The US nominates its candidate… that was fast!

Ajay S. Banga, Former President and Chief Executive Officer of Mastercard, US’s nominee to the presidency of the World Bank. Credit: World Economic Forum / Benedikt von Loebell

Ironies never cease. As the World Bank shareholders begin the process of reviewing the institution’s ability to effectively respond to the multiple crises impacting the globe and to address calls for urgent reform by discussing its ‘evolution roadmap’, it seems efforts to ensure the gentleman’s agreement, born in the age of empire, in which the US and European split leadership of the World Bank and IMF respectively are in rude health.

Following the unexpected resignation of its current President David Malpass and coinciding with the opening of the ‘process’ for the selection of his replacement, the US administration today announced the nomination of former MasterCard CEO Ajay Banga as the US candidate – and thus, likely its next president. The announcement was preceded by a statement from US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen that the US would ‘quickly’ nominate its candidate, leaving one with the distinct impression that Malpass’s surprise resignation may not have surprised everyone.

Given the urgent need for reform in the global financial architecture to address the pressing challenges faced by the planet, women, the poor and marginalised populations, the nomination of someone so closely aligned with international finance and who has championed public-private partnerships as a solution to pressing environmental, social and human rights issues leaves little room for hope in the ‘evolution’ of the Bank. Mr. Banga’s background makes him rather unlikely to ensure the World Bank takes the opportunity of discussions about the roadmap to critically assess the effectiveness of the Bank’s private and finance-led approach to date and thus lead in a truly developmental direction.

The nomination of someone whose background indicates he would be committed to the failed ‘billions to trillions’ agenda and public-private partnerships, with their extremely poor track record, by the Bank’s principal shareholder and strong proponent of the gentleman’s agreement underscores the need for an end of the archaic and counter-productive ‘agreement’.

Indeed, the nomination makes clear the need for what civil society and low- and middle-income countries have long demanded, a merit-based, transparent selection process that necessarily incorporates exchanges with global civil society so that the World Bank president is selected in accordance with clear selection criteria, such as a commitment to human rights law and to a feminist, green and just transition that ensures economic transformation in middle- and low-income countries so that these can escape their long-standing path dependency.

We look forward to progressive candidates from the Global South with the qualifications and lived experience to enable them to lead the World Bank during these challenging times and to ensure it is truly ‘fit for purpose’.