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Selection process for the top job lacks legitimacy â€“ the post should be made open to all applicants around the world
Barack Obama made two statements that mattered at the White House on Friday. The first, identifying himself with the family of the shot black teenager Trayvon Martin, exemplified why this president is special. The other, nominating Jim Yong Kim to run the World Bank, showed him as a business-as-usual US leader.
After Mr Obama gave him the nod, the Dartmouth professor, Dr Kim, was declared “front-runner” for the Bank job by the New York Times. That was not speculation. It represents a consensus among Bank-watchers and development hands alike. Never mind that the selection process has not even begun, with plenty of other names still on the table. Never mind, too, that Dr Kim is a relatively obscure academic. What matters above all else is that he is America’s choice. And, when it comes to who is in charge of one of the most important institutions in the global economy â€“ lending about $16bn (Â£10bn) last year alone, and with over 10,000 employees, what America says goes.
This is a corrupt process. It continues one of the longest-running gentlemen’s agreements in economic history, which decrees that the IMF must always be run by a European, while an American has to head the World Bank. Whatever the interests of the vast majority of their actual member states in Asia, Latin America and Africa, the cosy club endures. It is a rotten system. Rotten for the countries who call on the World Bank or the IMF for assistance, rotten for the institutions themselves, and not even much good for those governments that call the shots either. The cartelisation means that the Fund and the Bank get neither the best managers nor the freshest thinking. The system has done great harm to the Bank in recent years: George Bush’s first nominee, Paul Wolfowitz, was forced out after arranging a promotion for his girlfriend. His second, Robert Zoellick, a generally safe pair of hands who is about to step down, tried to sit on a report that blamed surging food prices on the White House’s drive for biofuels. Meanwhile, the poor countries that have most to do with these organisations are forced to implement orthodox policies that don’t always work or do good. The result is a system with a damaging lack of legitimacy.
This is not a narrow argument about nationality. Dr Kim may well be the best man for the job. But for everybody’s sake, including his, that should be proved through a fair and transparent selection process. The post should be made open to all applications, and candidates should have to face not just Bank insiders, but members of the public around the world. This is a development institution for the planet, not a sinecure for allies of whoever is sitting in the White House â€“ even when it is Mr Obama.