On February 16, 2016, Pambazuka News carried an article by Yonas Biru, a former World Bank staff, titled, compares African staff to animal in official report’[/url]. The article precipitated an exchange among three former senior staff of the Bank, which we reproduce here. We have withheld their names and edited their comments slightly to protect their identities.
I appreciate your sharing this article and your personal experience with the appeals process at the World Bank. I myself faced, as you rightly state, the "kangaroo court" on three occasions and luckily came out unbruised, thanks not much to our obstructive Personnel honchos, but to the consistent support of my client/Operations Managers and the reasonableness and strength of my cases.
The major impressions I got from my three decades of work at WB are:
1). The organization could take pride in housing the best brains in many fields, however these "creams of the crop" were frustrated soon after they arrived there. The main reason was it was a classic bureaucracy -- as bad as it was in a developing country -- where ideas were welcomed but were often shot down because they were not to the liking of the big bosses, not to speak of the volumes of memos and paper work they had to learn to overcome;
2). It was run by a majority Anglo-Saxon group who for most part was bent on encouraging and protecting their own kind, in terms of appreciation and advancement, however hard and sincere the others worked;
3). The Personnel/HR functioned at its professional best during the days of Reg Clarke in the 70s; thereafter it succumbed to serving the interests of senior management and not as the "conscience of the institution";
4). The group's managers always looked for ways to save their skins at the cost of their subordinates, particularly in times of reforms/changes in WB. These individuals were willing to do anything to please the senior management without regard to reason, logic, common sense and staff interests;
5). The appeals process was set up in such a fashion that HR acted both as the judge and the jury. For several years, the due process was in name only, and the aggrieved staff members could not bring in their outside counsel to represent them, while the institution's lawyers could be present and argue at hearings. And in most cases, Personnel/HR did not act independent but sided with management without regard to the merits of the case under consideration. Thus I am not surprised to read in your article the extent to which they would go to fudge personnel records to buttress the cases against the petitioning staff members;
6). Most of the HR managers were, in my opinion, wishy-washers and flip floppers in the management of their staff; for instance, they would first agree on a course of action, but would switch theirs views/decisions after checking to see whether their superiors agreed with them. Worse still was their tendency to take credit for their staff's achievements; and
7). These same managers talked to our clients constantly about honest feedback and openness in communications; however, they themselves were not receptive to receive such feedback within the function, and tried to operate in secrecy about what they were going to do. Oftentimes, they were vindictive.
I must confess that I tried in my quiet way to express my concerns to improve the function's climate, but without success. The risk of losing my job in a foreign country and my family circumstances weighed heavily on my mind, therefore I worked way around the above aberrations of professional behavior and exited the institution with my pride and soul intact.
It was so nice to hear from you. I hope you are doing well.
I read with emotion your note recognizing the same man and colleague I have known for over 35 years. You presented facts, well known to me, and you brought to mind things that under normal circumstances should not have happened. During those years of turmoil, confusion and considerable chaos, one good-natured colleague, extremely peaceful in nature, a philosopher of sorts, was so disturbed by what was going on he confided in me that he often thought of violent action to punish the responsible ones. Thank God wiser counsel and better judgment prevailed then but I will never forget the despair on his face and the pain he endured because of the injustices he was suffering from and could not find any way to get a fair hearing.
For me the past is past. We fought our battles on issues we cared about. Sometimes we were totally ignored, sometimes we were half-listened to. We were recruited as experts in our field but essentially our expertise did not count because the people who were supposed to manage the Bank belonged to another planet. And that was fine with me. The only problem that bothered me was the total absence of accountability: people pushed projects, messed around with the lives of people inside and outside the Bank, got promoted and moved on leaving the mess for others to do the clean up. Nobody ever called them to account afterwards because they wore the halo of success given to them by those who recognized their "brilliance" and hence how could they bring them to book for their professional failures without jeopardizing their own situation?
But as I said earlier the past is past and I leave it to the current generation in the Bank to fight their own battles as I recognize the ossified nature of any bureaucracy to behave in the same way over and over again, time after time, unless we decide to become Maoists and promote "perpetual revolution " as a mode of institutional life to bring about painful changes. For the rest we have got other issues to deal with, with or without the Bank.
Many thanks to all for the insightful comments made as regards the institution we spent the larger part of our careers serving to the best of our capabilities. You make a rather critical point: "It was run by a majority Anglo-Saxon group who for most part was bent on encouraging and protecting their own kind, in terms of appreciation and advancement, however hard and sincere the others worked." This as I discern from my own 28 years at the Bank, as consultant then regular, was seriously harmful in many ways.
This Anglo-Saxon group must have truly believed that simply by taking the trouble of being born, they deserve all the rights and privileges associated with managing the Bank Group. I could not help but experience that that group expected all other ethnicities to only be grateful to have been recruited and allowed to join the Group. Moreover, in the cases where a member of another ethnic group managed to make it to Director/VP/SVP/MD...he or she was duly thankful and greatly appreciative, so much so that it did not take the brain of a genius to observe over time and a multitude of concerns and issues that their first and foremost allegiance was to, who else, the Anglo-Saxon group, invariably and with regular frequency at the expense of the vast, vast majority of the staff.
Basically, meritocracy and relevant skills, talent and overall competency were by no means the focus or priority in regards the selection and assignment of people to decision-making positions, leading directly to what [former staffer] eloquently outlined as "the total absence of accountability: people pushed projects, messed around with the lives of people inside and outside the Bank, got promoted and moved on leaving the mess for others to do the clean up. Nobody ever called them to account afterwards because they wore the halo of success given to them by those who recognized their "brilliance" and hence how could they bring them to book for their professional failures without jeopardizing their own situation."
Greetings to all