Coordinating Minister of the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala
By Obinna Chima
Despite strong recommendations in her favour to take the soon-to-be-vacant topmost position at the World Bank – including a reported endorsement by President Goodluck Jonathan – the Coordinating Minister of the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, is not predisposed to accepting the job.
The position will become vacant in June when the current President, Mr. Robert Zoellick, completes his tenure.
Reuters news agency reported Wednesday that emerging nations had expressed support for Okonjo-Iweala.
But THISDAY gathered that Okonjo-Iweala is not interested in the job, which is traditionally reserved for the United States, while the position of the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) goes to Europe.
No African has headed either of the institutions and US President Barack Obama is not expected to give up the World Bank presidency, especially in an election year when he needs to reassert America’s pride of place in global economic politics.
The US has insisted that to keep funding flowing from Congress for the World Bank, it is important to retain the presidency.
A woman has never led the World Bank and sources said the Bank is focused on convincing a woman to enter the race.
These, experts said, could go a long way to address calls by emerging market nations for a change at the Bank.
Whereas Reuters reported that Okonjo-Iweala could be nominated this week, it also said that the Colombian Finance Minister, Jose Antonio Ocampo, who is currently a professor at Columbia University in New York, would be formally nominated by Brazil.
Reuters said that Brazilian officials saw Okonjo-Iweala and Ocampo as "great" candidates to head the World Bank.
These, they said, had signalled increased coordination among developing nations to challenge the US for the bank's top seat.
“The BRICS nations and other developing countries are in close contact about the nominations to lead the World Bank. We continue to believe that the president (of the bank) should be chosen based on merit, and it is very positive to have an open competition process in which the candidates compete with their own views about the bank," Brazil's Finance Ministry Secretary of Foreign Affairs Carlos Cozendey told Reuters.
Apart from Brazil, South Africa was said to be backing Okonjo-Iweala and Ocampo. They, according to the report, had posed a challenge to the US, whose hold on the top post has never been contested.
Sources also said that South Africa's director at the World Bank board, Renosi Mokate, who also represents Nigeria and other English-speaking African countries, personally flew to Abuja to consult with Okonjo-Iweala about her nomination.
But with its majority of votes and the expected support of European countries, the US is still likely to ensure that another American will succeed Zoellick.
The deadline for submitting nominations is tomorrow, and the Obama administration has said it will name a candidate by then. All of the World Bank's 187-member nations have committed to a merit-based process to select Zoellick's successor.
Emerging and developing economies have long talked up their desire to break US and European dominance of the Bretton Woods Institutions, but have until now failed to build a coalition large enough to change the status quo, the news agency added.
Nominations will be submitted to the 25-member World Bank board, which has said it would decide on the next president next month.
The decision to nominate Okonjo-Iweala and Ocampo, according to Reuters, followed weeks of discussions among emerging and developing countries at the World Bank board including China and India.
A former World Bank board official now at the Brookings Institution in Washington, Domenico Lombardi, said: “The impressive credentials of both Ocampo and Okonjo-Iweala put tremendous pressure on the White House to come up with a candidate of at least equivalent standing. This signals a big shift and really reflects a game change. This is the first time in history we have a truly contested election."
Okonjo-Iweala, who left the World Bank as managing director last year to become Nigeria's Finance Minister and Ocampo, a former United Nations under-secretary for economic and social affairs, will join American economist Jeffrey Sachs, who, the report also indicated, has the backing of a handful of small countries, on the nomination list.