Nobel laureate Romer decries lack of 'integrity' under Georgieva at World Bank

Ms Kristalina Georgieva speaks during a joint press conference at the end of the Summit on the Financing of African Economies in Paris on May 18, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Romer said the current head of the International Monetary Fund, in her previous senior role at the World Bank, engineered a "whitewash" of his concerns surrounding the bank's flagship report.

In an interview with AFP on Thursday (Sept 16), Dr Romer said there was a "lack of integrity" among the World Bank leadership, including then chief executive Kristalina Georgieva.

Earlier in the day, the World Bank announced it was immediately discontinuing its Doing Business report after an independent investigation commissioned by its board found irregularities in the 2018 and 2020 editions and concluded that Ms Georgieva pressed staff for alterations to avoid angering China.

Dr Romer said that during his time at the World Bank, he was not aware of Ms Georgieva pushing staff on China.

But "I had some suspicions that things like this might be going on". Dr Romer resigned from his post as chief economist in January 2018 after he went public with his concerns about how the bank made "arbitrary" alterations to the methodology that drastically changed rankings for some countries, notably Chile.

He said the changes lowered the rankings under Chile's socialist leader Michelle Bachelet, but raised them under her more conservative successor President Sebastian Pinera.

"When I raised these questions, Kristalina engineered a cover up, a whitewash," he said. "I was reporting to people who lacked integrity. It was intolerable."

He said Ms Georgieva worked closely with Mr Simeon Djankov who handled the "quote audit" of the report to look into his concerns.

Mr Djankov, a former Bulgarian finance minister, had returned to the bank after his role in government, and was a creator of the Doing Business report.

The investigation not only found that Ms Georgieva but also Mr Djankov and then President Jim Kim pressured staff to alter the report to favour China. Ms Georgieva disputed the findings. The bank released the findings by law firm WilmerHale that cited a "toxic environment" for the staff.

It was particularly damning about Mr Djankov's actions, saying he told staff he had friends on the ethics board who would reveal if any complaints were made against him.

Mr Djankov left the bank in March 2020 and staff first reported the issues in June 2020.

"The kind of intimidation this report describes was real," Dr Romer said. "Eventually, you know, I was not comfortable continuing to report to Kristalina. So I went public with my allegations, just as a way to just get myself fired."

The IMF declined to comment on Dr Romer's accusations.

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