12 April 2012
A group of 39 former World Bank managers and economists – including Francois Bourguignon, the development lender’s chief economist from 2003 to 2007 – have endorsed Africa’s candidate to lead the institution, Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
In an open letter published on Wednesday, the group called on the Bank’s executive board to make their decision on merit, when the board for the first time considers more than one candidate for the job.
“We believe that Mrs Okonjo-Iweala has outstanding qualifications across the full range of relevant criteria,” they said.
Competition for US nominee
Okonjo-Iweala, a former World Bank managing director, and Jose Antonio Ocampo, a former finance minister of Colombia, are competing with the US nominee Jim Yong Kim, a public health expert and president of Dartmouth College.
Under a tacit agreement, the US picks the World Bank president, always an American, and Europe puts a European at the helm of the International Monetary Fund, the Bank’s sister institution.
Writing in their personal capacity ahead of the candidate interviews next week, the ex-Bank officials said “we care too much for the institution and for its historic development mission not to speak up.”
The letter was signed by a number of Europeans, including Bourguignon, as well as Barbara Kafka, an American who served over 33 years at the Bank in a range of posts.
Candidate ‘the times call for’
Tunisia’s central bank chief, Mustapha Nabli, a former head of the Bank’s Middle East and North Africa region, also signed. His country has not endorsed a candidate.
Okonjo-Iweala “would bring the combination of her experience as finance and foreign minister of a large and complex African country with her wide experience of working at all levels of the Bank’s hierarchy in different parts of the world, from agricultural economist to managing director.”
While the other two candidates also have strong qualifications, “she would be the outstanding World Bank president the times call for.”
The World Bank plans to select the successor to outgoing president Robert Zoellick by 20 April, the start of its spring meetings with the IMF.
South Africa’s backing
Nigeria, South Africa and Angola jointly announced Okonjo-Iweala’s nomination in Pretoria on 23 March, ahead of a World Bank constituency meeting between the three countries.
“We are very proud as Africa and certainly this constituency to confirm that the Minister of Finance of Nigeria is going to be a candidate for the president of the World Bank,” Gordhan said.
“She would be a candidate of choice not just on the African continent but well beyond as well.
Gordhan added that the G20 had made a decision that future processes for the selection of heads of international finance institutions like the World Bank needed to be open, transparent, democratic and merit-based.
“We believe that the candidature of Minister Okonjo-Iweala enables those that are going to make this decision in Washington to have before them an eminently qualified individual who can balance the needs of both developed and, importantly, developing countries,” Gordhan said.
Okonjo-Iweala would also “provide a new vision and sense of mission to the World Bank and its relevance, particularly to developing countries across the globe”.
Sapa, with additional reporting by SAinfo