Open letter from civil society to the WBG Board: Make commitment to climate action a prerequisite for next WBG Prez

NB: The below text is from a letter submitted by 31 civil society organisations to the World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors on 14 March. A PDF version of this letter is available here.

Dear World Bank Group Executive Directors,

We write to call upon you to prioritise the Bank’s role in combating climate change in the selection of the next World Bank Group president.

We feel strongly that the appointment of the World Bank’s next president will greatly affect, positively or negatively, the Bank’s implementation of its commitments to take effective climate action, and to bring its lending and technical support into alignment with the Paris Climate Agreement.

As you well know, climate change poses an existential threat to societies around the world. A landmark IPCC report released in 2018 lays bare the scale of the challenge: Global CO2 emissions must be reduced by 45 per cent by 2030 compared to 2010 levels to keep global average temperature rise at 1.5°C compared to preindustrial levels.

As the climate crisis continues to bite, many of the Bank’s borrower countries will be among the most severely impacted. The Bank’s own research shows that 100 million people could be pushed back into poverty by 2030 due to climate change impacts. In short, climate change is a direct challenge to the Bank’s organizational mission of eliminating extreme poverty and promoting shared prosperity.

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The clock is ticking

On February 18, Lebanon’s minister of finance nominated Ziad Hayek, an investment banker and expert on public-private partnerships. While the World Bank’s board of executive directors promised an “open, merit-based and transparent” process, Hayek was the only known challenger to the Trump administration’s nominee, David Malpass, former Bear Stearns chief economist, a US treasury official who was a negotiator for the recent IBRD/IFC capital increase, and currently a member of the US team working with their Chinese counterparts to resolve Donald Trump’s trade crisis.

Enthusiasm for Malpass seems restricted to various American conservative news outlets and commentators who support a nativist “American interests first” view of multilateralism, falsely accuse the Bank of corruption (a position Malpass has publicly taken in Congressional testimony), and see a reduction in lending to middle income countries—including and in particular, China—as urgent. This notion about China, and possibly other upper-middle-income countries like Turkey, is mistaken: “The World Bank is a bank, and it needs to be lending profitably to at least some of its borrowers. China serves that role very well,” Christopher Kilby, an economics professor at Villanova University, told Bloomberg. Slashing credit to China could also have unintended consequences for the World Bank’s efforts to combat global problems such as climate change. And it could leave the bank on the outside looking in, without influence over such major and controversial Beijing initiatives like Belt and Road.

Malpass will no doubt want to explain his positions on these matters in the context of the Bank’s long-standing global role beyond finance, in knowledge generation and translation, and as a convener on a broad range of global public goods. In the case of China, in particular, the World Bank’s long, trusted relationship continues to provide a deep, well-informed and collaborative perspective on China’s many, and formidable, development challenges. Continue reading

A credible candidate and a credible process

Ziad Hayek has been nominated by Lebanon’s Minister of Finance. With a credible résumé and a diverse international track record in finance, Hayek reportedly has an American passport, too, if that matters to the Bank’s board: it shouldn’t, and it’s not in the five criteria they’ve set out.

It’s interesting that a governor from the constituency group headed by Merza Hussain Hasan, who, as the longest-serving executive director also serves as dean of the board. Merza presides over the transparent, open, and merit-based selection process we’ve been promised, alas unaided—or, depending on your perspective, unhindered—by an executive search firm. Pour mémoire, any governor may nominate anyone.

Also, as dean of the Board, Merza surely has an obligation to operate with clean hands on nominations, and on the process. If he is concerned about the Bank’s credibility, and the board’s, he should realize that an ‘open, merit-based and transparent’ process would be greatly bolstered by a competitive selection. He should be taking steps to tease other serious candidates to offer themselves, as Ziad Hayez, with the support of Lebanon’s finance minister, has. Continue reading

Sympathy for the Devil

A personal reflection on the World Bank, Jim Kim, and David Malpass

As a U.S. citizen and a global justice activist, I’ve always opposed the US’s prerogative to nominate the World Bank president. And I certainly never expected to like any U.S. candidate for the World Bank presidency. In 2012, then, I was startled when Barack Obama nominated Jim Kim.

I had met Kim back in 1995 at a protest against the IMF and World Bank in Washington, DC. It was no more than a handshake, but I was thrilled to meet the lead editor of Dying for Growth, a remarkable compendium of articles about the disastrous impact of IMF/WB policies on health around the world. It was one of the pillars of the multi-sectoral work I did with the 50 Years Is Enough U.S. Network of IMF/WB critics.

He had left Partners in Health well before his nomination and gone on to other, less movement-friendly positions, such as the presidency of Dartmouth College. But still, he was Jim Kim; he at least had been “one of us.” What was I, a dedicated campaigner against the U.S. monopoly on the WB presidency, to do?

I didn’t support the U.S. nomination of course, but I wasn’t so passionate in opposing it as I might otherwise have been. Less sentimental colleagues led the charge. But now that Kim has left, we know that he will be remembered primarily for turning the Bank into an even bigger booster of private-sector domination of development than it already was. So much so that he decided to bail on the job when Trump could nominate his replacement, apparently to get the obscene payoffs that await investment bankers with insider experience. Not exactly what I had been hoping for. Continue reading

Open letter to the World Bank Group Board of Executive Directors

Appointment of the new World Bank Group President

The selection of the new World Bank president takes place amid a crisis of multilateralism reflected in the ascent of anti-establishment and nationalist parties and increased trade tensions. These arise from persistent challenges to the world economy ranging from the growing inequality crisis, the increasing importance of finance, financial markets, and financial institutions in the economy, a looming debt crisis and increased corporate capture that is resulting in the erosion of states’ sovereignty and their ability to meet their human rights obligations. These trends are exacerbated by the quickly evolving climate change crisis, which threatens the livelihoods of the poorest around the globe.

The World Bank requires a leader able and willing to critically assess the role the Bank can play in challenging the failed model that has led us here. The next president must ensure the institution leads by example and uses its privileged position to articulate the need for radical change. More than ever the World Bank requires a president who is qualified to lead what is still the world’s principal public development bank.

It is therefore imperative that the selection process results in the appointment of the best candidate, chosen from a wide-ranging pool of people with the background and experience required.

One thing is certain, at a time when the legitimacy of international institutions is increasingly under attack, reliance on the previous process, where the US and its European allies work behind closed doors to ensure the selection of a US World Bank president in exchange for the European leadership of the IMF will only further erode confidence in the multilateral system. It is of vital importance therefore that the next president has the support of the majority of low and middle-income countries, to which World Bank lending is restricted. Continue reading