The selection process and the politics of adjectives

The coming weeks will see much media focus on possible candidates, from the toxic Larry Summers to the ever-present Trevor Manuel. But already comments from senior figures in governments are illustrating that it is the process of selection that really counts.

US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geitner said yesterday that:

It is very important that we continue to have strong, effective leadership of this important institution, and in the coming weeks, we plan to put forward a candidate with the experience and requisite qualities to take this institution forward

Choosing his words carefully he said that the US wanted the Bank board to follow an “open and expeditious” process. Note there was no mention of a “transparent”, “merit-based” or “fair” process. It’s in these moments that the choice of adjective becomes a political act, with serious implications.

In a contrast Chinese foreign minister spokesperson Liu Weimin was not as reserved in his choice of adjectives:

China hopes that the World Bank will select the next president of the World Bank based on the merit principle of open and fair competition.

China’s emphasis on the process, and the stance of other emerging economies from the global south, will be crucial in how the board chooses Zoellick’s successor. Philippines Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima was optimistic on this point:

It is not so much the identity of Mr. Zoellick’s replacement that concerns us but rather the process in which his successor is selected. We are confident that given the increasing importance of emerging markets in the global economy, outdated practices of the past will be revisited.

Brazillian finance minister Guido Mantega seemed to indicate that there is an “objective” to reform the process, although he wasn’t clear how hard emerging economies would push, or how united they would be in doing so:

I believe the US, as the largest shareholder, will manifest interest in keeping control of the organisation and having a majority. The objective is that emerging [countries] have the same conditions to compete for the leadership. There is no reason why presidents of multilateral organisations should have a specific nationality, they should be chosen for their competency in doing the job.

As events unfold in the weeks ahead keep your eyes peeled for those adjectives, they tell an important story. And stay tuned to the blog for more analysis on what the emerging economies are up to, and whether we really will see a reformed process this time round.





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