W’Bank: Obama Nominates Okonjo-Iweala’s Challenger

24 Mar 2012

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Nigeria's Finance Minister and immediate past managing director of the World Bank, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

•Nigeria, Angola, S’Africa endorse minister

From Tokunbo Adedoja in New York and Obinna Chima in Lagos

The race to succeed World Bank President Robert Zoellick heightened yesterday as United States President Barack Obama announced the nomination of Dr. Jim Yong Kim, a Korean-American Physician, for the global financial institution's topmost seat.

Obama's nomination of Kim, a professor of Medicine and Social Medicine and President of  Dartmouth College since 2009, came on a day Nigeria's Finance Minister and immediate past managing director of the World Bank, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, was nominated for the same office by African countries - a move spearheaded by South Africa, Nigeria and Angola.
Another American, Jeffrey Sachs, who is a development economist at Columbia University had also signified interest in the plum seat.

As the nomination process ended at the close of business yesterday, the executive directors of the World Bank has released the names of three nominees to be considered for the job. The list include Kim, Okonjo-Iweala and Jose Antonio Ocampo, a Colombian national and professor at Columbia Univer-sity. 

Formal interviews by the executive directors would be conducted for all shortlisted candidates to select a new President by consensus by the upcoming Spring Meetings.

Under the Bank’s Articles, World Bank President is chief operating officer of the bank and conducts, under the direction of the executive directors, the ordinary business of the bank. The bank's President is also responsible for the organization, appointment and dismissal of the officers and staff, subject to the general control of the executive directors. 

Obama's nomination of Kim is seen as a strong indication that US is not ready to let go the World Bank's topmost seat - which had been its exclusive preserve since the creation of the Breton wood's institution in 1944 - especially in an election year where Obama's opponent had blamed  his administration for what they called the declining influence of US in world affairs.

A statement from the White House yesterday said Kim's "personal experience and years of service make him an ideal candidate for this job.”

Noting that the World Bank is one of the most powerful tools to reduce poverty and raise standards of living around the globe, the statement quoted Obama as saying “Jim has spent more than two decades working to improve conditions in developing countries around the world.”

Describing Kim as a leader who had devoted his career to improving the lives of people in developing countries and championing the cause of global health, Obama said it was time for a development professional to lead the world's largest development agency.

Fifty-two year old Seoul-born Kim, who moved to US at the age of five, served as director of the World Health Organization’s Department of HIV/AIDS,  where he launched the “3 by 5” initiative, which sought to treat 3 million patients living with HIV, an initiative regarded as one of the most successful in modern global health.

Okonjo-Iweala, who had also served as vice-president and corporate secretary of the World Bank Group, and two-time finance minister of Nigeria, with a sterling record of striking a deal with the Paris Club - a group of bilateral creditors - to pay $12 billion of Nigeria's external debt in return for an $18 billion debt write-off, is believed to be a top contender based on the combination of support from Africa and emerging economies, and her brilliant record of service at the World Bank.

Following the incumbent President Zoellick declaration that he would not seek reappointment at the end of his term which expires on June 30, the Board of Executive Directors of the bank met last month under the Chairmanship of its Dean, Mr. Abdulrahman M. Almofadhi, to discuss the selection of the next President of the Group.

That meeting reconfirmed the importance of a merit-based and transparent process and agreed that candidates should meet the following criteria: a proven track record of leadership; experience of managing large organizations with international exposure, and a familiarity with the public sector; the ability to articulate a clear vision of the World Bank Group’s development mission; a firm commitment to and appreciation for multilateral cooperation; and effective and diplomatic communication skills, impartiality and objectivity in the performance of the responsibilities of the position.

The bank, a 187-member countries' institution, has 25 executive directors.  US, France, Germany, Japan and United Kingdom - who are the five largest shareholders - appoint five executive directors, while China, Russian Federation and Saudi Arabia each elect its own executive director, with other executive directors elected by the other member countries.

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