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International Investigations

World Bank

In order to help promote accountability at the World Bank, Government Accountability Project monitors the Bank’s lending and corporate practices closely by providing a safe haven for whistleblowers. The Bank, like other international institutions, enjoys immunity from national laws as it pursues its goal of sustainable development in poor and middle-income countries. As a result, staff typically cannot sue the Bank, leaving whistleblowers without protection if subjected to retaliation after reporting corruption, fraud or misconduct. Accountability at the Bank requires freedom of speech for staff members, without fear of reprisal. Without effective protection for those who report corruption and fraud, funds may be diverted and project goals ignored.

In 2008, the Bank adopted Staff Rule 8.02: “Protection and Procedures for Reporting Misconduct.” The new rule represented an improvement over pre-existing rules and protections for whistleblowers, but problems remain. Since the adoption of the whistleblower protection policy, Government Accountability Project has monitored the application and shortcomings of the measure and represents clients who have sought to shield themselves from reprisal by claiming protection.

Government Accountability Project represents whistleblowers from the Bank when their claims suggest that the institution has violated the public trust and operated in a manner contrary to the public interest. Allegations of corruption, fraud, discrimination in hiring, lack of due process, and abuse of authority, have been examined and reported by Government Accountability Project. We have also been prominently involved in exposing several ongoing or past scandals at the World Bank. These include:
  • The Paul Wolfowitz Scandal: As president of the World Bank, Paul Wolfowitz’s tenure was rife with corruption. Anonymous whistleblowers at the World Bank made multiple disclosures to Government Accountability Project regarding various acts of wrongdoing. A few months after Wolfowitz assumed the new position, Government Accountability Project received an anonymous email from a World Bank staffer which included a report from the World Bank’s office in Jordan. The report mentioned that one of the organization’s Iraqi consultants had been shot and nearly killed while in Baghdad. Protocol dictated that the staff is informed whenever there is a personnelle injury, however, standard procedures were not followed. When Government Accountability Project and the media began questioning why the incident was not officially reported, World Bank officials attempted to conceal the facts.Shortly afterward, Government Accountability Project also received the payroll records of Shaha Riza, Wolfowitz’s partner and an employee at the World Bank. The documents revealed that Riza received two large salary raises over the course of two years, the first just a few months after Wolfowitz became president of the World Bank. Both raises vastly exceeded that which would have been permitted under bank rules. The first raise of $47,300 represented a 35.5 percent increase in salary whereas bank rules would have allowed a maximum of 12 percent increase. The second raise, $13,590, was another 7.5 percent increase, but bank rules permitted no more than a 3.7 percent increase.By publishing information regarding these disclosures and working with the press to further investigations, the Government Accountability Project paved the way for Wolfowitz’s eventual resignation.

  • Satyam & Cyber-Security – In 2008, the Bank’s chief vendor for cyber-security, Satyam Computer Services of India, came under scrutiny as the IT system the company had designed appeared vulnerable. The facts that emerged about the scandal subsequently included a massive accounting fraud, an ineffective World Bank response to the emergency, and persistent questions about the integrity of the Bank and its actions. Satyam collapsed under the weight of the fraud in January 2009, and is now known as “India’s Enron.”

  • The cover-up of the Spread of HIV in India – In 2008, Government Accountability Project client Dr. Kunal Saha came forward with evidence that World Bank funds had been used for years to purchase defective test kits designed to detect the presence of HIV/AIDS in blood samples. The kits, which had been procured by the Indian government and distributed to hospitals and blood banks across the country, gave ‘false negative’ readings at an alarmingly high rate. As a consequence, HIV-contaminated blood would appear to be suitable for distribution. After Dr. Saha reported these findings to the investigative unit at the World Bank, he faced a coordinated attempt to defame him and undermine his efforts to safeguard the Indian Public.

Regional Development Banks

The international team works to strengthen accountability measures in intergovernmental organizations and the regional development banks, which represent an important dimension of multilateral grants and loans. Because the Asian Development Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the African Development Bank, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development all enjoy sovereign immunities in the countries where they operate, staff contractors and vendors need the same whistleblower protections that other, larger international institutions should provide.

All of these institutions, however, lack a meaningful forum for the adjudication of a complaint of retaliation. Thus far, none of them provide whistleblowers with access to an independent, external judicial forum or to external arbitration. Complaints are heard in an office or before a grievance panel that consists of employees of the same institution, people who can be, and often are, subject to intimidation or influence by management. A structural conflict of interest taints these proceedings. While the regional development banks, particularly the African Development Bank, allude to the possibility of alternative dispute resolution, in practice they have not gone beyond allowing mediation by a third party chosen from a roster of mediators that is, in turn, compiled by management.

Government Accountability Project continues to work with the regional development banks to improve and strengthen both their policies and their internal justice systems. Our goal is to provide whistleblowers with a safe channel for reporting corruption as well as a fair forum for seeking relief from retaliation.

United Nations

The United Nations is the source of fundamental international law on universal human rights to freedom of expression and access to information. Government Accountability Project advocates on behalf of the conviction that whistleblowers have fundamental rights consistent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and treaties adopted by the UN General Assembly. Government Accountability Project works to ensure that these rights are honored by the institution itself when employees from the UN system disclose misconduct.

Government Accountability Project has represented whistleblowers from the UN secretariat, UN Department of Safety and Security (UNDSS), UN Development Programme (UNDP), World Food Programme (WFP), UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), and UN Police (UNPOL), among others. Because the institution operates beyond the reach of national laws, courts, and investigative bodies, Government Accountability Project has also advocated for reforms in its conflict resolution system and investigative units, so that those systems will be more effective. Government Accountability Project has also advised several staff associations within the UN system about whistleblower protections.