David Malpass? Really?

CDG’s President Emeritus Nancy Birdsall didn’t call being World Bank president the hardest job in the world for nothing.

Personal traits are important.

Now that David Malpass is rumored to be the Trump Administration’s nominee to succeed Dr Kim, the Board’s fifth criterion “effective and diplomatic communication skills, impartiality and objectivity in the performance of the responsibilities of the position” goes without saying if you take the Board’s first four assessment criteria seriously.

Cheerleaders for financial recklessness that led to widespread adverse impact and expensive fixes without accountability need not apply. Modest in judgment in one’s profession or field of expertise, and learning from one’s mistakes, are essential. 

Partisan attachments are to be avoided. That includes campaign fundraising and giving bad advice that isn’t listened to. The line between blunt, and candidly descriptive and persuasive, is a difficult one. It needs to be clear. 

No pettiness or abusing of subordinates. Tone at the top matters. So does respect for expertise, experience, and perspective.  Continue reading

The World Bank and the “new” multilateralism

More than a bland statement, the Board’s fourth criterion, “a firm commitment to and appreciation for multilateral cooperation”, is particularly important at this inflection point in global development and geopolitics.

As Gilly Wright has reminded us—again—“Since the inception of the World Bank, Europe has backed the US choice of an American to head it, while the US in return leaves Europe to pick a European to head the IMF—a tradition that now seems unnecessary and outdated. Donald Trump’s anti-multilateral stance and antagonism toward Europe will perhaps see the end to this “gentlemen’s agreement,” and it remains to be seen if the Trump administration will resist the urge to nominate a lackey in favor of a globally respected candidate, and whether a non-funding stick will be wielded.”

This defeatist view has an element of realism: as long as the Eurozone’s economy remains fragile and risky, Europe is unlikely to relinquish leadership of the IMF, which will have to play a key role in Greece, Spain and Italy by lending its credibility to a EU-crafted solution led by the European Central Bank and Germany.

Against this background, the Trumpian view of “multilateralism” means many things, from bullying NATO allies to pay up more for collective defense, to withdrawing from important international agreements like the Paris Accord and TPP, and renegotiating—with much fanfare and little practical change—important regional and bilateral trade pacts, the noisiest one being NAFTA 2, for lack of a more mellifluous acronym.  Continue reading

The right messenger for the right messages

The World Bank’s Board established as its third criterion ”the ability to articulate a clear vision of the World Bank Group’s development mission.

It’s not a prospective candidate’s fault they have to do it: the Board’s word salad Forward Look strategy, and the IBRD/IFC capital package agreement as articulated in the Sustainable Financing for Sustainable Development Paper would challenge a Kennedy, an Obama, and even a Churchill. A PowerPoint would be so long with small-font slides that Donald Trump would go back to watching FoxNews. 

“Our Dream is a world free of poverty” was a clear message Jim Wolfensohn used to inspire the Bank and its partners. Eventually its sentiment became the headline of both the MDGs and SDGs, and the first goal of each. Freeing the world of poverty has inspired development practitioners, official development agencies, and civil society organizations. Dr Kim’s Twin Goals embraced and expanded the poverty eliminated goal. But the expanding shared prosperity lacked the clarity of meaning, and inspired little agreement on how, so that the “Twin Slogans” got little traction as a lodestar with practical actions attached. Various attempts to be practical, like “Cascade” were advanced, but haven’t won universal favor. Dr Kim’s Human Capital Index was another framing, and reflected (some) research and his own proclivities and comfort zone. Inside the Bank, there’s resentment about yet another framework for client dialogue. The Bank’s external critics have seized on it as abandoning a rights-based approach, obscuring long-standing critiques of Human Capital Theory (HCT) and its notion of ‘capitalisable humans’, seeking to shame, and ignoring income inequality within a country. Continue reading

New World Bank President: From ‘Who’ and ‘How’ to ‘for What’!

With the formal process of selection of a new World Bank President kick-starting in a week’s time, it’s imperative to have a view beyond this selection, now that the dust of Jim Kim’s sudden resignation has settled down.

That the process of this selection should be transparent and inclusive goes unsaid. Further, in a statement issued earlier this month, the Bank’s Board of Directors “affirmed its commitment to an open, merit-based and transparent selection process”, except that in the past such commitments met a weak knee when faced with the dictates of United States in the appointment of the previous presidents. Though the clarion call has been given earlier also, it is high time that people beyond the borders of US are considered, particularly that from the global south, and a woman, who has been at the receiving end (both literally as well as figuratively) of Bank’s lending over the past seven decades.

However, if the new president – whether from global south or north, whether selected through an open process or not– is just to fill-in the gap and continues the existing policies and priorities of the Bank as in the previous years well, nothing changes much. In fact, a president from global south will only be used to legitimise what the Bank does!

Here’s the crux of the story known to many – as a lender, the Bank extends loans and technical assistance for economic, institutional or other policy reforms – not always for specific projects – in countries they operate. This influences the public spending of that country and, as always observed globally, paves way for greater private sector involvement and management of State-owned enterprises. In fact, privatization of public utilities has been Bank’s prime agenda since the past many decades. Continue reading

The non-Americans: A who’s who of non-US candidates for the World Bank’s top job

Who do you think would be the best non-US candidate? Participate in the poll here

While much of the media coverage since Jim Yong Kim’s resignation has fixated on who the Trump Administration will pick as its nominee for World Bank president (see here for odds of favourites – including US passport holders Indra Nooyi, David Malpass, Ray Washburne, Dame Nemat Minouche Shafik and Dina Powell), the notion that it’s time for a non-American to lead the Bank has increasingly entered the public discourse as the Bank nears its 75th birthday, with a number of op-eds calling for an end to the American monopoly of the Bank’s presidency (for examples, see here, here and here).

Let’s be frank: the odds still favour the appointment of an American nominee. But a less-than-satisfactory US nominee could put pressure on key Bank shareholders who have historically supported the US-backed candidate (namely Japan and European shareholders, with the latter supporting the US nominee in return for a European remaining at the helm of the IMF). Any member of the executive board will be able to nominate candidates from 7 Feb. The lingering question is, will non-US executive directors dare?

Civil society has long favoured an open application process; after Kim’s resignation, the World Bank’s staff also backed this demand. However, as the Board has made clear that candidates need to be nominated by executive directors, this will limit the scope of how ‘open’ and ‘transparent’ the process actually is.

In lieu of a completely open process, the nomination of a large number of qualified candidates by World Bank executive directors is the next best thing; yet, whispers from DC suggest this is unlikely, and that various members of the Board are angling for the ‘least bad’ US nominee. Continue reading