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Protecting Whistleblowers since 1977

Mismanagement at the Global Partnership for Education: Tribunal Rules Against Senior Manager

Alison Glick, January 21, 2016

A group of whistleblowers from the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), a trust fund of the World Bank, recently contacted the Government Accountability Project (GAP) with concerns about serious mismanagement problems at the top of the operation. They watched a high-level GPE official manipulate a recruitment process to exclude a highly-qualified professional, and, though the victim was ultimately given some relief through the World Bank Tribunal, she was not given the job she sought, while the (mis)manager was promoted rather than disciplined.

At GAP, where we work with whistleblowers, a setup like this trips the alarms. First, a qualified professional loses her position because of an ‘irregular’ recruitment process. Second, the supervisor who rigged the recruitment suffers no consequences, even when the World Bank Tribunal rules against her. Third, staff members looking on will not come forward for fear of retaliation. In this one case, then, there is abuse of authority, impunity and (fear of) retaliation.

Often, when the Tribunal issues a ruling in favor of a complainant who was victimized by an unethical official, the prevailing sense is that ‘justice is done.’ This was, in fact, the opinion expressed by a GPE board member about the outcome here. But justice is not done. The victim of favoritism got a bit of cash rather than a job she was qualified for and the guilty party got a promotion rather than – at the very least – a reprimand. The ultimate victims, of course, are the intended beneficiaries of GPE: Rather than being provided with the best educational services the trust fund can offer, they must deal with an organization whose mismanagement at the highest levels needlessly saps resources and talent. This situation deserves serious attention, not only by the GPE Secretariat and Board, but by the Fund’s donors, who contribute millions every year.

The story of CP and ML

Comparing the fates of a former GPE employee, CP, and ML, the manager whose improper actions negatively affected her career, raises many questions about an organization whose mission is educating the world’s poor. The case in point made its way last year through the World Bank Administrative Tribunal, the judicial forum of last resort for Bank employees. In “CP” vs. the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Tribunal found GPE in breach of a legally valid promise to CP regarding her initial two-year contract, and culpable of staging a hiring process “tainted by irregularities.” As a result of a manipulated process, CP was not hired for a Term (regular staff) position, and lost her short-term contract with GPE after one year. While the Tribunal awarded her 15 months’ salary and $15,000 in attorney’s fees, it dismissed her claims that GPE mismanaged her career. It is such long-term damage that is elided when monetary damages, as temporarily helpful as they may be, are substituted for accountability and meaningful restitution.

So what happens to a talented professional after such an ordeal, and what happens to those found responsible for creating it? A cursory look at Decision 506, the Tribunal’s ruling in CP’s case, and disclosures made to GAP offers some answers.

CP’s case at the Tribunal involves two related employment actions, on their face the stuff of staid jurisprudence: the terms under which she accepted a position as an Extended Term Consultant (ETC -- short-term contract) in April 2012, and her subsequent application for permanent Term employment with the Bank. The Tribunal decided that GPE had, in fact, made “an unequivocal and unambiguous promise to the Applicant for a contract of a duration of at least two years” for the ETC position, so ending her appointment after one year was a contract breach requiring compensation. The Tribunal cites a number of precedent cases and a thorough analysis of communications between CP and GPE management in reaching its decision. The issue then turns to the Term appointment, with CP asserting that she had been told when hired that her position would be converted from a contractor to a Term appointment without further ado. Again relying on precedent and analysis of emails, the Tribunal ruled that no such promise was made.

In looking at the hiring process for the Term position, this case takes on a different hue when the supervisor’s misconduct enters the equation. Again citing case precedent, Decision 506 notes that while the Tribunal cannot assess the qualifications of the candidates:

“…the Tribunal is charged with determining whether the Bank’s decision was the product of bias, prejudice, arbitrariness, manifest unreasonableness, or unfair or improper procedure. Thus, if the Bank’s conclusion regarding the Applicant’s qualifications for selection… altogether lacks support in factual evidence or reasonable inference, that conclusion must be found to be an abuse of discretion.”

The abuse in question focuses on the actions of the Chair of the Interview Panel, “Ms. ML,” then Acting Country Support Team Coordinator. Several pages of Decision 506 describe the “bait-and-switch” environment CP encountered once she started working at GPE, first by “Ms. SB,” the Country Team Support Coordinator who initially contacted CP, asking her to consider the position and stating that it was for two years. And then by ML, who continued SB’s practice of changing CP’s country portfolio, which occurred several times. These changes happened often without warning, sometimes while CP was abroad on mission, and despite evidence that her work in country was successful. The result was strained relations between the two.

In late 2012, CP applied for a Term position with GPE. She was shortlisted, took a written test and was interviewed by a Panel chaired by ML. In early 2013, the interview panel prepared a report written by ML, the initial version of which rated CP as a “suitable” candidate, but the final version of which rated her “not suitable.”

In attempting to ascertain how and why CP’s rating changed, “the Tribunal called upon the Bank to produce contemporaneous communications from the interview process.” GPE initially ignored the order and only complied at the very end of the Tribunal proceedings after a second order was issued.

These communications show that ML informed the panel that the list of “suitable” candidates had been shortened to exclude CP and two others, and sent the members a new ratings matrix that identified CP as “not suitable,” according to the Decision.“ In addition, the ratings given to the Applicant in the first matrix had been lowered and the overall comments on her assessment had changed…” with reference to her “extensive country level experience” deleted. Instead, the overall comments focused on criticism of CP’s performance, though she had never had a formal performance evaluation.

In other words, ML presided over an interview process in which the objective ratings of candidates were changed to produce an outcome by which a staff member with whom she had a tense relationship went from being rated “suitable” to “not suitable” for a job whose duties she had been performing well for a year. In the words of the Tribunal:

“The Tribunal does not see any reasonable basis in fact for the new ratings. The Tribunal notes that if the ratings did not initially align with the comments in the first report, proper ratings aligning with such comments should have been given earlier by the interview panel. Nor should new overall comments have been given to justify the new decision. In addition, a clear explanation of the reasons for the changes should have been given through contemporaneous communications of the interview panel. Moreover there is no evidence of a discussion among other members of the panel of these reductions.”

The epilogue of the tale of CP and ML

With her health impacted by the stress of a year of changing assignments, broken promises that found her without a job after barely a year of what was supposed to be a two-year contract, and the humiliation of a tainted search process, what happened to CP after limping through the doors of the Global Partnership for Education one final time? We’d love to know.

And what about ML, the GPE manager who oversaw the process that violated the Bank’s clearly established recruiting procedures? She was promoted.

In February 2015, GPE CEO Alice Albright sent around an announcement about ML’s promotion to the staff that identified the three top priorities in her new position as:

(i) leading the GPE Secretariat’s overall dialogue with its developing country partners and building a stronger understanding of the value added of GPE at the country level, (ii) leading the country support team through a period of change and growth, and (iii) implementing a new funding model which makes grants dependent in part on education sector performance.  She will serve as a member of GPE’s Leadership Team.

What is the “value added” of an organization that rewards the misdeeds of its “Leadership Team?” Will “change and growth” occur at the expense of, say, transparency, accountability and ethical behavior? Will “education sector performance” assessment be conducted in the same way as GPE conducts its job candidate assessments?

Stay tuned for more…