Apr 17 2012
The World Bank has named US doctor Jim Yong Kim as its next president.
The appointment came as Dr Kim’s only rival, Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, lashed out at Washington’s perennial lock on the job.
The US nominee faced a challenge for the first time ever.
But there was little doubt that the bank’s most powerful shareholders – the United States, Europe and Japan – would support the Korean-American for the powerful job doling out money to developing countries.
But ahead of the meeting of the bank’s directors, Ms Okonjo-Iweala – herself a veteran of the institution – slated the way the United States has held a lock on the position since the bank was launched.
“You know this thing is not really being decided on merit,” she told reporters in Abuja.
“It is voting with political weight and shares and therefore the United States will get it.”
A third candidate, Colombian former finance minister Jose Antonio Ocampo, dropped out on Friday also complaining the selection process was purely political and not merit-based.
There had been some hopes from critics of the bank that the powerful emerging Brics economies – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – might coalesce around Ms Okonjo-Iweala.
But those were scotched when Moscow on Friday publicly endorsed Dr Kim.
By a tacit agreement dating back to the sister institutions’ founding, Washington has always chosen the World Bank head while Europe supplies the leader of the International Monetary Fund.
However, like the leadership succession last year at the IMF, the race to head the bank has sparked muscle-flexing by newly-empowered emerging economies and poorer countries which have called for a more open process based on merit.
“We have come some way because it’s no longer in the smoke-filled rooms of Europe and the US that the spoils are shared between the IMF and World Bank positions, between those two centres of power. This time the invitation was open to anybody to nominate a candidate,” South African finance minister Pravin Gordhan said on Monday.
But, he added: “The question is whether the process subsequent to that… has followed through on basic democratic tenets.”
South Africa endorsed Ms Okonjo-Iweala’s quest to succeed president Robert Zoellick, the former US diplomat who will leave at the end of his five-year term in June.
The former head of the World Bank, Dr Paul Wolfowitz, gave his support for the incoming president, telling Jeff Randall Live that Dr Kim was an “outstanding choice”.
He said: “Dr Kim really was, I think, an inspired choice by President Obama. He has deep experience in the development field.
“He’s been involved in one of the fairly rare successes in development which was the fight against HIV Aids and what I think is the most important thing, he comes from the outside with a fresh perspective.”
Responding to criticism that Americans have an unfair advantage in being nominated for presidency, Dr Wolfowitz who held the top job from 2005 to 2007 countered: “No American has ever been head of the UN or is likely to be in that position.
“No American has ever headed the IMF. No American heads any of the inter-regional development banks or the WTO (World Trade Organisation) or the WHO (World Health Organisation). It’s not excessive to have one American leading one of these organisations.
“The fact is that the largest single contribution to the World Bank comes from American taxpayers so it’s not such a bad thing to have as a leader someone who can go the US Congress with a lot of credibility and Dr Kim will be able to do that.”
The position is crucial for much of the developing world. The president oversees a staff of 9,000 economists, development experts and other policy specialists, and a loan portfolio that hit $258bn in 2011, including $43bn in new loans and grants.
Despite the grumbling from outside the US-Europe axis, the nomination of Dr Kim, a medical doctor with deep experience fighting HIV/Aids in developing countries and head of prestigious Dartmouth College, marks a significant change from the American bankers and diplomats who have been tapped to lead the bank in the past.
But critics worry Dr Kim’s experience is not broad enough to handle all of the fields the World Bank deals with, from infrastructure development to environmental protection.
However, he has travelled to around a dozen countries to introduce himself, apparently convincingly enough to earn solid respect.
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