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.
The World War II-era carve-up which gives Bank leadership to the United States in exchange for European dominion over the International Monetary Fund is so wildly outdated that neither institution makes reference to it any longer. And the Bank’s Board of Executive Directors has for several years made public commitments to governance and “merit-based and transparent processes”. But the ‘gentlemen’s agreement” holds nonetheless, and the language of reform is a clumsy attempt at sleight of hand.
The reality: The United States will announce its candidate to replace Bob Zoellick as World Bank president very shortly. The candidate will be an American. The deadline for applications for the job will close on March 23rd. The Board will hold the list of nominated candidates in confidence until they agree a shortlist of three. These three will be interviewed behind closed doors. The United States’ choice will be approved in camera, and will be named the new president before the World Bank-IMF spring meetings in April.
Instead, the process should be: The job open to anyone to apply, and clear job description and required qualifications set out. A good understanding and experience of the particular problems facing developing countries amongst the requirements of the job. A new president selected by a majority of World Bank member countries, and chosen on the basis of merit.
Without a truly fair appointment process, the Bank’s relevance and credibility are on shaky ground.
• Elizabeth Stuart is head of Oxfam’s Washington DC office