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US Monopoly on WB Presidency Challenged

Xinhua News Agency, March 26, 2012 Adjust font size:

The United States on Friday named its candidate to lead the World Bank (WB), but this time the selection is not a solo any more.

Two candidates endorsed by developing countries unprecedentedly challenged the US monopoly on the top post of the WB, the leading global financial institution for fighting poverty and supporting development.

Surprise pick

As the deadline loomed, US President Barack Obama announced the nomination of Jim Yong Kim, a Korean-American global health expert, as candidate to replace outgoing Robert Zoellick, whose term as WB president expires at the end of June.

"It's time for a development professional to lead the world's largest development agency," Obama said as he made the announcement.

"Jim has truly global experience," said Obama, "He has worked from Asia to Africa to the Americas, from capitals to small villages. His personal story exemplifies the great diversity to our country."

The selection is commonly considered as a surprise pick because Kim, the current Dartmouth College president, has hardly been talked about for the nominee in the past week.

The US traditional choices of the WB head have been either politicians or business leaders since the bank was founded after World War II.

Obama chose Kim out of several more well-known candidates, such as Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the United Nations, and Lawrence Summers, former director of the president's National Economic Council.

Arvind Subramanian, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International economics, called it a "quite unusual choice."

Yukon Huang, a senior associate in the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told Xinhua the message the White House conveyed was that the nominee is a man of the world - born in Korea, raised and educated in the United States with professional interests that are highly relevant for developing countries.

US economist Jeffrey Sachs, who openly campaigned for the job and finally withdrew, said in an article posted on the Washington Post website that "without incisive leadership, the bank has often seemed like just a bank."

"And unfortunately, Washington has backed at the helm bankers and politicians who lack the expertise to fulfill the institution's unique mandate," Sachs added.

Unprecedented competition

Following the close of the nomination process, the WB announced two more candidates for the position: Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria and Jose Antonio Ocampo of Colombia.

For the first time, two non-American candidates will compete with a US nominee. What's more, both of them have impressive credentials as economists and diplomats.

Okonjo-Iweala, the current Nigerian finance minister, was nominated by three African countries - South Africa, Angola and her native land. She has profound working experience in the multinational World Bank and her capability has been widely recognized.

Ocampo, endorsed by Brazil, has strong academic background and held posts in the Colombian government as well as the United Nations.

Although Yukon Huang said Kim's selection was not driven by domestic political considerations but by his professional qualifications, Subramanian doubted whether Kim is a better choice in terms of international experience and management.

Domenico Lombardi, a former WB board official said the impressive background of both Ocampo and Okonjo-Iweala signals a big shift and really reflects a game change. He said this is the first time in history for a truly contested election.

However, analysts believe that the United States is very much likely to laugh last as it is the WB's largest donor and has the largest voting share.

Uri Dadush and Moises Naim, senior associates at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, criticized the way that top leaders of the WB and International Monetary Fund (IMF) have been selected.

They said the leaders of both the WB and IMF are selected through "opaque, quota-driven negotiations," which have been defied by the meritocracy.

"No well-run global company selects its senior management this way," they added.

Rogerio Studart, the Brazilian member of the WB's 25-member executive board, said there was a strong sense among developing countries that the selection of Zoellick's successor should involve a broader discussion about the bank's future.

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