02 June 2005

Wolfensohn. Wolfowitz. Who's next, Woolsey?

Well, Paul Wolfowitz is now head of the World Bank.

One of his new duties is to clean up the mess he helped create in his last job. Sounds like a conflict of interest, huh? Break something so you can get paid to fix it. I've always thought that lawyers, who have a vested interest in incomprehensible laws, should not be allowed to be legislators.

Wolfowitz has given his e-mail address to those who now work for him, which is apparently meant to make them feel a little more comfortable about working with a guy whose previous job description was something like "Warmonger".

And what are they supposed to do with that e-mail address?
Dear Paul, I just don't trust you. What should I do? Love, Your Peon

Dear Peon, Start by updating your resume. Love, Paul
While he rightly says that he's going to focus his attention on Africa, I hope he gives a thought or two to Cambodia. I've been hearing a lot lately from my suppliers that prices on imported goods are going up because of the World Bank. The story I hear is that the Bank has insisted that Customs start collecting the statutory import duties. Previously, those duties would be overlooked when an appropriate bribe was paid to the officials.

No problem, I hear you thinking — just replace the bribe with a duty, and all is good. Better, even, since it's legal and transparent and all that good stuff.

Problem is, customs officials, like most government employees here, are paid very low wages — $30-40/month. So they are forced to take bribes. After all, how else will they pay for their villas? So my suppliers now pay both the import duty and a bribe. Prices go up, fewer people can afford the goods, and development gets set back just a little more.

A river of aid money flows into this country. The most recent figure I heard was $550 m, and this for a country of 12 m. If the part of that river that goes into the pockets of top officials instead went to pay decent salaries for civil servants, none of the above would have to happen. Over to you, Mr Wolfowitz.