Emerging economies must be given a fair shot at leading the institutions at the heart of global finance or they will end up going their own way, a challenger for the top job at the World Bank said.
“The balance of power in the world has shifted and emerging market countries are contributing more and more to global growth – more than 50 percent – and they need to be given a voice in running things,” Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala told Reuters. “If you don’t, they will lose interest.
Okonjo-Iweala, 57, was nominated on Friday by African power houses Nigeria, South Africa and Angola to lead the poverty-fighting institution when its current president Robert Zoellick steps down in June.
She is going up against Jim Yong Kim, a Korean-American health expert whose name was put forward by U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday, and former Colombian finance minister Jose Antonio Ocampo, who was nominated by Brazil.
It’s the first time the post has ever been contested.
Under an informal agreement between the United States and its allies in Europe, Washington has laid claim to the top post at the World Bank since its founding after World War Two, while a European has always led the International Monetary Fund, its sister Bretton Woods institution.
Okonjo-Iweala, a respected economist and diplomat, painted the convention as a vestige of a bygone era.
“We’re not asking the U.S. not to compete, we’re just asking for a level playing field where candidates can be evaluated on their merits,” she said.
A former World Bank managing director known for her colorful African head wraps and dresses, Okonjo-Iweala contrasted her experience with that of Kim, who made his mark battling disease in some of the poorest corners of the world.
She noted that she has hands-on experience running one of Africa’s largest economies, as well as a proven track record at the World Bank helping nations in Asia, Africa and the Middle East tap financial markets to fund development.
“I don’t have a learning curve because I know how the institution works and I know what needs to be done to make it work better and faster for developing countries,” she said.
“I know what its strengths are, its weaknesses and importantly I know what policymakers need. I’ve actually done it.”
ASKING FOR LEVEL PLAYING FIELD
U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told Reuters over the weekend that he was confident that Kim, president of Dartmouth College, would win global support for the job. Through his work in fighting HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and getting health care to the poor, Kim had shown an ability to get things done in tough environments, said Geithner.
Okonjo-Iweala admitted that if the United States, the nation with the largest World Bank voting bloc, and Europe held together, her candidacy would be doomed. But she expressed hope the World Bank’s 187 member nations would hold true to their pledge for an open, merit-based process.
“We are not just going into this saying to ourselves we are already defeated,” she said, speaking by telephone from Abuja. “We are hoping that the Bretton Woods institutions and their shareholders will keep their word.”
“My biggest hope is that this will be a fair contest.”
Fight on, ma’am!