Why not a Jamaican for World Bank?


Why not a Jamaican for World Bank?

Monday, January 21, 2019

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For 43 of the International Monetary Fund's 73 years in existence, the managing director has been a French national, and all 12 World Bank presidents have been Americans.

This practice reflects the power structure in the world after World War II and in the case of the World Bank, the United States was the largest financial contributor.

In those days, there were very few independent developing countries. Since then, a great deal has taken place and in recent years, and increasingly so, the World Bank has been an institution lending to governments in developing countries.

This being so, the issue has arisen that it would be appropriate that the presidency of the World Bank should be held by a suitably qualified person from a developing country.

The question of changing the tradition and electing a developing country technocrat has again come to the fore because of the sudden, enigmatic resignation of the current president, Jim Yong Kim, with three years of his term remaining.

The issue is made more egregious because President Kim was not a specialist in economic development, nor did he have any practical experience in development policy. He was a specialist in health and was president of Dartmouth University.

His only standout achievement was to increase the diversity of the staff of the bank by hiring more professionals from the developing countries, particularly Africa.

In 2012, there were three candidates for World Bank president — Mr Kim, Ms Ngai Okonjo-Iweala and Mr Jose Antonio Ocampo. The other two are still viable candidates.

Ms Okonjo-Iweala, the former foreign affairs and finance minister of Nigeria and former vice-president of the World Bank who has a PhD in economics from MIT, would have been the first woman, the first African, and the second non-white person after Mr Kim, to run the bank.

Mr Ocampo, an economist and professor at Columbia University, was formerly head of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean and former minister of finance in Colombia. He withdrew his candidacy in the final stages so as to not split developing country support.

Mr Kim was elected because it was felt that if an American was not appointed the United States would reduce its financial contribution to the bank, where it still is the largest shareholder. This position has recently been reiterated by some in the US Congress.

Mr Kim's election was widely seen as the international community's failure to practise what it preaches in not reflecting current and evolving global realities. The World Bank was said to have lost its moral authority with respect to the processes of fair governance, transparency and meritocracy.

This time around, it is a chance to select a president who is a development specialist by training, experience and from a developing country. The election process should be based on merit and provide a chance to transform the governance structure of the World Bank to one which is more representative of global realities and its mission to promote economic development and eliminate poverty.

Although Jamaica's votes are of little significance, it should support a developing country candidate, maybe even nominate a Jamaican.

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