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

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

Managing the World Bank Group ‘successfully’

The Board’s Executive Directors have left their second selection criterion dangerously inadequate. 

  • “experience of managing large organizations with international exposure, and a familiarity with the public sector”

I would have thought “successfully managing” is what the world expects. Maybe that goes without saying, even if the Board’s recent history on selecting World Bank presidents from available nominees is uneven.

Let’s consider some markers for “successfully”.

Let’s see what results were achieved during the candidate’s tenure, and what can be attributed to him or her.  A lot of résumé padding involves taking credit for things others do and would have done anyway, activities done by teams of staff with external partners they know. Examples I can think of are NAFTA2 (aka USMCA/CUSMA), IDA replenishments, ‘clean’ audits. Not eligible would be Brexit, the SDGs, and the Paris Accord (a collective success for negotiations, and a collective ‘incomplete’ for early implementation).

Talent management is what managers primarily do. What is the candidate’s experience at attracting and retaining senior staff? Have non-performers been exited for cause, and have any left because they felt the candidate managed poorly, to the organization’s detriment? Continue reading

Setting the bar for Dr Kim’s successor

Now that the initial puzzled excitement over Jim Yong Kim’s abrupt resignation and short notice has abated, and the fun speculating over replacements has passed, the tough work of selecting a suitable successor must begin.

Civil society and journalists can gossip about why and why now, and question whether his rumored $20mn signing bonus is appropriate for a man without any skills or experience in infrastructure, investment, or private equity. Fine, but that’s not as important as finding someone excellent to head up the Bank Group starting this spring less than two years after he was given an undeserved second term. 

Governments, I hope, are looking at suitable candidates—women and men—for these challenging, anti-multilateralism times, and civil society is watching. So are World Bank Group staff.

But first things first: let’s flesh out the criteria that the Bank’s Board of Executive Directors have announced for a transparent, open, and merit-based appointment. Yes, we’ve heard that before, and as Lant Pritchett famously observed in 2017 when Dr Kim was reanointed, “this time is last time’s next time.” Will we be fooled and disappointed again? Continue reading