Developing Countries must propose their own World Bank candidates

The US government is strongly backing the re-appointment of Jim Kim for a second five-year term as president of the World Bank. Historically, only two presidents in the past few decades have been reappointed (as Paul Cadario notes). Kim’s likely reappointment reflects his backing by the Clintons for his initial appointment, and the likely US president and her husband’s wish to have a personal friend and dependent as president of the World Bank.  The Bank is a very useful organization for the US administration to have privileged access to in late night phone calls.   

Still, US backing reflects surprising nonchalance about the effect of Kim’s rule on staff morale. Staff have complained about every president, and especially at the time of major reorganizations and for several years thereafter (and Kim engineered a very major reorganization). But the anger at Kim and his authoritarian mode of management (“Off with his/her head”) has been exceptional.  It was prefigured by the relief on the part of Dartmouth faculty to see him go (he was president of the college), and surprise that the Bank had taken him.

Kim’s reappointment raises again the systemic question about the US monopoly of the presidency, ever since the founding of the Bank.  Last time, when Kim was appointed, president Obama missed the historic opportunity for the US to support one of two very plausible candidates from developing countries.  One was an African woman with a long track record to top-level management (including in the World Bank itself and as minister of finance in a borrower-country government. 

As the deadline for nominations for who should become president in 2017 draws near, developing country governments should press their own candidates — even if only to make sure that the precedent of having developing country candidates becomes well-established, so that eventually the US government will have to give way (and the Europeans will have to give up their monopoly of the managing-directorship of the IMF). Developing country governments should also step up pressure for a sizable reallocation of quota and votes in their favour, and/or threaten to cut back their participation in the World Bank and boost their participation in regional development banks.  After all, we are no longer in the post-Second World War era, when western governance of the world economy seemed as natural as gravity.

Robert H. Wade is professor of political economy at the London School of Economics.
Blog corrected 16/9/2016 at 16.08pm

In the news

Reuters: Germany backs U.S. nominee Kim for second term as World Bank president
The Star: Uhuru endorses World Bank President Jim Yong Kim for second term
All Africa: Rwanda and Benin Welcome Nomination of Dr. Kim for Second Term At the World Bank
Center for Global Development: Five Women Who Could Lead the World Bank
The Tribune: US nominates Jim Yong as World Bank chief for 2nd term
Government of the Netherlands: Netherlands supports second term for World Bank President Kim
Devex: Donald Trump won’t choose the next World Bank president
The New York Times: World Bank President Jim Yong Kim Is Nominated for a Second Term
The Wall Street Journal: Obama Administration Moves to Secure New Term for World Bank Chief Jim Yong Kim
U.S. Department of the Treasury: U.S. Nominates Dr. Jim Yong Kim to Lead World Bank for Second Term
Devex: Jim Kim to seek 2nd term at the World Bank
Public Finance International: World Bank rules out change to leadership selection process
Tempo: World Bank Begins President Selection Process
Financial Times: World Bank clears way for Kim’s second term
World Bank: World Bank Board Launches Presidential Selection Process
Center for Global Development: Excuse me, World Bank, This Time Is Last Time’s Next
Financial Times: World Bank staff challenge Jim Yong Kim’s second term

3 week application period – are you kidding?

So, the blog is back, now that the World Bank board has officially launched a selection process for the next World Bank President. A task this big takes a bit of time, right? Not according to the Bank’s board who leave a little over three weeks for accepting nominations. Three weeks! When we’re selecting interns, we leave at least a month, normally 6 weeks to give good candidates the chance to think about it and submit a decent application. But apparently selecting the head of one of the world’s most powerful International Financial Institutions is a less rigorous process…

It’s already clear that the US is trying to stitch up a second term for the US-backed incumbent, Jim Kim. Do we really need to by emphasise that in 2016 it’s not acceptable for the US to choose who gets to be the head of the World Bank – an institution that only operates in developing countries?

What should the correct selection process look like? This is what I wrote last time round:

“If the Board is serious about making the process truly transparent and merit-based, here are the bare minimum things that should happen:

  • Public interviews. It will simply not be credible if the Board selects a candidate behind closed doors with no one else able to see how the candidates stood up to questioning.
  • Manifestos for candidates. Every candidate should be required to set out what he or she think the main challenges facing the Bank are and how they would deal with them as President.
  • Public debates. Candidates should submit themselves for questioning to a variety of forums, including public debates.
  • Transparent voting. All countries should vote individually, not through their constituencies, and should announce who they are voting for and why.

Of course, none of this would prevent the backroom deals that the US will use to ensure its candidate gets in, but at least everyone would be able to judge who the best candidate really is, and learn a lot more about what they stand for. None of these are difficult to organise, and all of them take place routinely at national level for senior public servants.  Why not for the World Bank?”

These seem to me to still be extremely reasonable demands (set out in much more detail in this paper on selecting the IMF boss.)  The first demand we should all be making is a significant extension to the application process: 3 months (or more) would be much more appropriate than 3 weeks.

The more things change… We’re back

It is true that Kim’s term does not expire for nearly another year, so what compelled the return of everyone’s favourite blog covering the latest developments on the coronation, er… we mean nomination of the next World Bank president just now?

The impetus for the revival of the blog was the World Bank Board’s announcement last week that it had opened a three-week nomination process for its new president. The nomination process closes on 14 September and the Board has pledged to take a decision within weeks of that date. The US administration nominated Dr. Kim for a second term within the first few hours of the opening of the process in a move that the NY Times noted was “intended to discourage would-be rivals”.

The Board has thus ignored long-standing calls from global civil society, and also recently from the Bank’s staff association, for a transparent, merit based selection process for the selection of the next World Bank president. The Financial Times reported in early August that the Bank’s staff association had sent a letter to the Board stating “We preach principles of good governance, transparency, diversity, international competition, and merit-based selection. Unfortunately, none of these principles have applied to the appointment of past World Bank Group Presidents … Instead, we have accepted decades of backroom deals which, twelve times in a row, selected an American male. This must change.” 

To be honest, when the blog went into hibernation in 2012, we had hoped that during the next selection process for World Bank president, the blog would be used by contributors to debate the relative merits of various well-qualified candidates proposed by a number of the Bank’s members. We had, perhaps foolishly, hoped assurances of a new merit-based process that finally did away with the perpetual American monopoly on the post would have been in place.  We had hoped this forum could contribute to a debate about the qualifications of a suitable list of candidates, including various contenders from the Global South, that would be evaluated against well defined parameters through a transparent process. The blog would therefore make an important contribution to  a  selection process based solely on the merits of the various contenders, versus, by way of random example, the person’s nationality…

Alas, as it is said, ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same’… So, here we go again… At the closing of the blog in 2012 we noted that “the final word goes to the G24 group of developing countries at the World Bank.  This is from the communiqué they issued …

We recognize that for the first time in the history of the World Bank there was an open process for the selection of the President that involved a debate on the priorities and the future of the institution.

Future selection processes must build on this process, but must be transparent and truly merit-based.

It seems a very opportune time, given what we know about the proposed process for the selection of the next World Bank president, to consider how well it meets the requirement outlined above.

Let the discussions begin…

We look forward to a repeat of the lively discussions and exchanges that took place during the previous selection processes and invite you to contribute by writting posts or comments and to share any information that you think relevant.