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Big bonus for World Bank finance chief sparks staff protests

[WASHINGTON] A US$94,000 bonus for the World Bank's finance chief, disclosed in an internal blog, is drawing criticism from staff who are questioning it amid planned layoffs and budget cuts at the bank.

Bertrand Badre, the chief financial officer, who has pushed much of the cost-cutting, received the bonus in "recognition of his skills," according to an internal World Bank blog seen by Reuters.

World Bank spokesman David Theis said the bonus was justified given Badre's experience and strong track record at the bank.

The bonus would come on top of Badre's salary, which has not yet been released. He earned US$379,000 in the 2013 fiscal year.

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The World Bank has been cutting costs as part of a massive reorganisation that its president, Jim Yong Kim, hopes will make the poverty-fighting institution more efficient and effective.

But the changes in the bank's organization, its internal funding measures and its focus have demoralised employees, who fret about budget and job cuts, unclear lines of command and a general lack of information. "We question the timing of such payments (to Badre) given the sacrifices the rest of us are being asked to make," the World Bank staff association said in an email to its members last week. "At a time of employment insecurity, staff down-sizing, and belt-tightening, we are mystified as to how President Kim and his senior management could be so blind to the optics of providing these kinds of bonuses," the association said in the email, which was obtained by Reuters.

The bank also increased the maximum possible salary for top officials and senior staff by at least 3 per cent, while cutting the salary ceiling for 86 per cent of employees, according to another World Bank blog.

A bank spokesman said no employee's salary was being cut.

A yellow flyer circulating at the bank this week called for a 15-minute work "stoppage" next Thursday, the day before the bank's fall meetings with the International Monetary Fund opens, to protest a lack of clarity on staff cuts and other changes.

One employee called Badre's bonus "outrageous" on an internal blog, while another lamented the "double standard" that applies to top officials versus other staff.

Badre is one of four senior officials who received bonuses under a "scarce skills premium" meant to help the bank attract staff with skills that are in short supply. The names of the other three have not been released.

The premium was previously available only to employees outside the United States, but the bank's board extended it to the Washington headquarters in July 2013. It had planned to disclose the rules change in the bank's annual report later this month. "The World Bank needs to attract and retain senior management of high caliber," Theis said in an email. "Bertrand Badre has deep management experience in some of the largest financial institutions in Europe, and he has a strong track record here at the bank." For the 2013 fiscal year, which ended June 2013, Kim was paid US$476,360. Salaries for fiscal 2014 will be published in the annual report.

The World Bank wants to slash US$400 million from its budget by the middle of 2017 to free up money for development projects, and it has said it would likely need to lay off some employees.

The bank has said the cuts would help it boost lending to middle-income countries by US$100 billion over the next decade. - Reuters