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

Whispers in Washington: US to ensure its candidate will be president

As the White House keeps it lips seeled on who its candidate might be, and pointedly makes no public commitment on the status of the ‘gentlemans agreement’, we’re often left to contemplate the snatches of gossip, conjecture and rumour that trickle forth from DC. Alan Beattie, international economics editor at the Financial Times, is an old Washington-hand, and a well connected fellow. If anyone knows which whispers in Washington are the right ones to listen to, it’s probably him. And his recent article for the FT may be a little deflating for those hoping that this time things will be different. The clue is in the rather unequivocal title, ‘US to keep grip on helm of World Bank’. Continue reading

FT and Bloomberg: Selection is “lacking in legitimacy” and a “stich-up”

Two of the heavyweights in economic journalism have written editorials criticising the convention that sees the US traditionally choosing the World Bank president. The Financial Times and Bloomberg are not commonly known for their strident calls for justice. If anything their stance illustrates quite how absurdly anachronistic the convention looks today.

Bloomberg says that:

That custom has outlived any semblance of propriety. The White House should think again … This cozy arrangement, always lacking in legitimacy, was once defensible as a practical matter. It’s telling that nobody any longer even attempts such a defense. The arrangement is rightly seen as an affront to Brazil, China, India and the other fast-growing developing economies. It’s also inimical to the very idea of international cooperation on terms of mutual respect — and not just for the countries excluded from any say in the matter. Continue reading

The selection process and the politics of adjectives

The coming weeks will see much media focus on possible candidates, from the toxic Larry Summers to the ever-present Trevor Manuel. But already comments from senior figures in governments are illustrating that it is the process of selection that really counts.

US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geitner said yesterday that:

It is very important that we continue to have strong, effective leadership of this important institution, and in the coming weeks, we plan to put forward a candidate with the experience and requisite qualities to take this institution forward

Choosing his words carefully he said that the US wanted the Bank board to follow an “open and expeditious” process. Note there was no mention of a “transparent”, “merit-based” or “fair” process. It’s in these moments that the choice of adjective becomes a political act, with serious implications. Continue reading