The World Bank has named a Korean-American medical doctor, Jim Yong Kim, as its next president, despite criticism of the selection process by his rivals for the job.
While the US nominee faced a challenge for the first time ever, the World Bank’s most powerful shareholders, the US, Europe and Japan, came out in support on Monday for Kim who now holds the powerful job of providing loans and grants to developing countries.
Before the meeting of World Bank directors, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s finance minister and a veteran of the institution who had also been nominated as a candidate, criticised the way the US had dominated the appointment process since the organisation was launched in 1944.
Al Jazeera’s Alan Fisher, reporting from Washington, DC, said there was some dissent from member states over Kim’s qualifications.
“He’s not an economist, but then again, now is the time that people say the World Bank needs to look at other issues such as climate change, food supply, water [scarcity] and diseases like bird flu,” our correspondent said, pointing out that Kim has significant experience in developing countries.
“Even so, there is a growing feeling that the process needs to be opened up, so that the US doesn’t always get the post.”
A third candidate, Jose Antonio Ocampo, the Colombian former finance minister, dropped out on Friday also complaining that the selection process was purely political and not merit-based.
There had been some hopes from critics of the bank that the powerful emerging BRICS economies – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – might coalesce around Okonjo-Iweala. But those were scotched when Moscow on Friday publicly endorsed Kim.
By a tacit agreement dating to the sister institutions’ founding, the US has always chosen the World Bank head while Europe supplies the leader of the International Monetary Fund.
But 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 which have called for a more open process based on merit.
“We have come some way because it’s no longer in the smoke-filled rooms of Europe and the US that the spoils are shared between the IMF and World Bank positions, between those two centres of power,” Pravin Gordhan, South African finance minister, said on Monday.
“This time the invitation was open to anybody to nominate a candidate. [But] the question is whether the process subsequent to that … has followed through on basic democratic tenets.”
South Africa endorsed Okonjo-Iweala’s quest to succeed president Robert Zoellick, the former US diplomat who will leave at the end of his five-year term in June.
The executive board met on Monday to select Kim, whom the Bank said was chosen by “consensus”.
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 $258bn in 2011, including $43bn in new loans and grants.
Despite the grumbling from outside the US-Europe axis, the appointment of Kim, a medical doctor with deep experience fighting HIV/AIDS in developing countries and head of the US’s prestigious Dartmouth College university, marks a significant change from the US bankers and diplomats who have been tapped to lead the bank in the past.
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.
Kim had travelled to around a dozen countries to introduce himself, however, apparently convincingly enough to earn solid respect.
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