World Bank Cambodia Country Director Ian Porter's response (PPPost, Issue 14/08,
April 22-May 5, 2005) to my piece regarding demobilization (PPPost, Issue 14/05,
March 11-24, 2005) was in several respects thoroughly predictable. Critics of Bank
projects were, as always, characterized as impatient, naive, opposed to due process,
and unaware that many problematic issues lay "outside the Bank's mandate."
The surprise in Mr. Porter's response was his willingness to make my main point even
more skillfully than I had. His brief homily on the difficulties of working in Cambodia
was followed by a laundry list of the Bank's current anticorruption projects and
a recycled description of the investigation into fraudulent procurement. But the
main issue I raised - that of World Bank staff members' culpability in the project's
many problems - went wholly unaddressed. Had Mr. Porter nothing to say about the
twisted imperatives that led to the project? No response to some of his staff members'
clearly lax attitudes on fraud? Not enough humility to admit that some of the problems
that brought the project down were ones that had been brought to the Bank's attention
years in advance? I find Mr. Porter's silence not just deafening but damning.
Mr. Porter was willing to acknowledge that "the project ... [ran] into difficulties."
But apparently no one at the Bank was or is responsible for those difficulties, and
therefore none of its staff members has had to suffer any adverse consequences. In
fact, many of those who worked on the project have been retained by or promoted within
the Bank; others now run firms that are eligible for lucrative Bank contracts; another
is now her country's Finance Minister. It would appear that the Cambodian government
has found a perfect partner in its efforts to build a transparent, meritocratic,
fiscally responsible regime.