World Bank: Managing director purges family planning increasing women's risk of AIDS in Madagascar Print E-mail
 London -- April 16 2007

Unplanning families

The World Bank is embroiled in a new scandal following the extraordinary behaviour of its managing director.
By Sarah Boseley

Extraordinary things are happening at the World Bank. That's international development secretary Hilary Benn's word - not mine - and on this occasion he was not talking about Paul Wolfowitz, the president, manoeuvering his girlfriend into a well-paid job. He was talking about the leaked email that revealed how managing director Juan Jose Daboub had ordered staff to purge a key document defining the support it will give to Madagascar of all references to family planning.
World Bank manager Juan Jose Daboub

Why would Mr Daboub do that? Because of his religious beliefs, it is assumed. He is the former finance minister of El Salvador and a member of the Arena party, which is close to the Catholic church. It is said he is a member of Opus Dei, the Catholic sect that author Dan Brown has ensured everyone has heard of.

What he has done is outrageous and he must know it. Leave aside the issue of his conscience for a moment. In a statement, Mr Daboub said he is a paid employee of the bank, answerable to the board and that his job is to carry out bank policy. What is the bank policy on reproductive health? It is to increase access to family planning so that women - too often the low-status sexual prey of men in poor countries - can have a better chance of a healthy life. Women in Africa are at risk of HIV infection, the complications of pregnancy and unsafe abortion. The government of Madagascar knows that - it specifically asked the bank for family planning help. The bank set the goal of increasing contraception coverage from 14% to 20%. Mr Daboub ordered the target to be deleted.

So Mr Daboub was not carrying out bank policy. If his conscience prevented him from carrying out bank policy, he should quit. If he does not quit, he should be sacked. Bank insiders are concerned that other documents on health provision in highly fertile, Aids-hit African countries may also have been tampered with. Mr Daboub needs to go before more damage is done.

But it may take more to restore credibility in the World Bank, already tarnished by Mr Wolfowitz's unseemly behaviour. What this episode suggests is chaotic management. How could Mr Daboub unilaterally change the bank's reproductive health policies? Perhaps because his boss is not concentrating. The answer, surely, is for the pair of them to pack their bags.

  April 12 2007

World Bank under fire over Aids policy

By Eoin Callan and Krishna Guha in Washington

The embattled leadership of the World Bank faced fresh questions on Thursday about the role of the executive in apparent changes to Bank policy on promoting contraception to combat the spread of Aids.

The Government Accountability Project accused Juan José Daboub, the bank’s managing director, of “attempting to radically alter a long-standing health strategy at the World Bank”.

Paul Wolfowitz, president of the Bank, ruled out any change to bank policy on reproductive health, as he faced calls for his resignation over his role in securing a large pay rise and promotion for a Bank official with whom he was romantically involved.

“I want to make it clear personally, I think reproductive health is absolutely crucial,” he said.

Staff contacted by the Financial Times said officials were ordered last month by Mr Daboub to remove all references to family planning from a proposal to fund efforts to combat the disease and fight poverty in Madagascar.

Mr Daboub instructed subordinates to strike the references from a funding package requested by the country, staff claimed in interviews and in an internal document obtained by the FT.

There was no explanation provided in the documents for the change and Mr Daboub’s office did not reply to requests for clarification.

The staff said there was a widespread perception within the bank that the emphasis on contraception in preventing disease was being altered following the appointment of the managing director, a former member of the ruling conservative party in El Salvador.

An internal bank email dated March 8 headed “MD clearance” said the managing director had made a request “to take out all references to family planning” from a country assistance proposal for Madagascar.

The email added that the request “creates a potential problem” because upcoming proposals would also include “family planning measures in response to the government’s strong request for help in this area”.

Three bank employees confirmed the authenticity of the document, while one recipient said they could not recall the details of the email, which was shared with the Government Accountability Project.

Beatrice Edwards, a member of the non-profit group, said: “José Daboub is attempting to radically alter a long standing health strategy at the World Bank with dangerous consequences for poor women who need family planning services.”

A separate draft proposal for a new worldwide health strategy due to be circulated at this weekend’s meeting of the bank also places less emphasis on contraception than in the past, according to staff contacted by the FT.

Staff said the proposed changes were widely seen within the bank as a departure from long-standing bank strategy of promoting the use of contraception to combat the spread of Aids in poor countries.

The issue has revived internal bank discussion about pressure to alter policy on family planning to reflect religious teachings and has added to misgivings among some staff about the leadership of Mr Wolfowitz.

The president of the bank was criticised for drawing too heavily on conservative allies of the Bush administration when he appointed his senior management team.