Article: After reports of data rigging, can World Bank still save credibility?

Leadership

After reports of data rigging, can World Bank still save credibility?

Controversy over the World Bank's alleged manipulation of data underscores the value of institutional credibility more than ever – and it's a cautionary tale all business leaders can learn from.
After reports of data rigging, can World Bank still save credibility?

The former chief executive of the World Bank – who was purportedly involved in data rigging for a high-profile report – will remain in her role at the International Monetary Fund. But experts contend that the decision to retain the executive raises doubts about the credibility of the World Bank as a trusted institution.

Kristalina Georgieva, who once served as World Bank CEO and is now managing director of the IMF, will keep her post at the Fund despite an independent audit suggesting she had forced subordinates to manipulate data on country rankings during her time at the World Bank. 

The probe began when the law firm WilmerHale conducted the audit and found possible distortions in the World Bank's "Doing Business" report. Changes to the findings were said to be made in favour of China, one of the bank's top shareholders.

Details of the investigation purport that, in 2017, Georgieva called staff members to a meeting to review the data. Thereafter, an adviser to Georgieva was said to have worked with the staff to make changes that would allegedly bolster China's ranking from number 85 to 78.

Georgieva has denied all claims that she pressured staff into massaging the numbers. 

"The truth is, I asked the team to triple check its findings to ensure accuracy – period," Georgieva said.

Top leaders at the IMF expressed "full confidence" in Georgieva, stating that their findings "did not conclusively demonstrate that the Managing Director played an improper role."

The idea that a top World Bank official would steer the fact-checking process for a specific country, however, leads experts to doubt the integrity and credibility of the financial institution.

Data-rigging: A cautionary tale for leaders

"The World Bank has become a global statistical agency," former World Bank lead economist Ioannis Kessides told the Wall Street Journal. As such, claims of manipulation – especially one with a political motive – can cause "substantial" reputational damage.

Former US Treasury official Mark Sobel echoed the same views: "Public trust in international financial institutions has eroded, given the perception that technocratic excellence has been overruled by politics."

The bottom line, according to Paul Romer – the World Bank economist who quit in protest of perceived political bias at the bank – is that institutions must remain truthful in reporting data. "We report what's true; we don't change what's true," he said.

IMF Chief Economist Gita Gopinath, for her part, allayed concerns over the Fund's data integrity. "We have many checks and balances – multiple departments, multiple economies reviewing our data forecasts," she said in an interview. "I feel good about where we are."

The controversy teaches leaders to give data experts, in whatever field, the space to do their job with integrity. To do otherwise – that is, by allowing data manipulation to take place, said Justin Sandefur of the Center for Global Development – is the "path to total nihilism regarding data and evidence".

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Topics: Leadership, C-Suite

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