With Larry Summers’ World Bank Bid in Trouble, Mexico Insists on Open Process

Early last week the New York Times reported that despite all the previous fine rhetoric about the G20 and consultation and open process, the US Treasury Department had decided to rule by decree and impose its own candidate for the next president of the World Bank, the G20 be damned. U.S. officials informed G20 officials that the US intended to “retain control of the bank,” as the Times put it. According to the Times, the G20 countries grumbled but showed no sign of being willing to fight Treasury. The U.S. candidate would be a “lock,” the Times said, “since Europe will almost certainly support whomever Washington picks.” Continue reading

Discordant NGOs on second favourite Sachs

While some have remarked about the consistency of civil society organisation input on the process, no one can claim that NGOs present a unanimous voice. To spice things up a bit John Cavanagh and Robin Broad wrote about “Why We Are Not Supporting Jeffrey Sachs to be World Bank President” emphasising how his “approach to development remains top-down and formulaic.” Some choice arguments:

This is a moment when we should be actively seeking a candidate from the South—someone who has walked the walk to embrace a bottom-up approach to development. Many names come to mind, including the South Centre’s Martin Khor and Charles Abugre of the UN Millennium Campaign. The so-called gentlemen’s agreement that allows the US government to select an American to head the bank was wrong in the 1940s; it is even more illegitimate now. …

Today, Sachs’s approach to development remains, at its core, top-down and formulaic. Elsewhere, we have critiqued Sachs’s book The End of Poverty for overemphasizing the power of trade and new technologies to put the poorest on a ladder to modernization. (He once famously said, “My concern is not that there are too many sweatshops but that there are too few.”)

Sachs has applied this approach in his well-publicized Millennium Villages in Africa. African colleagues have relayed criticisms that mesh with our own. Through these villages, Sachs has been a promoter of outside money to pay for (among other things) chemical-dependent “green revolution” farming. One village alone is reported to have had a $50,000 a year fertilizer bill. While this undoubtedly can lead to an initial boost in agricultural yields, it is hardly sustainable in the longer run economically (yields dwindle as soils get compacted from chemical inputs), socially (farmers drown in debts), or environmentally (fossil fuel-based chemical fertilizers contribute to climate change).

Sachs was given the right to reply in The Nation, asking “Who else but me among the widely rumored candidates has a record of standing for the poorest of the poor?” he both robustly defends his own track record and resorts to arguing that he is the best of a bad lot. It seems a bit like Republican support for Mitt Romney from a dreadful field of primary candidates for the US presidency, with Sachs writing:

The other US candidates for the position are certainly not development leaders and have no track records fighting poverty. Some have track records quite to the contrary. President Obama, as far as we know, is not considering Martin Khor, but he is considering Larry Summers.

However there is no doubt that Sachs’ candidacy has shaken up the race. Just ask our friends over at Paddy Power. Sachs has jumped to be the second favourite in the race with odds of 3/1. He remains, however, behind Larry Summers, the favourite on 4/11. The other candidate name circulating in the US press, PepsiCo’s Indra Nooyi, doesn’t even get a look-in from Paddy Power.

World Bank? You’d better look at the BRICS bank!

Ok, I know that most of you are interested in the changes about to occur in the World Bank but, am sorry to say, this generates very little interest in some of the largest countries of the so called “developing” world.

First, because we all know that the US will nominee the guy to the WB, just as Europe have always done with the IMF. Although some Southern governments, just like Brazil´s, pretend to believe in “reforms” in the Bretton Woods institutions, deep inside they know that winners are already chosen. Continue reading

Bloomberg for President

First let’s accept the obvious.  The US is going to pick the next president, and if you care about the World Bank that’s a good thing.  If the world’s largest economy and reigning great power doesn’t get a special say in the governance of global institutions, those institutions rapidly lose relevance (see, eg, the UN General Assembly).   Continue reading

World Bank presidency can’t be a done deal

As the global financial crisis threatens to undo years of progress in poor countries, the World Bank has raised its lending to unprecedented levels – $57 billion in 2011, more than double what it committed in 2008. With the cash, comes sway over developing countries’ policies, poverty programs, and governance systems.

The Bank only operates in developing countries, and it is people in these countries who must live day-to-day with its policies and programs. The Bank surely has an interest, then, in shoring up its legitimacy and credibility in its dealing with these clients. And indeed, the Bank holds itself up as a model of accountability, transparency and good governance.

Yet the very starting point of the Bank’s own governance, its leadership, is a stitch-up. Continue reading

Will the next World Bank president have ‘official views’?

Amidst all the talk of Jeffrey Sachs’s ‘pick me!’ campaign, Larry Summer’s numerous indiscretions, and the dimming prospect of a BRIC candidate, development consultant Ben Ramalingam offers something a little different. Drawing on work by former Bank staffer and academic David Ellerman he argues that a problem with the Bank is that it has ‘official views’. These views, which the Bank pours energy and resources into coming up with, constitute the Bank’s official line on issues, and become orthodoxies that inhibit genuine learning, country and community ownership, and open dialogue:

adverse opinions and critical reasoning tend to give way to authority, rules and bureaucratic reasoning shaped by the hierarchies within the organisation. Moreover, these Official Views “short-circuit” and bypass the active learning capability of national and local actors, and substitute the authority of external agencies in its place Continue reading

Qualities required – two interesting views

Two well written pieces have caught my eye recently, with different views about what makes a good World Bank president. First, former Venezuelan Minister and Bank executive director Moisés Naím lists what he believes are five misconceptions in the Financial Times:

1. The World Bank is a bank and thus its leader should be a banker. No! The Bank is more than a bank. It is a consulting company for developing countries, a multilateral organisation, an intensely political entity as well as a highly technical one. Its role as an international lending bank is declining relative to its advisory role.

2. Its leader needs to be a politician with access to the US President and a stellar Rolodex. No! Being chums with the president and other heavyweights of course helps. But just having access to power without also having a vision for the institution has been disastrous…

3. The candidate needs to be a development expert. No! Continue reading

Criteria for choosing Zoellick’s successor

After former World Bank Executive Director Moises Naim weighed in with ‘critical tips’, thoughtful commentary in the FT by former World Bank Vice Presidents, academics Ian Goldin and Danny Leipziger, and a robust rejoinder to Goldin from former World Bank staff member Percy Mistry highlight the issues the world should expect the World Bank’s owners and board to take into account as they prepare a shortlist of three, interview candidates, and select “by consensus” Robert Zoellick’s successor.

Taken together, these contributions enrich the rather bland criteria set out by the board in its announcement of what it will take into account.

What these four notes address is the Bank’s relevance in the modern world. All four hint, or say quite broadly, that there’s a problem, and that ‘something needs to be done’. Continue reading