World Bank president selection: ‘Gentleman’s agreement’ alive and well

After the unexpected resignation of World Bank President Jim Yong Kim in January, the selection of his successor was subject to considerable scrutiny. Over 150 civil society organisations, academics and other individuals calledon the Board to live up to its commitment following Kim’s departure to an open, transparent and merit-based process. The call was echoed by the demands outlined in a January letter by the Bank’s own staff association. These demands are not new and resonate with long-standing calls to end the so-called ‘gentleman’s agreement’, which ensures that the IMF managing director is a European and the World Bank president a US national. They also reflect the calls made as far back as 2012, not by civil society activists or ‘disgruntled’ governments from the Global South, but by senior Bank staff. Former Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz and Senior Vice-Presidents François Bourguignon and Nicholas Stern argued in a 2012 Financial Times article that the process is “not only hypocritical, it also destroys the trust and spirit of collaboration needed to manage the profound problems facing the world.”

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What does civil society want now that Malpass will be World Bank President?

Cartoon, Smiley, Questions, PuzzleIn the past, civil society has been quite forceful about what they want in terms of process for selecting a World Bank President, basically it can be summed up as anyone but an American. That battle has been lost.

But now that it is certain that David Malpass will be World Bank president, perhaps NGOs and other civil society groups should think what stance they want to take to the Malpass Presidency. Civil society organisations probably have many different opinions of this – reflecting back on the welcoming reception some of the health-oriented groups gave to the nomination of Kim in 2012. CSOs have always been a diverse bunch.

How will World Bank watchers respond? Will they turn back to 1990s style anti-World Bank opposition at all costs? Will some of them continue trying to work with power rather than against it? Will there be efforts to influence the politics at the board to reduce the harm of the Malpass presidency? Or perhaps they will step back and watch, as they hope the World Bank crumbles into irrelevance under inept and politicised leadership? Continue reading

The future direction: where does Malpass stand?

There are big questions in development finance that the new World Bank President will need to answer. There is a big question about what direction David Malpass will take at the World Bank. Will civil society be pushing the Bank to answer these questions in a positive way? Here are just a few things on the agenda:

  1. How should the World Bank engage with the rise of new creditors and funders in the system – particularly Chinese banks?
  2. Without being a “self-service shop” for investors – what is the vision for the Bank’s role vis-a-vis private finance? It’s easy to say don’t privatize health and education sectors, but what about beyond those easy platitudes? What is the role for the IFC that accords with a sensible vision for a multilateral bank that is now supposed to be supporting sustainable development, rather than what an aid agency should do?
  3. Given worries about debt crises building in developing countries, how should the next World Bank president manage lending to countries increasingly heading towards debt distress but in desperate need of investments to hit their Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets?
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