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

2 thoughts on “Developing Countries must propose their own World Bank candidates

  1. Robert Wades’s comments about expanding the choice of candidates is important to make the decision for the World Bank’s president merit based reveals the real problem in my view. As long as the choice is ruled by political patronage by the White House merit is severely compromised. Unfortunately this point has been driven home by the very poor choices made in the last three presidents of the World Bank. These presidents cared little and understood less about the core operations of the World Bank. They were much more interested in building their own brand rather than fulfill the potential of the World Bank in solving member country problems. Even if the choice is to remain someone nominated by the US the lack of competition based on merit to perform the job is disastrous for the institution. International competition would further expand the merit pool

  2. In the last several decades only two World Bank presidents have been reappointed: Jim Wolfensohn in 1999 (a year early) and Robert McNamara (president from 1968 to 1981). Notwithstanding difficult but succesful reorganizations, both were demonstrably better qualified from the outset and were leading the Bank capably.

    Emerging markets and ‘middle countries’ like Canada and northern European nations with a long history of supporting change at the Bank need to find credible candidates against whom Dr Kim can be compared. I am not confident the US pressure for a hasty reappointment can be stopped, but an ‘open and merit-based’ process needs to be a competitive one, if only to force the Board to explain their decision, and extract public commitments from the selected candidate to put the Bank back on a steady, focused path.

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