For all the drama, this time is different

Despite the fractious disagreement and impugning, there is full agreement that the Bank needs a new direction, in a new world. Doing what the Bank does, but better; doing what comes next in a new way; attending to the Bank’s role in partnerships and reconciling its country model against its convening role on global public goods; and ‘rebalancing’ both products and governance to reflect a world that’s changed enormously since 1944, since 1989, since 2001, and since 2008.

What is surprising is that the arguments over process have not focused on what we expect to go on in private interviews and subsequent discussion about the appointment. Does ‘consensus’ mean among the 25 board members? Does it mean among the owners? Are there leaders in the board who can be expected behind closed doors to behave with the Bank’s interest in mind, while others will vote purely their own constituency’s (whatever that is)? Will precedent, habit, sentimentalism or political correctness rule?

And what are we to gather from the comportment of the candidates? Ngozi has run a fairly public and attention-grabbing campaign, catapulted into everyone’s Google searches by the European press. Also a former minister and international civil servant, and many economists’ choice, Ocampo has been largely silent, except to say that Ngozi would be better than Kim. She has returned his compliment.  Surprise candidate Kim has played it safe, too safe, as if he were making the rounds before a US confirmation hearing, including private meetings last week with World Bank executive directors.  Access to the press seems to have been forbidden by US Treasury, as it is for Senate nominees, even though for the Bank the pre-appointment process ends not in a public hearing with press, a transcript and C-SPAN, but in a private interview behind closed doors. In retrospect, Treasury’s cordon sanitaire, despite the press releases about his visits with decision-makers in Brazil, China, Rwanda and Korea, is a major blunder for someone no one had even speculated about. It was right last week to belatedly add Europe into Kim’s systematic and low key ‘meet-and-greet’ program.

Everyone also agrees that this should absolutely be the last time for nominations only from governments, and that five years from now the Bank needs to do what anyone hiring a CEO does: define the job and what’s needed, invite applications, and hire a headhunter to help evaluate a more understood selection process and map the candidates against the needs of the organization at that time. A CEO appointment is not a political office, but the formal public exposure before selection needs to reach at least the level of information and transparency the IMF has already sanctioned.  The Bank’s board has seriously failed to detail the Development Committee’s instruction into a selection protocol that passes muster in an era where accountability needs to be accompanied by at least a modicum of transparency.

Whoever is appointed, the new World Bank president has to work with the owners to define how the successor is picked, or how a potential second term is authorized. University and corporate reappointment protocol and practice need to be looked at, if only to avoid the hurly-burly now going on at EBRD.  In London, a reportedly well-performing EBRD president is competing for reappointment in what now appear to be largely passport- and spoils-driven exercise that certainly doesn’t look open, transparent, or merit-based by any stretch of the imagination.

At the World Bank, the presidential appointment process needs to be part of a larger governance conversation about shareholding, and whether a 25-person, full-time resident board serves the needs of the Bank, its owners, its stakeholders, and the broader global development agenda. Few believe it does.

The appointment of Robert Zoellick’s successor is not the end, but beginning of a journey to bring the World Bank into a new Century. Beyond three well-qualified candidates’ resumes and opinions–and very different ones, at that–the Bank’s owners must appoint someone who will know what role to play in that transformation process, with the temperament to pull it off, and whom they will all be prepared to support wholeheartedly.

7 thoughts on “For all the drama, this time is different

  1. Thank you. I had not seen the Spanish language Press, and his own piece in Project Syndicate is written in clear, compelling language about the right issues.

  2. Thanks for the links, which I hadn’t seen.

    So about the same degree of exposure as Jim Kim, actually.

  3. I think you misrepresent Ocampo in this article. You state:

    “Also a former minister and international civil servant, and many economists’ choice, Ocampo has been largely silent, except to say that Ngozi would be better than Kim.”

    He has not been “largely silent”. He has published his views of what he would do with the World Bank if elected. See his recent articles in the FT and Project Syndicate, as well as interviews and more, here:

    Articles and interviews in the Spanish speaking Press:

  4. Of course Jim Kim was aware it would be contested. You don’t ‘run’ for a nomination from the White House and expect to get it, as Larry Summers and Jeff Sachs found out. You get asked. Having accepted, Kim didn’t realize he’d be running for student council president or prom queen, having to speak to every microphone thrust in front of him, and expected to take positions on the other candidates’ suitability, because that’s not what you do when you’ve been vetted by the White House and you’re waiting for your confirmation hearing.

    What the partisans on all sides don’t realize is that the World Bank’s board might well feel pressured and uneasy by all this brouhaha in blogs and by the strident, almost entitled tone candidates and their supporters have chosen for this race. It might well backfire, given some of the comments that question the integrity of board members. Even on this blog, the tone of comments is visibly lower than when it played a key role in the removal of Paul Wolfowitz five years ago, despite far more controversial and opinionated contributions.

    Sometimes ex-politicians don’t realize they’re not in campaign mode every time they see another human being, or meet a journalist; similarly, their supporters become hyper-partisan in their advocacy, or read too much into their favorite’s paper trail, which is just as damaging because it makes the candidate appear unaware of how it makes them look.

  5. “rules of the game, such as there are any in the first contested appointment”

    Precisely… was he aware this would be a contested appointment?

  6. Jim Kim is following the rules of the game, such as there are any in the first contested appointment, with three candidates. Not everyone would agree that his qualifications as a different outsider from a legitimate profession, with experience addressing poverty and long opposed to the Washington consensus while others were administering it, is not what the Bank needs. Many staff, particularly younger ones, are keen for change and a new direction.

    His nationality bothers many people. His written work has been misrepresented.

    Neither of us is Jim Kim, so neither of us can comment on his motivation, what he thinks of the other candidates (he has admirably remained above the fray) or how his following Treasury’s rules may disadvantage him, at least to the niche public, which we both are.

  7. Although if I were Jim Yong Kim, I would feel extremely honored having been nominated for the presidency of the World Bank, and the last thing I would like was to be or seem to be ungrateful, there is no doubt that, in his shoes, I would begin to feel a bit uncomfortable with how the whole process was turning out. Did Jim Yong Kim really think about that he could provoke the displacement of candidates that could be more meritorious than him, just because they were not American? If finally nominated president that sure must take away some of the fun of it all.

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