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Search for God's Banker: Why Meritocracy Should Trump Agenda Politics

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With increasing influence of developing countries in the global economy, the clamor for a World Bank president from outside the USA has been growing, but with America and European shareholders controlling 60% of the votes, President Obama's inspired choice  of a South Korean-born US citizen instead of the usual middle-aged, East Coast, white male will likely carry the day .

  As the Board of Executive Directors of the World Bank begins the search for who will be the next World Bank President aka 'God's Banker,' it is worth-noting that the remarkable show of continental solidarity with Nigeria's Finance Minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has been unprecedented. The schedule of interviews in Washington, DC, as agreed with the candidates based on their availability is as follows:  Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala {Monday, April 9}; Dr. José Antonio Ocampo {Tuesday, April 10} and Dr. Jim Yong Kim {Wednesday, April 11}. The World Bank plans to select the successor to outgoing president Robert Zoellick by April 20, the start of its spring meetings with the IMF.   With only three candidates, it is expected that the competence, background and aptitude of the nominees ought to be distilled in a transparent, merit-based process. Considering the stakes involved, many experts have tried to weigh the intellectual capacities of the nominees against their abilities to make decisions that will affect nations and global institutions.

  The Nominees: Until she resumed as Minister in Nigeria a few months ago, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was the Managing Director of the World Bank responsible for Africa, South Asia, Europe and Central Asia. In a career spanning over twenty years, she has served the Bank as Special Assistant to the Senior Vice-President, Operations; Director of Institutional Change and Strategy; Country Director, Malaysia, Mongolia, Laos and Cambodia; Deputy Vice-President, Middle East Region; Vice President and Corporate Secretary. Okonjo-Iweala holds a BSc in Economics from Harvard University and a PhD in Regional Economics & Development from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She has served as Minister of Finance and Foreign Affairs in Nigeria. Her appointment would mean that women would now be leading both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

  Dr. José Antonio Ocampo, a Colombian, has been the UN Under-Secretary General for Economics & Social Affairs and the Finance Minister of Colombia. He holds a Ph.D. in Economics from Yale University and is currently a professor at Columbia University's School of International & Public Affairs in New York. He is known for leading Colombia through Latin America's financial crisis and has the breadth of knowledge and experience to reform the World Bank for the present day challenges, having managed and reformed major global institutions and government ministries. Dr. Jim Yong Kim, a Korean-American, is a medic and also holds a Ph.D. in Anthropology from Harvard University. He was a founder of Partners in Health, a non-profit agency that developed a successful, replicable model to provide health care to the poor. He is the President of Dartmouth College and his background in health, fits well with the Bank's broader development goals. His managerial record at the World Health Organization shows that he could be effective at implementing the aims of the Bank.

  God's Banker: An Awesome Assignment The Presidency of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, otherwise called the World Bank, is by definition of the job and responsibility, exclusively in its own class. It is arguably, the job simultaneously wooed by every economic operator globally, coveted by global money managers, courted by Potentates and Serfdoms and deferred to by natural and political sovereigns. In the wake of the President's authorization and influence is an asset base, as at last year, of over US$300 billion spread over the global money and capital markets and a loan book of over US$57 billion. It is an awesome assignment superintending the agencies of the World Bank Group namely: International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD),  International Development Association (IDA), International Finance Corporation (IFC), Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) and the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), with primary assignments ranging from concessional lending for hard  and social infrastructure, in developing and poorest countries - roads, agriculture, irrigation, education, health and facilitation of private sector finance, to legal and governance policy development.

  Contesting the World Bank presidency is particularly challenging because since its inception in 1944, the post has traditionally been held by an American nominated by the US president because America is the Bank's largest shareholder. However, the World Bank Group consists of 187 countries, and emerging economies, with rising contribution to global growth, are rightly demanding for openness and democratization of these positions in the quest for fairness in the international system, indicative that the World Bank job and that of the IMF ought to be filled on merit alone. That should not exclude qualified Americans and Europeans, but neither should it guarantee them a job a priori. In point of fact, if the Bank is going to help find solutions to the lingering problems of global poverty and underdevelopment, rebuilding post-conflict states and fighting high and volatile food prices, its next president must come to the job, willing to take risks and experiment iterative approaches with a heavy dose of humility. The Bank needs a new leader with a command of macroeconomics, the respect of leaders of both the funding and the funded countries, and the management skills to implement his or her vision, regardless of nationality.

  Ocampo has been endorsed by a global cross-section of economists. An Internet petition supporting his candidacy, on economist Kevin Gallagher's TripleCrisis blog had more than a hundred signatures from academic economists, former central bank chiefs and the heads of international agencies. In a Financial Times opinion published online, Ocampo defended his candidacy, citing his '36 years in development.' He outlined his vision for 'a brave new World Bank,' which he said could fight poverty 'not only with economic growth and job creation, but also by addressing inequalities that have risen in most countries in recent decades, and by eradicating all forms of gender inequality.'

  Who Pays the Piper…? It is, however, obvious that given his medical credentials, virologist Dr. Kim is a more appropriate fit for director-general of World Health Organization (WHO) for which he had even worked as a director. The World Bank's core mandate is project finance in developing countries, and dabbling into health when there is a WHO was a shift in focus, which was a derailment that needs to be reversed. The World Bank deals mainly with developing countries and the case must be made, and strongly too, that it is time for the developing world to be at its helm.

  The US media is mobilized to promote Kim's candidacy. In a crusading editorial captioned 'Jim Yong Kim, the right choice for the World Bank,' The Washington Post made a tepid argument that: 'those, who would reject an American nominee, ought to consider whether the United States should be entirely excluded from leadership roles in international organizations … as Americans are ruled out in competitions for head of the International Monetary Fund and Secretary General of the United Nations.' Instructively, there is anxiety across the world on the monopoly of the American nominee on this post. But the justification for this trend to continue given the weight of the US and her G-8 allies' voting rights is anachronistic and retrogressive in an era that produced Barack Obama. There is nothing but grief in the comment that, in an election year, a US citizen must hold the post because Congress will not appropriate funds to the World Bank. Sixty years after the Bretton Woods conference, the world has changed dramatically. Amongst the moving changes is the decline of European Economies which now require IMF funding; the continuing rise of China, India, Russia, South Africa and Brazil; the emergence of South Korea and the Asian Tigers; the massive transformation of the Gulf States' economies and the aggressive growth of natural resource management in erstwhile poor nations. The US will put a seal of hypocrisy on the rest of the world and not the least, undermine the World Bank itself if it imposes a physician, good natured or not, to head the World Bank at this time. If the US and its G-8 allies destroy the legitimacy of the World Bank Presidency, it will further reinforce the widely held perception that the leitmotif of American foreign policy in the deprived Third World - the Bank's main theatre of service - is purely mercantilist.

  The Case for Okonjo-Iweala Okonjo-Iweala may well be the most endorsed individual from Africa for an international responsibility in recent times. Her endorsement by the Africa Union (AU) as the continent's sole candidate and the published support of her candidacy by the BRICS group - Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa - is salutary. Also, 39 former World Bank managers and economists endorsed her in an open letter, saying while the other two candidates also have strong qualifications, 'she would be the outstanding World Bank president the times call for.'   But the numbers are against Okonjo-Iweala beating the US nominee, because it would take more than just her talents to break the US-European duopoly. Even Dominique Strauss-Kahn's ignominious departure as head of the IMF could not break the mold. Washington backed Christine Lagarde to head the IMF so long as the US right to have an American run the World Bank remained. Kim, the favored US candidate for the post, is supported by Canada, Japan and South Korea, where he was born. Which begs the question; is it worth Africa challenging the United States for the World Bank Presidency? The answer to this question is a resounding YES! Okonjo-Iweala's breadth of education, cognate experience, specific hands-on professional competence across a swathe of the real world; coupled with being a tested public finance reformer and budget innovator in one of the world's most difficult economies, matched against the challenges for the incoming President of the World Bank puts her head and shoulder above the other nominees in an objective assessment, her gender notwithstanding.

  To counter America's opposition, the current African coalition and the BRICS should prevail on Colombia and the South Americans for Dr. Ocampo, formidable on the strength of his own accomplishment as innovative Finance Minister and later UN Under-secretary General, to step down. That will not diminish respect for him. A transparent two way contest between Okonjo-Iweala and Kim will be a historic turn of events that would revisit governance at the Bank, the limitations of current quota and voting rights, Bank structure and representation and abolition of any divine rights to rule. The Bank itself describes the job specification, inter alia: A proven track record of leadership; Experience in managing large organizations with international exposure; familiarity with the public sector; Ability to articulate a clear vision of the Bank's development mission; A firm commitment to and appreciation for multilateral cooperation; and effective and diplomatic communication skills, impartiality and objectivity.' These attributes effectively describe Okonjo-Iweala.

  Her bid for the 12th President of the World Bank Group is an immense challenge in our time; a clarion call to duty and responsibility to the most desperate part of humanity. Her candidature is credible and an event where she already made the critical point to stand in her own skin and skills. Her competencies attest to this: Ivy League alumna, Ph.D. in Regional Economics, Bank lender and policy work in all the core sectors of the World Bank service - South Asia, Africa, Europe, Central Asia; Debts Negotiator, Development Economist, Finance Minister of the Year 2005, Her aptitudes as Finance expert, Foreign Minister, not excluding the hard work of Wife, Mother and African Princess. Comfortable in Washington and in the Tropics, her span bestrides the sophisticated and the mundane; a real God's Banker.

  Okonjo-Iweala is exceptionally prepared for this assignment. Drumming its support for her, The Economist magazine noted: 'When economists from the World Bank visit poor countries to dispense cash and advice, they routinely tell governments to reject cronyism and fill each important job with the best candidate available. It is good advice. The World Bank should take it. In appointing its next president, the bank's board should reject the nominee of its most influential shareholder, America, and pick Nigeria's Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.' Editorial