Friday, 27 April 2012

Democratising the World Bank

By Carlos Fortin 

In the light of the World Bank’s avowed intention to introduce a merit–based selection process for the next president, (which until then the choice rested solely in the hands of the U.S. Government), earlier this month I signed a statement of Latin American economists and social scientists in support of the candidature of José Antonio Ocampo for the Presidency of the World Bank.

The statement referred to Ocampo’s outstanding qualifications for the post:  His academic credentials and achievements; his experience at the national level (he was Minister of Finance of Colombia); and the international level (Undersecretary-General of the United Nations). The candidature was originally put forward by the group of Executive Directors that represent developing countries and Russia in the Board of Directors of the Bank (the so-called G11).

However, midway in the process Ocampo decided to withdraw his candidature and he has now sent a message to his supporters explaining why.  It makes worrying reading. It starts by saying the he:
“decided to participate in this first-ever open competition for the selection of the World Bank President to help establish the principle that the selection process had to be different and if not on this occasion, next time around”.  “Until the interviews with the candidates” he goes on saying, “the process ran as what looked to be an open, merit-based race, except for the fact that, in contrast to the two developing country candidates, the U.S. candidate [Dr. Jim Yong Kim] refused to participate in open debates or even to give public interviews of any sort.”
But then the true nature of the process was revealed.
"After the interviews”, writes Ocampo, “the process became entirely political. The U.S. Treasury and State Departments started to put strong pressure on countries to endorse Dr. Kim and to divide the G11. The first result of the latter was the Russian endorsement of Dr. Kim on Thursday, and the news I received from very trustworthy sources that several other G11 countries would also do so. Under these conditions, I decided to withdraw from the race on Friday… on the grounds that it has ceased to be a merit-based race."
Ocampo, however, is optimistic.
"This process will not at the end fully meet the characteristics of an open, transparent and merit-based process. But it has established a strong precedent that the election of the President of the World Bank has to be different. I hope the Board of Directors will reflect on this experience and establish stronger rules for the next election. I will be fully satisfied if my candidacy has helped the road of building better governance for the world’s leading development cooperation institution."
A sentiment, and a hope, which I am sure all of us at here at IDS share.

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