America’s nominee Jim Yong Kim looks increasingly certain to be voted Bank president
One of the three candidates in the race to head the World Bank has pulled out, calling the selection process a “political exercise”.
The departure of Colombian economist José Antonio Ocampo means that America is almost certain to cement its grip on the poverty-fighting institution tomorrow, as Jim Yong Kim, the White House’s chosen candidate, is confirmed as its latest president.
Ocampo urged developing nations to back Kim’s only remaining rival, Nigerian finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who has the backing of the World Bank’s African members.
Kim, a Korean-born health campaigner hand-picked by President Obama, looks certain to be chosen if, as is traditional, Europe throws its weight behind America’s choice for the job.
But charities have reacted angrily to what they see as a stitch-up by rich western countries. Elizabeth Stuart, of Oxfam, said: “This election has still not been open or transparent. The world deserves better than a sham selection process with a forgone conclusion.”
Justin Forsyth, chief executive of Save the Children, said: “It is patently wrong that nationality should trump other criteria when deciding who leads the World Bank. The organisation exists to fight poverty, yet until now those with hands-on experience of doing so have barely had a chance at the top job.
“This is a golden opportunity to appoint a president whose experience means they will drive change and put the interests of the world’s poor first.”
Canada, Mexico and Japan have already said that they will support Kim, who has been on a whistle-stop tour of world capitals – accompanied by US Treasury officials – in a bid to win support for his candidacy. If European governments also back him, his position will be assured.
Ever since the bank and its sister institution the International Monetary Fund were set up in the aftermath of the second world war following the Bretton Woods conference on international monetary policy, the Europeans have chosen the boss of the IMF and the Americans the World Bank president, under a so-called “gentlemen’s agreement”.
Developing countries have won a greater voting share at both organisations in recent years to reflect the changing balance of power in the global economy. But they can still be outgunned by the old world.
Anti-poverty campaigners have found it hard to object to Kim, who has a proven record in health policy in poor countries. But they are exasperated at a process that allows the US to put its man in the post despite World Bank rhetoric about an open and transparent recruitment process.
Kim, who set up a non-governmental organisation called Partners in Health, which works to tackle HIV-Aids and other fatal diseases in poor countries, is a more radical candidate than many of the initial suggestions for the job including mooted for the job, which included the former treasury secretary Lawrence Summers, who once signed a memo at the World Bank saying that Africa was “vastly underpolluted”, although the memo was said to be sarcastic. White House-watchers suggest that Obama may have been forced to seek out a less conservative name than Summers after Jeffrey Sachs, the anti-poverty campaigner, launched a public campaign for the nomination.
There have also been rumours that some countries threatening to protest have been bought off with the offer of major international posts. “The BRICs [Brazil, Russia, India and China] will get some consolation prizes,” said one Bank-watcher.
Professor Brook Baker, of Northeastern University, who has worked with Kim on health projects, said: “One of the things Jim will probably look closely at is how to bring a different ideological perspective. He’s not an uncritical proponent of the development model that’s dominated for the past 30 years… I think he’s going to say some things that will get him into trouble.”
Kim is currently president of Dartmouth College, where his tenure has been controversial, with some students and alumni claiming that he has failed to get to grips with the Ivy League university’s troubled finances.