Kim prevails in first World Bank president
'contest' By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON - Capping an unprecedented
multinational contest for the post, the World
Bank's executive board upheld a nearly 70-year
tradition on Monday by selecting the United States
candidate, global health expert Jim Yong Kim, to
be the Washington-based agency's next president.
Kim, who will take over from the
incumbent, Robert Zoellick, on July 1, prevailed
over two highly regarded candidates, Nigerian
Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, and former
United Nations under secretary general for
economic and social affairs Jose Antonio Ocampo, a
Colombian who also served at the head of his
country's finance, agriculture and planning
Ocampo withdrew from the race
last weekend in favor of Okonjo-Iweala, who served
as the World Bank's managing director from
2007 to 2011 and enjoyed
the support of the African Union (AU) and several
emerging countries, notably South Africa and
Brazil, as well as more than three dozen former
senior World Bank officials who signed an open
letter on her behalf released here last week.
But that was not enough to overcome the
built-in and increasingly criticized voting
majority held by the North American, European and
Japanese representatives on the board.
"You know this thing is not really decided
on merit," Okonjo-Iweala told reporters in Nigeria
just before the executive board was to convene.
"It is voting with political weight and shares,
and therefore the United States will get it."
Similarly, Ocampo, whose candidacy was
supported by scores of development economists
around the world who are critical of the
neo-liberal orthodoxy the World Bank has
championed for most of the past three decades,
denounced the selection process as a "political
exercise" when he announced his withdrawal.
For their part, non-governmental
organizations (NGOs) active in developing
countries welcomed Kim's selection even as they
criticized the process by which he was selected.
"Dr Kim is an excellent choice for World
Bank president and a true development hero," said
Oxfam spokesperson Elizabeth Stuart. "But we'll
never know if he was the best candidate for the
job because there was no true and fair
competition. This sham process has damaged the
institution and sullied Dr Kim's appointment."
Kim, a South Korean-born medical doctor
and anthropologist, will take over an institution
that last year lent some US$43 billion to middle-
and low-income countries and whose private-sector
arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC),
made another $12 billion in new commitments.
His nomination last month by US President
Barack Obama took many experts by surprise
because, unlike his predecessor, he lacked
experience in finance and managing an organization
as large as the bank.
Rather, he had
distinguished himself as a practitioner of
development "in the field", particularly as
co-founder of Partners in Health and later as the
department head at the World Health Organization
(WHO) responsible for combating the spread and
lethality of HIV/AIDS.
"It's time for a
development professional to lead the world's
largest development agency," Obama said in
announcing Kim's nomination, which was swiftly
endorsed by a prominent self-declared candidate,
Jeffrey Sachs, director of Columbia University's
Earth Institute, as well as former US president
Bill Clinton among others.
For the first
time in the bank's history, however, Washington's
candidate came under challenge. Okonjo-Iweala, who
was nominated by South Africa, and Ocampo, who was
nominated by Brazil at the behest of the Dominican
Republic, were both considered formidable
candidates with broad experience in both economics
and managing large national and international
qualifications, the contest was never in serious
doubt. Under an informal "gentlemen's agreement"
between the US and Europe, a US national has held
the top bank position and a European the managing
directorship of its sister institution, the
International Monetary Fund (IMF), ever since the
two agencies were created at the Bretton Woods
conference in 1944.
The challengers' only
hope lay with splitting the European vote. That
possibility was considered highly unlikely due to
Washington's critical support last year for then
French finance minister Christine Lagarde to
succeed Dominique Strauss-Kahn as the IMF's chief.
It was even previewed by the bank's
policy-making Development Committee which, in a
little-noted communique after Lagarde's selection
last year, acknowledged "the historic parallelism
between the selection process of the [World Bank
Group] and IMF", even as it pledged that the
process would be "open, merit-based and
What followed, however, fell
somewhat short of that standard. While
Okonjo-Iweala and Ocampo actively campaigned for
the post in a variety of venues, Kim, invariably
accompanied by high-level US Treasury officials,
embarked on a "listening tour" of key countries.
While the two non-US candidates appeared
before public forums co-sponsored by the Center
for Global Development and the Washington Post in
the US last week, for example, Kim stayed away.
The three candidates were interviewed by
the executive board on successive days last week,
but only their opening statements were publicly
released. As to the selection itself, the
executive board on Monday noted only that "the
final nominees received support from different
member countries, which reflected the high caliber
of the candidates".
Indeed, the process -
and Washington's insistence that it retain the
presidency - could well provoke a backlash from a
number of influential quarters.
citizens across the world fight cronyism,
electoral malpractice and bad governance, we must
ensure that our global public institutions set the
right example," Mohammed Ibrahim, the
Sudanese-born telecommunications magnate and
philanthropist told the Pan-African News Agency
(PANA) this weekend. "No one can lecture
developing countries on how to manage their
processes, public and private sector, if they so
brazenly to not conform to the same standards."
Nancy Alexander, who directs the economic
governance program of the Heinrich Boell
Foundation in Washington, said, "I think this will
give momentum to the BRICS [Brazil, Russia, India,
China and South Africa] in establishing their own
BRICS-led, South-South development bank, and also
to the new International Development Finance Club
(IDFC)," a recently formed group of 19 national
and sub-regional development banks.
we'll see is a combination of the World Bank
programmatically bowing to the desires of the
emerging markets, but, at the same time, emerging
market countries getting very frustrated by the
bank's politics and increasingly having plenty of
money to go off and do their own thing," she told
Alexander expressed some sympathy for
Obama's efforts to push through a US candidate,
because "if he wanted to get the money for the
bank from congress, he had to propose a US
candidate. But that will create a major
diversification away from the bank."
development campaigners expressed mixed views
about Kim and the selection process.
Kim is a very good man, but I am concerned about
his management abilities," said Jo Marie
Griesgraber, head of New Rules for Global Finance.
"I'm delighted there were three candidates. Maybe
next time, the Europeans will lead an inclusive
and transparent process in the selection of IMF's
advocates and some development economists have
expressed strong support for Kim.
the potential to transform one of the world's most
fraught institutions - to challenge failed
orthodox thinking on global development that
prescribes austerity, privatization, and
indebtedness for impoverished countries," said
Amanda Lugg, chairperson of Health GAP (Global
"Instead, the globe needs
a World Bank focused on results for people - using
expansionary approaches to macroeconomics and
delivering health, education, infrastructure, and
employment at the community level."
have battles ahead with the board of directors,
against Washington and its allies," said Mark
Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic
and Policy Research here. "But I would bet he will
have some significant accomplishments show by the
end of his term."
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