Monday, April 16, 2012

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala concedes to Jim Yong Kim for World Bank top job

The World Bank has named a US doctor, Jim Yong Kim, as its next president, despite criticism of the selection process by his only rival for the job.

While the US nominee faced a challenge for the first time ever, the World Bank's most powerful shareholders, the US, Europe and Japan, came out in support on Monday for the Korean-American who now holds the powerful job of doling out money to developing countries.

Before the meeting of World Bank directors, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria's finance minister, herself a veteran of the institution, criticised the way the US has held a lock on the position since the organisation was launched.

"You know this thing is not really being decided on merit," she said in Abuja. "It is voting with political weight and shares and therefore the United States will get it."

A third candidate, Jose Antonio Ocampo, the Colombian former finance minister, dropped out on Friday also complaining that 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 Okonjo-Iweala. But those were scotched when Moscow on Friday publicly endorsed Kim.

'Democratic tenets'

By a tacit agreement dating to the sister institutions' founding, the US has always chosen the World Bank head while Europe supplies the leader of the International Monetary Fund.

But 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," Pravin Gordhan, South African finance minister, said on Monday.

"This time the invitation was open to anybody to nominate a candidate. [But] "the question is whether the process subsequent to that ... has followed through on basic democratic tenets."

South Africa endorsed 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.

Health experience

The executive board met on Monday to select Kim, whom the Bank said was chosen by "consensus".

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 appointmemnt of 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 Kim's experience is not broad enough to handle all of the fields the World Bank deals with, from infrastructure development to environmental protection.

Kim has travelled to around a dozen countries to introduce himself, however, apparently convincingly enough to earn solid respect.


Related stories: Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on Jim Yong Kim winning the bid for World Bank president

New World Bank president to be known today

 Video - Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala speaks to CNN's Richard Quest about her bid for World Bank top job

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