Are you sure?

Infinite Rules, Infinite Discretion

Paul Wolfowitz noted the inconsistency in the application of the World Bank's conflict of interest position.

It had permitted the wife of former Bank Managing Director Zheng to remain in her position, but required that Shaha Riza, his significant other, leave the Bank. Zheng has filed a facially preposterous response. Law professor Kenneth Anderson wrote: The World Bank's rules, according to Zhang - and presumably he should be in a position to know as the Bank's number two manager - permitted „husbands and wives to work at the bank under circumscribed conditions, which he said he followed, but that they barred anyone from having a sexual relationship with a top bank official outside of marriage.”

Anderson says if such a rule actually exists it would certainly discriminate against gays and wonders where the normal defenders of gay rights are on this point. Anderson cannot find such a rule despite seeking it from the Bank and concludes it's just more evidence of the Bank's corrupt-to-the-core culture: Is this really the Bank's rule? Could it really, truly be that the World Bank would have a rule so nakedly anti-gay? I asked informally - I didn't talk with the Bank's lawyers, as it seemed unlikely anyone would dare respond - and no one seems to know. Zhang calls it an „express prohibition.” But where is it written down? It seems quite possible it is written down somewhere.

It seems quite possible it is not written down anywhere - and that the Bank, if pressed on this issue by some NGO group, would deny having any such rule. It also seems quite possible that the Bank has indirectly addressed some such question in some obscure memo from the ethics committee, or some internal employment review panel, or some internal thing - which maybe counts as „express” or maybe just counts as something that no one quite knows about but which can be triumphantly pulled out of a file as needed - or, on the other hand, quietly forgotten if not.

One of the insistent lessons of the Wolfowitz affair with respect to Bank governance is that the Bank manages that great bureaucratic feat, so reminiscent of the „soft” Communist regimes of Yugoslavia, Hungary and today, China (and Zhang's language sounds less like a banker than that of a Chinese Communist Party functionary, does it not?), the twin, simultaneous qualities of infinite discretion combined with infinite rules. A bureaucracy that has a rule for every occasion - and the discretion to ignore them whenever and however it feels like. No wonder the institution is so resistant to Wolfowitz's rule of law agenda. (