Deadline nearing

With only about three hours to go before the close of nominations, it looks as if the flawed process is yielding but one candidate, the flawed Jim Yong Kim.

It’s not as if there’s great enthusiasm. Michael Clemens’s article in HuffingtonPost makes a strong case for breaking the US lock on the World Bank presidency. He notes that “Criticism of the Bank’s practice of putting citizenship ahead of merit in the selection of a president has been constant over the years,” as the US share of the Bank has fallen over the decades. This is not 1947.

More devastating was Devesh Kapur’s impassioned piece about the Bank’s rush to irrelevance. He flags Dr Kim’s advantage as the incumbent, ‘…to grant favors to win support: make loans that play to influential shareholders’ pet preferences, promise certain countries spots on the leadership roster, and stamp the Bank’s imprimatur on particular governments’ own domestic initiatives,” concluding that “Given the contents of Kim’s political toolkit, this match was never going to be played on a level field.” Kapur, who speaks with the authority of an ‘inside outsider’, having written the 50 years of the Bank’s history, alludes to how Dr Kim has actually managed the Bank since he took over:

His administration has been marked by authoritarianism and capriciousness, and he has forced out senior managers at unprecedented rates, sometimes requiring the Bank to reach quiet settlements with those affected. In four years, the president’s office has had five chiefs-of-staff, and several of the Bank’s senior women have left, hinting at a capricious leadership culture.

He notes, though, that the lack of interest in emerging markets and in civil society more generally may well reflect another reality

The world’s emerging powers no longer need the World Bank as much as they once did. Having found their own alternatives for most of what the Bank does, their indifference to a second term for Kim suggests that they simply don’t think the Bank matters much anymore.

That’s sad, but broadly accurate; between AIIB and NDB, private investment and better domestic resource mobilization, and knowledge sources of varying reliability (from the web to the McKinsey Institute), the gap between what the Bank’s clients know and can do and what the Bank knows and can advise on has narrowed. On the character side, Kapur doesn’t even mention the tux, the fallen tree, and the chartered aircraft, and the departure of senior women. all of which the Board is happy to say meet the expenditure targets and reflect leadership habits they’re pretending are on course and reflect ‘successful reforms.’ Dr Kim is not Jim Wolfensohn.

As might be expected, former World Bank officials are weighing in. A FT letter signed by 41 retired senior staff demands a longer search process and period. An even more muscular letter to Le Monde makes largely the same point.

So, as Matt McGuire, the US Executive Director, and the Board’s chair (who presided over the defeat of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Dr Kim’s selection four years ago) wait for 6pm ET, there are two questions that remain.

  • If Dr Kim is the only nominee, is the Board prepared to meet to interview him, formally comparing his record and his vision against the five criteria they established in 2011, or is being the only nominee enough to claim the job? Will they seek input from the World Bank Group Staff Association, staff in general, and civil society?
  • Can anyone make a positive case for Dr Kim’s reappointment. One planted op-ed did a poor job, but aside from the Bank’s PR staff saying “the shareholders strongly support his reforms” (?!), would anyone care to write up the case for Dr Kim, for us all to see?

It’s good to be back

As the deadline for nominees approaches, now less than 48 hours away, how can one take stock of a flawed process to make a flawed candidate win?

The United States behaved furtively in the heat of August to push through a hasty process when many Executive Directors and senior shareholder officials were on leave. Caught out by the Staff Association and international media (the FT, the WSJ and CNNI’s Quest on Business), Treasury forged ahead with its plan to have Dr Kim reappointed before the Annual Meetings, 10 months ahead of the end of his term. Shortly after midnight the very day the three-week nomination period opened, Treasury nominated him by email.

Preempting other candidates with this show of force, Treasury then twisted a few more arms, with calls to their World Bank counterparties in various countries, including Pakistan. China, Germany, Japan and France fell in line, as did the UK’s new, green Secretary of State for DfID, with Canada acquiescing in a throwaway remark by its Finance Minister at a G20 presser.

It is no secret in Washington that Treasury Secretary Lew is no fan of Dr Kim, so despite the formal role his office plays in the nomination, all fingers point to the White House. Rewarding golfing buddies is not exactly President Obama’s style, but the fait accompli is nearly done.

So, what’s the next step in this flawed process for a flawed candidate?

If the Board had any sense, it would step back, reflect, and admit there’s no rush. It would set up a proper search committee, charged with finding a suitable list of qualified women and men who could do the job. An executive search firm would help, not just to assess candidates’ records but also to provide reality checks to the committee’s in camera discussions. The search committee would give the Board a long list and recommended finalists in early January.

If the Board has no sense, and prefers to succumb to US threats about an IBRD capital increase (not the Obama Administration’s call, alas, and dependent mainly on who controls Congress), then go through a full process of comparing Dr Kim to the published criteria from the 2011 process. He would not fare well.

Some argue that a Dr Kim, reappointed under heavy criticism and weakened through a more public process of scrutiny by the Board, would be less able to lead the Bank through an IDA Replenishment. Again, that’s not America’s call against a hostile Congress and depleted treasuries in Europe and other donor countries. And a bigger Replenishment will depend on clever financial engineering (more IDA loans) and corporate public relations by an experienced IDA team. These are two areas where Dr Kim has not demonstrated strength.

It’s hard to paint an optimistic future of five more years of Dr Kim, even if you are prepared to ignore his disappointing performance since 2012, and the lack of confidence World Bank Group staff have confirmed in his communication and execution of strategy, and his failure to establish a culture of trust and respect.

Jim Yong Kim’s statement after his appointment

From Lima, Jim Kim has been gracious and forward-looking in his official statement after his appointment was announced.

Let’s hope that the owners and the World Bank’s board will not again waste five years trying to forget what they did wrong this time in the appointment process, so that progressive voices will not have to again sit out a fulsome and reasoned discussion of the candidates’ merits.

But let’s not spend the next two years whining about this process.  Even a flawed process can have a good outcome.

An activist’s view of why Jim Yong Kim reflects change–via Professor William Easterly

NYU’s Bill Easterly, whose early alliance with CGD’s Lant Pritchett and other critics of Jim Kim has moderated over the past few weeks, has posted an important and carefully-reasoned contribution in defence of Dr Kim, and why Lant and his fellow travelers have it wrong.

Gregg Gonsalves, a long time AIDS activist and an Open Society Foundations Fellow, points out that traditional economists are backing the status quo, Continue reading

Jim Yong Kim’s statement to the World Bank’s board

The Treasury Department has published the statement that US nominee, Jim Yong Kim, made Wednesday morning to the in camera session of the World Bank’s executive directors before a lengthy questioning and a private lunch.

CSO colleagues who have been skeptical about the process and about Jim Kim’s writings, background and commitment  should read the ending Continue reading

CGD and Washington Post to host session with the nominees

CGD President Nancy Birdsall announced on Monday that the Center for Global Development and the Washington Post would co-host “a forum where the candidates could explain their vision for the bank’s future and be questioned by the media and members of the international development community.

This confirms that “this time is different”

For the first time the candidates offer a Continue reading