World Bank to Decide on New President Today

The two main candidates for the WB's top position

A successor to the out-going President of the World Bank, Mr. Robert Zoellick, will emerge Monday between 5pm and 7pm (12 noon and 2pm Washington DC time), when the results will be announced.

This will be preceded by the gathering of the 25-member executive board of the bank from 3pm (10am Washington DC time) to pick Zoellick’s successor.

The race for the presidency of the Bretton Woods institution had been narrowed down to two candidates – Nigeria’s Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, and Dr. Jim Yong Kim, a Korean-American Physician and United States’ nominee – after the former Colombian finance minister, Jose Antonio Ocampo, withdrew his candidacy at the weekend.

In fact, Ocampo had thrown his weight behind the Nigerian finance minister, describing her as an “excellent candidate”. Zoellick’s tenure expires on June 30.

The US, which is the bank’s largest shareholder, traditionally picks the bank’s president. The country, Europe and Japan have 54 per cent of the votes.

Under an informal arrangement, in return, Europe appoints a European as head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), a sister Bretton Woods’ institution. It is currently run by Frenchwoman, Christine Lagarde.

According to the World Bank’s Articles, the president is the chief operating officer of the bank and conducts, under the direction of the executive directors, the ordinary business of the bank. The bank’s president is also responsible for the organisation, appointment and dismissal of the officers and staff, subject to the general control of the executive directors.

US’ choice of Kim has been greeted with mixed feelings. Some commentators argued that he lacks experience in boosting economic growth, a key part of the bank’s mission.

Observers had been curious that Kim had not even appeared on any major American interview. It had been suggested that his handlers were worried that he might make a slip, which would bring the issue of merit to the fore once again.

“That is why they have resulted to issuing press releases about his visits to different parts of the world,” one of them noted.

However, Okonjo-Iweala, who had also served as managing director of the multilateral institution, has the support of other emerging economies.

The Bretton Woods institution, founded in 1944 has 187-member countries. US, France, Germany, Japan and United Kingdom – who are the five largest shareholders – appoint five executive directors, while China, Russian Federation and Saudi Arabia each elects its own executive director, with other executive directors elected by the other member countries.

This is the first presidential election with 25 voting members as one more member was added on November 1, 2010. Similarly, this is the first time that a candidate from a developing nation is challenging a US nominee for the plum job.

Okonjo-Iweala when interviewed by the World Bank board last week promised to tackle global poverty and address issues of job creation if elected.

She also advised the US to end the long tradition of an American always heading the Bretton Woods institution, saying that the decision on who leads the global development institution should go to the candidate with the best skills for the job.

The finance minister had also dismissed the argument by some US politicians that the American country would stop financing the World Bank if a non-American took the reins of the institution. She said she would use her “persuasive powers” to convince Congress to keep funds flowing to the World Bank.

On his part, Kim, had during the interview session with the board of directors of the bank, said that he would not hesitate to question the status quo and do his best to help the world’s poorest countries.

Kim had said: “I would bring rigour; objectivity and a focus on data that help all of us define and achieve our shared vision of securing strong economic growth and delivering greater opportunity for the world’s poor.”

It has been a widespread belief that the strategy the US adopted for the World Bank presidency had played down merit, contrary to the standards and principles which the multilateral institution champions.

Analysts however expressed the belief that the major thing that Nigeria had achieved in the whole process was that- with the issue of merit in the fore, candidates from the developing economies for subsequent elections, will be strengthened the more, to come forward and push for merit.

More importantly, they added, the campaign had sensitised the world and it would be difficult for the US to retain the position, based on power politics.