Final Hours; or The Progressive’s Dilemma

Well folks today is the day.

It seems that the unnamed “A Bank Insider,” the most frequent poster to this blog, has taken off the gloves, with his declaration — not even couched as a prediction — that a Kim presidency would be “ineffective and tarnished” and would mean that the process in “now completely tarnished.”

So let me add a few words on behalf of those who have felt the process has been “completely tarnished” all along. I’m dragging out the overused “progressive” label as a convenience to describe those in NGOs/civil society who have been advocating for reform (or in some cases abolition) of the World Bank for many years.

For us, whichever way the decision goes represents a partial victory. If Ngozi is chosen it will be a victory for overturning the process, particularly if the US is defeated in procedural vote. It would change forever the assumptions of how the Bank is run, and hopefully would mean change in the quota system that governs how other high-level positions are chosen.

But it would also be a victory for the status quo.

Leaving aside any protestations that Ngozi would clean house administratively, I’m talking about the level of policy.  Ngozi is a full-blown neo-liberal, with, apart from the usual “I remember what it was like to grow up in a war-torn African village” routine, no hint that she would deviate from the standard approaches the Bank has been using, with some gradual improvements, since the 1970s. She has demonstrated this as Managing Director at the Bank (and other positions before that) and as Finance Minister of Nigeria (twice). She made a landmark debt deal in Nigeria that forced the government to pay out $12 billion upfront to cover debts that were not being paid, and were never likely to be, over objections from the legislature and civil society that no real consultation was offered. She imposed the sudden withdrawal of the controversial fuel subsidy in Nigeria a few months ago, again with little consultation (and make no mistake: it is controversial not because anyone thinks it’s a good thing, but because no one knows how to eliminate it without causing extreme pain for the most vulnerable.)  Process victory, Policy status quo.  This would explain why Bank insiders (especially those who would only see Kim’s selection as confirmation that the process in dubious) might be more comfortable with her.

If Jim Kim is chosen, especially if it’s a landslide vote with Europe and others falling into line behind the US, it would be a complete defeat for process reform. But it would be a victory for anyone who ever dared dream that the Bank would be headed by someone with a record of opposition to the Bank’s market-fundamentalism. There’s no way to predict how Kim would perform as president (I just had occasion recently to look back at predictions about DSK when he took over the IMF – the FT greeted it as a complete disaster, and yet he turned out to be the best Managing Director [big fish, small pond] in decades – apart from the obvious problems that forced his departure).  But it would sure be interesting to have someone who does not accept the conventional wisdom as a starting point heading the Bank. Very interesting indeed.

As for me, I was pulling for Ocampo, who would have been a victory on both counts. So, I’m resigned to being only partly happy about today’s announcement. But that’s a lot better than any other occasion.

9 thoughts on “Final Hours; or The Progressive’s Dilemma

  1. Without much politics applied into who should be the next World bank President, let the fear of God come to bear so that who the crown fix should be given the chance to lead. No injustice, favouritism and nepotism. The world, let go for the best so that our world Economy can grow very well. I rest my case.

  2. Make no mistake about it, Jim Kim will bring change to the Bank. The United States and Europe must show leadership and ally with other shareholders to fix the process for selecting the president, but they must also fix the board. The executive directors have shirked their responsibility on this file and it is time to ask how having a full-time board that is so mediocre and micromanaging serves the development mission of the Bank.

  3. I will not be surprised if Okonjo Iweala, who is the best candidate, did not emerge as the world bank President. It is one of the ways in which Americans and Europeans Government force themselves on the whole world. Obama is black and this year is his election year, he will do his best to stop any African success ahead that of American interest, so that oppositions will not call him a coward or racist during the electioneering campaign. It is glaring that she is the best. If she emerges I will apologise to them, but am sure I know what their plan is.

  4. I wholeheartedly agree with Ambrose – even though I applaud that an African woman has entered the race, she is too much for the status quo. Also, I wonder if Nigeria needs her more than the World Bank at the moment. I was devastated with the news that Ocampo stepped out of the race, I honestly thought he was the best candidate, and put climate change at the heart of his reform ideas. Do you think he could still play a role within the Bank? Maybe a Kim-Ocampo dream team? Would that be at all possible?

    As for Dr. Kim, well I am delighted that he is of the interdisciplinary ilk (like myself), and I really do hope that his out-of-the-box thinking and approach to global health issues could prove useful to dealing with Bank reforms. I’m just worried that Bank staff may not give him the support he needs. Interesting times ahead indeed…

  5. @Jiesheng “All parties have blood on their hands” absolutely, including those who by framing the decision as one of the developed countries against the developing, the rich countries against the poor, the Washington consensus against their particular dissensus, provided the excuse for the decision not be based on the sole merits of the candidates for the presidency to the World Bank.

    As for me I supported the candidacy of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala for the simple reason that I believe she would be a better president of the World Bank, nothing more and nothing less. Also for the World Bank to simply have the best merit based president that should benefit all shareholders, especially the most important, and therefore especially the US.

    And again, while we are somewhat on the issue of representation, just as a mental exercise, let me ask… where is the dominance and representation of developed and rich countries larger than that of developing and poor countries, at the World Bank or in the organized civil society movement?

  6. All parties have blood on their hands. Everyone failed to reform global governance–US, Executive Directors, BRICs other nations individuals….

  7. considering the current global economic melt down, i think the whole system of world bank need reformation. a competent hand like Ngozi would be a preffered candidate in addition to her brilliant records so far.

  8. There is reason to be partially optimistic, but that depends on those who believe in the power of stakeholders to demand reform, and then stick with the reform process through its twists and turns. Ever since the Board of Executive Directors appointed me ten years ago to the team for reform of the World Bank’s human resources under the Strategic Compact, I have been informing US Congress, the European Parliament, and the World Bank’s other oversight agencies about progress. I also posted on this blog and in other blogs.!/KarenHudes

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