Fried: Should the World Bank consider non-Americans for its next president?

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19 March, 2012
By: Mark Fried
Head of public policy, Oxfam Canada

Every World Bank president in history has been an American, nominated by the White House and rubber-stamped by a Board where the United States holds the majority of votes. Similarly, every International Monetary Fund managing director has been a European.
It is Washington’s version of Mexico’s storied “dedazo” – when the president picked his own successor long before any election campaign began.
After suffering a hailstorm of criticism during the last changing of the guard, the World Bank Board unanimously agreed to a selection process which they call open, transparent and merit-based.
By “open” they must mean the declaration that citizens of any of the Bank’s 187 member countries are eligible. Lots of names have been put forward, including several credible heavyweights, like American anti-poverty champion Jeffrey Sachs, Nigerian economist and former high Bank official Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Indonesian economist Sri Mulyani Indrawati, and Indian high-tech entrepreneur and philanthropist Nandan Nilekani.
The Nigerian or the Indonesian would become not only the first non-American president of the World Bank, but the first woman to preside over that bastion of male power.
Transparency? Well, we know that nominations close on March 23, the Board will interview three on a shortlist and make a final decision by consensus before mid-April. We know the search criteria and they read like any corporate CEO’s job description. No mention of development expertise and experience.

We don’t know much else. As far as we can tell, nothing in the process seeks to canvas the views of developing countries, never mind giving them a say. Let’s not forget that developing countries are the Bank’s only clients.

“Merit-based” is supposed to imply not based on nationality. I guess we’ll see in a few weeks time. Sadly, nationality matters, given the widespread perception among developing countries that the World Bank president takes his marching orders from the US Treasury.
It is virtually certain that a US-national will be chosen. Old ways die hard. Much less clear is the whether the next World Bank president will have the sensitivity and independence to make the institution more democratic and accountable.

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