. The rest of my professional career in the Bank was being adversely affected.
· I would be out of the normal World Bank structure, removed from peer and professional contacts that lead to new assignments.
· I would not have the ability to make lateral moves or seek other assignments to take me to the next grade.
Confronted with the prospect of being banished from the World Bank for at least five years, I fought for my rights through direct negotiations with Mr. Xavier Coll, Human Resource Vice President. I continue to believe that I should not have been asked to leave and that I was unjustly treated for reasons that I had no control over and still do not understand. I still question the role and motives of the Ethics Committee in its decision to ask me to leave. I was not, and I am not, satisfied with the arrangement. Nevertheless, despite my unhappiness and justified anger, I tried my best to accommodate the Ethics Committee in order to avoid a protracted dispute that would distract the Board, and management and staff from their important work.
Let me be very clear about my legal position in 2005. I was ready to pursue legal remedies. I would have preferred to fight the unfair situation. I only acquiesced to signing the Agreement so as not to cause turmoil at the Bank.
Equally important, I still question why this furor about the arrangement, which was made to remove me from the Bank, has erupted now. It is clear from the now public documents that it was the Chairman of the Board’s Ethics Committee, Mr. Ad Melkert, who advised my placement outside the Bank. I did not want to leave. Mr. Melkert stated in writing that I should be “relocated to a position” outside the Bank, and that “the potential disruption of the staff member’s career prospect will be recognized by an in situ promotion on the basis of her qualifying record as confirmed by her shortlisting for the current job process and is consistent with the practice of the Bank.”
It is clear that the Ethics Committee had available any materials that they wished to review in regard to my placement outside. Indeed, the Chairman of the Ethics Committe stated in his letter to the President dated October 24, 2005, that “the outcome is consistent with the [Ethics] Committee’s findings and advice…and the Committee concurs with your view that this matter can be treated as closed.” This letter makes it obvious that the Ethics Committee must have looked at the Agreement and considered it satisfactory. If it did not, it was negligent in its duties.
By February 2006, all Board Members had to be fully aware of the arrangement due to the e-mail from “John Smith,” which specifically questioned my salary. The response of the Ethics Committee to this e-mail was that the allegations “did not appear appropriate for further consideration by the Committee.” The question therefore remains: why was this issue resurrected in recent weeks?
Moreover, during my negotiations with Mr. Coll, neither he nor anyone else ever suggested to me that my compensation package might violate Bank policy in any way. In his letter to me on September 1, 2005, Mr. Coll stated that the “perceived conflict is not of your making,” adding: “There is no precedent of this kind and no personnel policy that clearly applies to resolve it.”
It is certainly the case that World Bank salary rates are significantly higher than the pay of national civil servants, at least in North America. It is up to shareholders to review the pay scale of the World Bank job classifications. But I should not be singled out for isolated finger-pointing when my salary level is within the same range as staff in my grade level who were not forced to leave their jobs.
I still hope that the Bank Board and Management will have the courage to admit that actions and decisions concerning the many diverse relationships in this institution have been addressed arbitrarily and without clear guidance. The careers of many spouses, particularly those appointed to country offices, are disrupted by ad hoc or arbitrary implementation of staff rules. I hope that this unfortunate episode will be used constructively to address these very pertinent issues.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to state my case. I request my statement be made part of the record. END STATEMENT
[Source: Foreign Policy's Passport blog. By the way, if you're one of the so-called "liberal" media who keeps referring to Ms Riza as Wolfowitz's "girlfriend", hang your head in shame. Props to NYT for choosing "domestic partner", but what the hell is wrong with just "partner"?]