Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala
•Developing nations agree on sole candidate
By Malachy Agbo with agency reports
With a few days to go in the election of a new World Bank President, the former Colombian finance minister, Jose Antonio Ocampo, has withdrawn his nomination for the institution’s presidency in an agreement among emerging and developing countries to coalesce around one nominee, sources told Reuters.
With this development, the Nigerian Finance Minister and co-ordinating minister of the economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, is now the sole candidate from developing nations in a race against U.S. nominee Jim Yong Kim, a Korean-American health expert who is seen as the favourite to win the race.
A straw poll among World Bank directors representing the Group of 11, which includes emerging countries and Australia, backed Okonjo-Iweala, the sources said.
Emerging market nations are seeking to challenge U.S. leadership at the bank to increase their influence in global economic institutions long controlled by rich nations.
While Kim is still the favourite to win the World Bank presidency because of his backing from the United States and European countries, a rigorous challenge from emerging market countries could put them in a stronger position to extract concessions favourable to their interests and also increase their odds of winning senior jobs in the future.
Earlier, Brazilian Finance Minister Guido Mantega said the BRICS group of emerging market countries is likely to make a joint decision on who to support for the World Bank top post as soon as yesterday.
Mantega told reporters the five countries were still discussing which candidate they would support. The BRICS group also includes Russia, India, China and South Africa.
Ocampo, who met with Mantega on Thursday, said developing nations wanted a single candidate to challenge Kim.
This is coming on the heels of Okonjo-Iweala’s earlier promise to tackle global poverty and address issues of job creation if elected as the president of the World Bank.
She also advised the United States to end the long tradition of an American always heading the Bretton Woods institution, saying that the decision on who leads the global development institution should go to the candidate with the best skills for the job.
Reuters yesterday quoted Okonjo-Iweala to have made these remarks after a "marathon" three-and-a-half-hour interview with the World Bank board on Monday.
"Somebody has to break this agreement," Okonjo-Iweala was also quoted to have told an event hosted by the Centre for Global Development and Washington Post.
"Therefore, who is the leader in this world? The US is looked on for that leadership," she added.
Okonjo-Iweala dismissed the argument by some US politicians that the US would stop financing the World Bank if a non-American took the reins of the institution.
She said she would use her "persuasive powers" to convince Congress to keep funds flowing to the World Bank.
"You cannot look at global governance in the same old way and should recognise the changing constellation of powers. I do not believe that if we ignore this reality we can really have global governance that works because these countries will not feel valued in the global system," the finance minister added.
According to her, her vision for leading the World Bank was influenced by her own life story of growing up in a village in Nigeria and her experiences as an international economist.
"It is not good enough to say you know about poverty. You have to live it. Across the globe, policy makers are grappling with one problem, and that is the problem of job creation. I have yet to meet a single poor person who did not want the dignity of a job," she added.
Okonjo-Iweala said the World Bank should also focus more on helping developing countries build roads, railway systems and power grids to help their economies grow, and it should invest more in education, health and gender issues.
She said complex global problems facing developing countries required a World Bank that could respond quickly and creatively to the needs of the poor.
Meanwhile, Okonjo-Iweala has refuted media reports credited to her that the country was broke and that there was a risk of economic failure.
In a statement signed by her Special Assistant, Paul Nwabuikwu, and emailed to THISDAY, Okonjo-Iweala, who is also the Coordinating Minister for the Economy said:
“In fact, the 2012 budget which has been passed by both chambers of the National Assembly and signed into law by President Jonathan confirms that resources are robust to take care of the country’s economic priorities.
“Rather than predict economic doom, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala had underscored an important point during a forum with civil society groups: we need to be prudent during this period of high oil prices so that in the event of lower prices, the country will have enough of a cushion to maintain the pace and level of government business.”