World Bank to make decision on April 16… Okonjo-Iweala to meet Board April 9

by Hauwa Gambo

New reports indicate that the World Bank could pick its new president as early as April 16 after interviews with the three candidates. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, minister of finance and coordinating minister of the economy, is scheduled to be interviewed by the 25-person board on April 9, according Bloomberg. The bank has officially confirmed that it will make a decision by April 20.

“Former Colombian finance minister Jose Antonio Ocampo is to be interviewed on April 10, followed by the U.S. candidate, Dartmouth College President Jim Yong Kim on April 11, the officials said.”

The new president will succeed Robert Zoellick, whose term ends on June 30. His successor takes over an institution that lent $57 billion last year.

Meanwhile as United States treasury secretary, Tim Geithner (America is the bank’s largest shareholder) steps up the country’s support for its chosen candidate, Felix Salmon is the latest international journalist to sing the praises of the Nigerian candidate. Writing in the Reuters blog section, he says:

When she arrived as Nigerian finance minister in 2003, the country was what you might call an oil-poor kleptocracy, with virtually no credibility in the international community. Within two years, she had managed to use $12 billion of windfall oil profits to pay off $31 billion in bilateral debt, thereby not only massively improving the country’s debt dynamics, but also ensuring that money didn’t get stolen domestically.

It was an astonishing feat of negotiating prowess, not least because the Paris Club had never before allowed a country to buy back its debt below par, let alone 60% below par. Being able to pull it off involved Okonjo-Iweala leveraging her extremely strong credentials as an economist and finance minister (she has a PhD in regional economics and development from MIT); making full use of her high-powered contacts in the international community; and deftly navigating the labyrinthine bureaucracy surrounding World Bank classifications. Frankly, it’s impossible to imagine any other Nigerian being able to get this particular deal done.

Okonjo-Iweala’s qualifications for the job are well known; see the Economist, the FT, and also this Edward Luce column for good arguments as to why she would be a significantly better World Bank president than Jim Yong Kim. It’s worth reminding ourselves, in this context, of the Bank’s own description of the qualifications required by its president:

A proven track record of leadership;
Experience managing large organizations with international exposure, and a familiarity with the public sector;
Ability to articulate a clear vision of the Bank’s development mission;
A firm commitment to and appreciation for multilateral cooperation; and
Effective and diplomatic communication skills, impartiality and objectivity.

It’s hard to see how Kim can beat Okonjo-Iweala on any of these criteria. Meanwhile, Kim’s own FT op-ed, in which he tries to explain why he’s the right person for the job, is vapid in the extreme. “A more responsive World Bank must meet the challenges of the moment but also foresee those of the future. The World Bank serves all countries.”

This is, indeed, a race to watch!


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