WASHINGTON – World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz said Wednesday that attention needs to "stay focused on the very, very important work of the bank" and not on the investigation that has placed his job in jeopardy.
His comments to a European Union-hosted meeting in Brussels, Belgium, came after the bank's board expressed fresh concern that the controversy over Wolfowitz's handling of pay for his girlfriend is hurting the poverty-fighting institution's ability to do its job.
The flap has prompted calls for Wolfowitz's resignation and has hurt morale among the bank's 10,000 employees worldwide. Critics contend the bank's reputation has been damaged and its efforts to raise billions of dollars to help poor countries may be hobbled.
"The bank's work goes on," Wolfowitz said. "It is critical, there are millions of poor people who depend on us."
The 24-member board, after meeting several hours with a special panel probing Wolfowitz' handling of the 2005 promotion and pay package of bank employee Shaha Riza, issued a statement late Tuesday night saying it is "very concerned about the impact on the work" of the poverty-fighting institution.
For the last two days, the special panel has heard from Wolfowitz, his girlfriend Riza and other present and former bank officials about Riza's promotion and pay raises that lifted her compensation from close to $133,000 to $193,590.
The board said the next step is for the special panel to "draw its conclusions from the information obtained from the documents and during the course of the interviews" and expeditiously submit a report to the directors.
Ultimately, the directors will decide what action should be taken, if any. The board could ask Wolfowitz to resign, signal it lacks confidence in his leadership, reprimand him, or take no action. There might also be a compromise under which Wolfowitz would be found to have acted in good faith and he would resign later.
The board promised to make a decision soon.
Wolfowitz dodged questions about his fate, saying, "The board is considering this issue."
South Korea, which holds one of the seats on the bank board, declined to weigh in publicly on the case Wednesday.
"Our government believes that it is desirable to commission the board of directors to handle it appropriately, rather than expressing a specific position externally, because this issue is related to internal management of the World Bank," South Korea's finance and economy ministry told The Associated Press.