By Douglas Gillison
In seven languages, the website of World Bank’s office for investigating corruption calls on the public to come forward with complaints and tips about fraud, coercion and collusion, offering whistleblowers the safety of remaining anonymous.
But internal data show that within the bank, employees at the anti-corruption office, known as the Integrity Vice Presidency, are themselves among the most fearful of speaking up about wrongdoing at their own organization.
Detailed results of an internal survey of employee “engagement” at the World Bank, the first institution-wide poll of attitudes among staff since 2009, shows that fear of retaliation for reporting wrongdoing generally runs strongest at bank headquarters in Washington.
100Reporters obtained the results, which the World Bank did not release publicly, and analyzed them for comparison by department. Portions of the survey, completed earlier this year, were first reported on by 100Reporters in March.
Broadly, the survey of more than 13,000 employees showed a general disconnect between rank-and-file and senior leadership, with many perceiving favoritism in promotions, a lack of “openness and trust” with top brass and disharmony among senior managers as the bank undergoes a broad restructuring.
The survey shows that workplace dejection within the bank is not evenly distributed, with some corporate and inward-facing offices in Washington expressing much stronger signs of discontent than regional departments that work directly with the bank’s clients around the world.
While 24 percent of employees bank-wide gave an unfavorable response to the assertion — “I can report unethical behavior without fear of reprisal” — in the Integrity Vice Presidency, this number surpassed two in five, or 41 percent.
This was followed by 39 percent in Operations Policy and Country Services and 36 percent in the Corporate Secretariat, the office that provides administrative services to the bank’s 25 executive directors, who represent bank member states.
Slide Show: Corners of Discontent” credit=”Douglas Gillison /
Click here to download the graphs in PDF format.
Paul Cadario, a former senior manager who stepped down in 2012 after nearly 40 years in various roles at the bank, said that the survey as a whole made the institution appear vindictive and not merit-based.
But seeing more pronounced unhappiness in some quarters could have a contagious effect within the bank, he said.
“It suggests a kind of gray-area behavior that creates corporate risk,” he said. “As soon as you’ve got people saying, ‘People get away with murder around here and I shouldn’t say anything because I’ll be retaliated against,’ that is bad for the bank.”
The data obtained by 100Reporters, while extensive, does not include results for all bank offices. However, a sampling of questions showed a clear trend in which stronger signs of dissatisfaction emanated from areas including the legal department, the Integrity Vice Presidency, the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (which provides political risk insurance to foreign investors), and Operations Policy and Country Services — an office with responsibilities in a variety of areas, from bank policy to work in fragile states.
David Theis, a World Bank spokesman, referred to the bank’s stated position on the survey, underscoring positive results in employees’ pride in their work and President Jim Kim’s commitment to prevent whistleblower retribution.
“We are addressing the concerns that staff expressed in the survey,” Theis said. “That will make us a stronger institution better positioned to meet the needs of our clients.”
Under Kim’s presidency, the bank is in the midst of cost-cutting and a fundamental restructuring, its first in 17-years, leaving many uncertain of their future, something observers have linked to rising levels of dissatisfaction among bank employees.
Uncertainty can migrate downstream, leaving some to imbibe their superiors’ anxiety, according to one bank official in Washington who asked not to be named for fear of retribution.
“You can see it from their boss. They’re going bananas, some of these people,” the official said.
“Everybody is running around in circles to find a mandate, to justify their existence.”
The survey’s findings appeared to support criticisms of bank policy, according to which staff are pushed to make deals but dissuaded from sounding the alarm about potential pitfalls, leaving environmental and social problems to arise after those financing the deals have long since moved on.
In addition to showing skepticism of internal whistleblower policies, 49 percent of employees at the Integrity Vice Presidency denied that senior management created “a culture of openness and trust” or that they understood the direction in which management were leading the bank. And 57 percent rejected the proposition that management acted “as a unified leadership team.”
A majority of employees at the Legal Vice Presidency, 52 percent, denied that good work was rewarded and 41 percent believed that promotions were not based on merit. Forty-four percent rated their opportunities for career advancement negatively.
At Operations Policy and Country Services, majorities disputed that a culture of openness and trust prevailed among senior management. Some 34 percent disagreed with the statement that poor performance “is typically not tolerated.”
“Generally, people in the country office are more satisfied with their job,” said Eduardo Velez Bustillo, a former education sector manager who is now a consultant to the bank. “You are closer to the client and most of the time are solving problems first hand, in real time.”
“HQ can be alienating as you may be called to do ‘bureaucratic’ non-productive work,” Velez wrote in an email. “This is not new.”
Inward-facing offices, such as operations policy, the integrity office and the legal department, often find themselves in roles of oversight, which can be alienating.
Last month, for example, staff at the operations policy office reported their peers were overly “optimistic” when reviewing their own projects, typically overstating their successes.
Operations policy found that average “satisfactory outcome” ratings for bank-financed projects began a sharp decline in 2006, dropping ten percentage points from a historical high of 81 percent that year to just over 70 percent by 2012. Among regional offices, projects in the Africa region as well as the Middle East had the lowest performance between 2006 and 2010. The South Asia region saw the largest decline.
But, between 2008 and 2012, 36 percent of all projects in which outcomes had been rated “moderately satisfactory” by the officials managing them were later downgraded to “moderately unsatisfactory” or below by the Independent Evaluation Group, an internal office that assesses World Bank projects, the review said. (Survey data for Independent Evaluation Group was not available.)
“In any organization, you have units that absorb the toxicity. They’re the gatekeepers, the compliance people,” said Cadario. “From that point of view, they’re not going to have as great job satisfaction.”
“They spend their time reporting upward to a senior management that, as they say, does not appear cohesive, does not act as a team.”