As the world press begins to take an interest in the selection of Robert Zoellick’s successor, last week’s events prove one thing: Having a choice of candidates, for the first time, confirms that the job of World Bank president is important, and that stakeholders care.
A flurry of commentary and endorsements of Ngozi Oweala-Ikonjo by, inter alia, the Economist and some retired Bank staff, gives her candidacy some momentum over the similiarly qualified and more broadly experienced Jose Antonio Ocampo, twice a minister in his native Colombia and now a prolific academic at Columbia University. NOI’s claim that her 22 years at the World Bank makes her ready to change it begs the question of how effective she was as a manager, and then as Managing Director under Zoellick, or despite her leadership on the IDA 16 Replenishment, whether other aspects of her management style and decisions got in her way or were just a necessary part of the stabilization and clean-up needed after Paul Wolfowitz’s disastrous two years.
Zoellick, also one of the neoconservative “Vulcans”, was quickly parachuted in by the George W Bush administration after civil society and Bank staff forced the hand of the Bank’s board and Wolfowitz was forced out in May, 2007, much as Christine Lagarde was a hastily nominated–and obviously well-qualified–successor when Dominque Strauss-Kahn left the IMF after his arrest in New York a year ago.
NOI was key element of Zoellick’s rebuilding of his management team. Ngozi brought insider experience and a strong record as Nigeria’s finance minister, particularly after she resigned following her shift to foreign minister and a brief stint as a consultant at the Bank. With Sri Mulyani Indrawati, the distinguished and less showy Indonesian finance minister who became a World Bank managing director a bit later, she was part of his ‘gender parity in management’ goal. Sri Mulyani’s shrewd assessment of any situation, her quiet demeanor, and her perceptive and always gentle one-line summaries give her a large and loyal internal following among Bank staff.
As Jim Yong Kim, the US nominee, makes his quiet ‘listening tour’ to important Bank shareholders, NOI and Ocampo have mobilized every press opportunity and interview to demand “a level playing field”. As if picking one of them would somehow immediately address the Bank’s remaining governance dysfunctions, their implicit criticism of the process and continued vague assertions about the rights of middle-income countries deflects serious public questioning what they’d actually do in the job to be relevant to that client group, and where they think the Bank has to go and what the Bank has to do to escape irrelevance as “the Africa and fragile states bank”.
Rightly, this will be the focus of board members’ questions during the in camera interviews they will conduct in about ten days. The ludicrous idea of public debates, unless simultaneously interpreted into Mandarin, Hindi, Russian, Portuguese and Spanish, would illuminate few beyond the English-speaking punditocracy watching CNNI or Al-Jazeera or BBC World, people who contribute to or follow blogs like this one, and those who argue in faculty lounges and on Facebook and Twitter.
On the less positive side, Nigerian newspapers and bloggers are resuscitating last fall’s largely unsubstantiated rumors of cronyism and financial impropriety while Ngozi Oweala-Ikonjo was finance minister in the Obasanjo government. A flimsy reference in a Wikileaks cable is among the “evidence”. Florid accusations of directing contracts toward relatives and friends, financial distress with her mortgages in the United States, real estate ventures in Abuja, as well as the continuing legal battle in Nigeria over her US dollar salary when she was in Nigeria’s cabinet before, are not trivial and she has recently sued the website for libel. Maybe it is a front for the targets of her anti-corruption efforts, or for interests who resisted the fuel price rises she implemented in January. It may also just reflect the competitive and sensationalist press in her home country as something any Politically Exposed Person must endure. However, these allegations need to be addressed, if only to confirm that as a world-renowned crusader against corruption and for the recovery of stolen public assets, NOI ‘walks the talk’ when it is a matter of her own financial dealings and family assets.
For this reason, as part of the selection process, the World Bank’s board could usefully require all three nominees to submit a financial disclosure and outside interests statement. The World Bank has for several years publicly disclosed summaries of its officers’ assets and liabilities at a high level, for example, NOI’s own submission for 2010 on the World Bank’s website. (The 2011 submissions are, strangely, missing from the World Bank’s.) Jim Yong Kim would have completed one as part of the White House vetting process, since the President of the United States nominates no one, to anything, if their financial house is not in order and their taxes are not all paid. And as a former minister in Colombia and senior UN official, Ocampo should also share his financial and outside interests with the board.
Whoever is chosen will have to set an example of transparency and openness, to provide the foundation of personal integrity for leading a refashioned World Bank in a new direction. The three nominees’ disclosing their financial situation as part of the internal selection process would be a good start.
At the end of the day, it’s the support of Bank shareholders that will determine Robert Zoellick’s successor. Jim Yong Kim is going to visit them, and Japan’s support is more relevant than the FT’s. Where are Oweala-Ikonjo and Ocampo: on planes, listening, or looking for microphones and profilers and journalists to talk to?
Updated April 1 to add status of litigation about the website’s allegations and the controversy about them.