Race heating up, in good ways and bad–a suggestion for integrity and transparency

As the world press begins to take an interest in the selection of Robert Zoellick’s successor, last week’s events prove one thing: Having a choice of candidates, for the first time, confirms that the job of World Bank president is important, and that stakeholders care.

A flurry of commentary and endorsements of Ngozi Oweala-Ikonjo by, inter alia, the Economist and some retired Bank staff, gives her candidacy some momentum over the similiarly qualified and more broadly experienced Jose Antonio Ocampo, twice a minister in his native Colombia and now a prolific academic at Columbia University. NOI’s claim that her 22 years at the World Bank makes her ready to change it begs the question of how effective she was as a manager, and then as Managing Director under Zoellick, or despite her leadership on the IDA 16 Replenishment, whether other aspects of her management style and decisions got in her way or were just a necessary part of the stabilization and clean-up needed after Paul Wolfowitz’s disastrous two years.

Zoellick, also one of the neoconservative “Vulcans”, was quickly parachuted in by the George W Bush administration after civil society and Bank staff forced the hand of the Bank’s board and Wolfowitz was forced out in May, 2007, much as Christine Lagarde was a hastily nominated–and obviously well-qualified–successor when Dominque Strauss-Kahn left the IMF after his arrest in New York a year ago.

NOI was key element of Zoellick’s rebuilding of his management team. Ngozi brought insider experience and a strong record as Nigeria’s finance minister, particularly after she resigned following her shift to foreign minister and a brief stint as a consultant at the Bank.  With Sri Mulyani Indrawati, the distinguished and less showy Indonesian finance minister who became a World Bank managing director a bit later, she was part of his ‘gender parity in management’ goal.  Sri Mulyani’s shrewd assessment of any situation, her quiet demeanor, and her perceptive and always gentle one-line summaries give her a large and loyal internal following among Bank staff.

As Jim Yong Kim, the US nominee, makes his quiet ‘listening tour’ to important Bank shareholders, NOI and Ocampo have mobilized every press opportunity and interview to demand “a level playing field”.  As if picking one of them would somehow immediately address the Bank’s remaining governance dysfunctions, their implicit criticism of the process and continued vague assertions about the rights of middle-income countries deflects serious public questioning what they’d actually do in the job to be relevant to that client group, and where they think the Bank has to go and what the Bank has to do to escape irrelevance as “the Africa and fragile states bank”.

Rightly, this will be the focus of board members’ questions during the in camera interviews they will conduct in about ten days. The ludicrous idea of public debates, unless simultaneously interpreted into Mandarin, Hindi, Russian, Portuguese and Spanish, would illuminate few beyond the English-speaking punditocracy watching CNNI or Al-Jazeera or BBC World, people who contribute to or follow blogs like this one, and those who argue in faculty lounges and on Facebook and Twitter.

On the less positive side, Nigerian newspapers and bloggers are resuscitating last fall’s largely unsubstantiated rumors of cronyism and financial impropriety while Ngozi Oweala-Ikonjo was finance minister in the Obasanjo government. A flimsy reference in a Wikileaks cable is among the “evidence”. Florid accusations of directing contracts toward relatives and friends, financial distress with her mortgages in the United States, real estate ventures in Abuja, as well as the continuing legal battle in Nigeria over her US dollar salary when she was in Nigeria’s cabinet before, are not trivial and she has recently sued the website for libel. Maybe it is a front for the targets of her anti-corruption efforts, or for interests who resisted the fuel price rises she implemented in January.  It may also just reflect the competitive and sensationalist press in her home country as something any Politically Exposed Person must endure. However, these allegations need to be addressed, if only to confirm that as a world-renowned crusader against corruption and for the recovery of stolen public assets, NOI ‘walks the talk’ when it is a matter of her own financial dealings and family assets.

For this reason, as part of the selection process, the World Bank’s board could usefully require all three nominees to submit a financial disclosure and outside interests statement. The World Bank has for several years publicly disclosed summaries of its officers’ assets and liabilities at a high level, for example, NOI’s own submission for 2010 on the World Bank’s website. (The 2011 submissions are, strangely, missing from the World Bank’s.) Jim Yong Kim would have completed one as part of the White House vetting process, since the President of the United States nominates no one, to anything, if their financial house is not in order and their taxes are not all paid. And as a former minister in Colombia and senior UN official, Ocampo should also share his financial and outside interests with the board.

Whoever is chosen will have to set an example of transparency and openness, to provide the foundation of personal integrity for leading a refashioned World Bank in a new direction. The three nominees’ disclosing their financial situation as part of the internal selection process would be a good start.

At the end of the day, it’s the support of Bank shareholders that will determine Robert Zoellick’s successor. Jim Yong Kim is going to visit them, and Japan’s support is more relevant than the FT’s.  Where are Oweala-Ikonjo and Ocampo: on planes, listening, or looking for microphones and profilers and journalists to talk to?

Updated April 1 to add status of litigation about the website’s allegations and the controversy about them.

10 thoughts on “Race heating up, in good ways and bad–a suggestion for integrity and transparency

  1. I am stunned that someone here will post lies from a rumor mill and state that NOI has to respond to such rubbish. Everyone in Nigeria knows that Point Blank News from where this writer gets his negative information is actually akin to stating that news from Enquirer, News of the World etc is fact. It is a fact that when you fight corruption, it fights back. Point Blank News is one of the sites sponsored by very corrupt people in Nigeria. It has been discredited several times over for posting lies. One of its contributors was arrested for corruption and is awaiting trial. He was an ex Minister who also had problems with controlled substances. Whoever wrote this is obviously a believer in yellow journalism. It is shocking and it reflects more on the writer’s acumen.

  2. There is the axe again despite the poor attempt to grind it/hide it behind a flimsy curtain of “opinion” !

  3. I want to thank Voice of Reason for an excellent idea:”public debates, unless simultaneously interpreted into Mandarin, Hindi, Russian, Portuguese and Spanish, would illuminate few beyond the English-speaking punditocracy”. Simultaneous translation would be an excellent idea!

    But seriously – I think you completely fail to understand what the role and the job of the media is. Think of most debates for political leadership – those that watch them are a small minority of the electorate. Most of the electorate will gets its news about such a debate from the media. So ‘mostly the punditocracy will be will watching the debate between Obama and Mitt Romney – so better chuck the whole thing over!’ Is that really an argument for not having them?

    I guarantee you were such a debate come to pass O’Globo, China Daily, RIA-Novosti, and Dainik Jagran, etc would all send excellent vernacular writers who also happen to speak and understand English fantastically.

  4. Pingback: Wednesday crunch time – candidates to meet EU Governors | World Bank President

  5. It is obvious that the person behind “Voice of Reason” already has his bias formed against any other candidate for the World Bank presidency apart from the American nominee.

    I have been keenly following the developments arising from this global position, and it is interesting to note that America which prides itself of running a free and fair system that provides equal opportunity for all is on the brink of compromising its much-harangued ideal.

    What is wrong in having a non-American person occupying the top seat at the World Bank? What is wrong in assessing all the candidates vying for the post through level-playing metrics to ascertain who is best qualified to be elected?

    The writer cites some of the trashes published by some Nigerian local media to discredit the person of Ngozi, but he didn’t mention how some of these false allegations have been proved false.

    • Were a suitable non-American candidate on offer, his or her nationality would not be an obstacle, and shouldn’t be, any more than Jim Kim’s American nationality should rule him out. Not everyone agrees that a non-American passport should be an automatic advantage, particularly given the precariousness of US support for the Bank.

      The time has long passed for arguing about the consensus-based process the Bank’s owners have agreed to. While the anti-American forces were rightly arguing last month against Larry Summers, instead of speculating on names they should have been working to specify that process more clearly. A better time to do that was probably when the Development Committee set out the criteria; pressure on the Bank’s board then might have been useful.

      Whatever you may think of the “trashes published by some Nigerian local media”, the Internet is a cruel historian. Answering the Wikileak allegations is not something NOI or her surrogates need to do, but an up-to-date financial disclosure of assets, liabilities and outside interests should be submitted by all three candidates for the Bank board’s perusal. To add elements of good public sector and corporate governance to this selection, financial disclosure is the place to begin.

      • Voice of Reason, we in the emerging world are very keen to see what the US will do here. Should it ram down Kim, it will lose immeasurable political capital in the long run because it will be clear that it doesn’t practice what it preaches. You can sugar coat your words all you want, it is clear that you are biased towards the US candidate. On NOI’s finances, I am certain she would gladly provide her assets and liabilities like she has always done. Your President is a product of a process of equal opportunity. Shouldn’t others be given the chance too?

      • I wonder why you are jumping the gun! Considering the stand of Dr. Iweala on corruption, that will not be a hard question to answer. You alluded to the fact that President Obama would have vetted Kim’s financial interest before appointing him. It might interest you to know that despite the prevalent corruption in Nigeria, same was done for Ngozi before she assume duty as the finance minister.

        i have watched the action of Ngozi for several years, and I have come to the conclusion that many vested interest are bent on bringing her down. Just recently, she appeared before the Nigeria Senate to testify on how she was able to tame the looting spree in the Nigeria Police Pension. Do you think these corrupt guys would seat down without doing anything? No, they would fight back!

  6. I get the impression that many of this blog’s readers feel that the process won’t be fair unless America’s nominee loses, that the United States had no right to put up a candidate, particularly one who’s different from the others, and from earlier World Bank presidents.

    What’s that about?

  7. Ngozi Okonjo Iwela comes with a better experience and a first hand understanding of the current situation at the world bank, I strongly suggest that she is given the position. Besides she is from the poorest continent where poverty and corruption are two major issues and her fight against both in the capacity of a supervising economy minister in her home country adds to her list of experiences that will enable her hit the ground running in delivery quality developmental programs in support of the the developing economies while helping the developed economies overcome huge debt crises.

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