As we know, the unofficial and informal agreement between the United States and Europe is that the U.S. selects the president of the World Bank and the Europeans select the managing director of the Fund. It is a time-honored (at least from the end of WWII) tradition as familiar to some as death and taxes.
Starting with the process that anointed Paul Wolfowitz as Bank president in 2005, civil society actors have questioned whether the ongoing quid pro quo arrangement is legitimate. The global economic crisis expedited tensions as poor countries pressured richer counterparts for increasing their representation and voting power on both financial bodies. The behind-closed-doors results of subsequent selections of Robert Zoellick, a U.S. national, to the Bank in 2007 and Christine Legarde, a French national, to the Fund in 2011 continued to escalate calls that future elections be open, transparent and merit-based. A key criticism from numerous civil society organizations and academics is that the current process is unrepresentative because final selections are not necessarily supported by the majority of poor countries. Critics also argue qualified candidates from poor countries are being denied posts that directly influence developing economies.
As it turns out, at least one official body, and one that we presume has influence, agrees. In its April, 25th, 2010 communique, the Joint Ministerial Committee of the Board of Governors of the Bank and Fund announced, “We reiterate the importance of an open, merit-based and transparent process for the selection of the President of the World Bank Group.” In effect, the 187 members of the World Bank and IMF were stating they had revoked the ongoing arrangement that the U.S. selects future presidents. Notice, the communique was silent on the nationality of future selections. In bureaucratic terms, that’s a loud statement (I know a bit about the statement-volume nexus having worked in a few bureaucracies). We should all take note of the communique and ensure that is implemented by reminding the actors who are nominating, deliberating and selecting the next Bank president about what the Joint Ministerial Committee has already announced as its position. Political considerations aside, what is most important is that the next Bank president, regardless of nationality, be qualified to lead the insitution with the challenges it faces and that his or her selection have legitimacy in the eyes of the entire Bank membership. To read the Joint Ministerial Committee’s communique, click here.
David Shaman, B-SPAN Coalition, and author of The World Bank Unveiled: Inside the Revolutionary Struggle for Transparency