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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Time to End US Monopoly in Nominating World Bank President

Robert B. Zoellick will not seek a second mandate as president of the World Bank when his first term expires on June 30 2012.


Since its establishment seven decades ago, the head of the World Bank has been nominated and appointed by the US president. The tacit agreement was devious in the 1940s; it is even more imperious in the 21st century.


The perceived failure of the World Bank to deliver on its core mission springs largely from the fact that its "club governance" style is out of sync with global reality, which requires anticipatory, flexible collaborative and inclusive multilateral institutions. The World Bank's decision-making process is therefore seen as exclusive and accountable only to a few powerful countries. This undermines its inclusiveness, effectiveness and legitimacy.


The imperative to bridge the long-standing international development gap – enhancing global stability, reducing income inequality, eradicating poverty, hunger and infectious diseases – is a compelling reason for a more collaborative approach to tackling global challenges through inclusive, transparent and effective global institutions.


Furthermore, the economic turmoil, global warming and rising income inequality painfully underscore the critical need for robust, global collective governance. At its best, the World Bank can serve as a dynamo, converting ideas and knowledge into innovative solutions to tackle poverty, disease, hunger, global warming and environmental degradation.


Consequently, finding Mr. Zoellick's replacement has touched off intense global interest. This is good news for the World Bank and developing countries, which often bear the brunt of the Bank's policies. The Group of 20 is committed to a "new open, transparent and merit-based selection process" for the next president. China and Brazil have urged for a fair, competitive selection process. Developing economies must engage with the World Bank not just as recipients but also as stakeholders whose opinion count.


Can President Obama find the courage to acquiesce to an "open, merit-based selection process"? Not in an election year. Some of the corporations who make millions off the World Bank are contributors to US political campaigns. There are strong political incentives to appoint Wall Street or Washington insider. Zoellick served previously as US trade representative and managing director at Goldman Sachs.


The long list for Zoellick's replacement included Microsoft Corporation Chairman Bill Gates, Brown University President Ruth Simmons, Chairman, and CEO of PepsiCo Indra Nooyi. The White House is now looking at the short list. Will it be Lawrence Summers, disgraced Harvard President and former Obama economic adviser? John Kerry, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee? Susan Rice, US ambassador to the UN?


The Beltway rumor-mill is on overdrive. The candidate with the most gravitas, Senator John Kerry, does not want the job. Without a background or training in economics, Ms Rice would be a long short. Moreover, Rice could be US Secretary of State in Obama's second term. Not Larry Summers. As then-president of Harvard, he suggested that women might lack an "intrinsic aptitude" for science and technology. Summers also signed a memo to dump toxic waste in developing countries as chief economist of the World Bank in 1991.


In a maverick move Prof. Jeffery D. Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute, economist, author and UN adviser, has publicly declared his eagerness to lead the World Bank. Sachs' long record of standing for the poorest of the poor for decades: on debt cancellation, food security, disease control, climate change and global stability is unmatched by any of the names in the Obama short list.


Sachs' self-declared candidacy has gathered global momentum. Sachs' candidacy has drawn a number of endorsements from Bhutan, East Timor, Haiti, Jordan, Kenya, Malaysia, Namibia, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Uruguay. 12 Nobel Laureates and intellectual leaders have also endorsed him. Last week, 27 Democrats in the House of Representatives pressed President Obama to nominate Jeffery Sachs as the next World Bank president.


Sachs' approach has been criticized as top-down and mostly prescriptive. Sachs is vilified for being too trusting of "simple" solutions, which are often technology based, discounting institutions and more evolutionary processes. Among colleagues, Sachs is perceived as arrogant and undiplomatic because he does not listen with compassion when he holds the right opinion.


Conversely, Sachs is also one of the few people who can cultivate and sustain connections across business, politics, global diplomacy and Hollywood for the cause of tackling global issues. That is rare and valuable asset to mobilizing interest and resources to solve big problems.


An open, merit-based selection process" could rely on a small selection committee appointed by the World Bank board. Its task would be to draw up a shortlist from candidates nominated by member countries or by key stakeholders.


The World Bank will release a short list of three candidates on March 23 2012.

Can President Obama find the courage to end the Wall Street–Washington hegemony of the World Bank?

Alex O. Awiti, PhD
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