WASHINGTON, Apr 16 – The World Bank’s directors meet on Monday to decide who will be the powerful institution’s next chief, with all expectations that the US will maintain its unbroken lock on the position.
While the US nominee has faced a challenge for the first time in 66 years, from two solid developing country candidates, there was little doubt that the Bank’s most powerful shareholders – the United States, Europe and Japan – would support Korean-American physician Jim Yong Kim.
After one of the two challengers, former Colombian finance minister Jose Antonio Ocampo, dropped out on Friday complaining that the selection process was all political, it left Nigeria’s current finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Kim’s only challenger.
There were some hopes from critics of the Bank that the powerful emerging BRICS economies – Brazil, Russia, India, and China – might coalesce around Okonjo-Iweala, a two-decade veteran of the bank, but those were scotched when Moscow on Friday publicly endorsed Kim.
That almost guaranteed that the tradition that Washington names the World Bank head and Europe supplies the leader of the International Monetary Fund goes unchanged.
“Everyone inside the Bank assumes the US guy will win,” a Bank farm-sector specialist told AFP.
“The only way around that is if European countries refuse to back the US candidate. In the current context, it doesn’t seem likely,” said Daniel Bradlow, a law professor at American University in Washington.
The winner, who the bank says will be chosen by “consensus” as early as Monday, will replace current President Robert Zoellick, the former US diplomat who will leave at the end of his five-year term in June.
The position is crucial for much of the developing world. The president oversees a staff of 9,000 economists, development experts and other policy specialists, and a loan portfolio that hit $258 billion in 2011.
Last year the bank committed $43 billion to new loans and grants, helping diverse countries to develop infrastructure, administration, and key sectors of their economies.
Like the leadership succession last year at the IMF, the race to head the Bank has sparked muscle-flexing by newly empowered emerging economies and poorer countries who have called for a more open process based on merit.
The entry into the race of Ocampo and Okonjo-Iweala, both respected economists, forced some discussion of the bank’s development mission.
“Before, when there was only one candidate, the US backing counted for 99 percent and merit for one percent,” said former Bank economist Uri Dadush.
“Now, with several candidates, merit counts more. But it is not the essential thing.”
Even so, the US nomination of Kim, a medical doctor with deep experience fighting HIV/AIDS in developing countries and head of prestigious Dartmouth College, marks a significant change from the American bankers and diplomats who have been tapped to lead the Bank in the past.
“It’s time for a development professional to lead the world’s largest development agency,” President Barack Obama said when announcing his nomination in March.
But critics worry Kim’s experience is not broad enough to handle all of the fields the World Bank deals with, from infrastructure development to environmental protection.
However, Kim travelled to around a dozen countries to introduce himself, apparently convincingly enough to earn solid support.
Peter Chowla of the Bretton Woods Project, which monitors the behaviour of the World Bank and IMF, said the process only appeared to be open.
Developing countries “don’t have the requisite voting power at the Bank, because the Europeans and the Americans have stalled reforms for decades.”
“We still have what is essentially an appointment by the American president,” he said.