Okonjo-Iweala shines as criticisms trail U.S. nominee for W’Bank

Ngozi-Okonjo-Iweala_2NIGERIA’S Coordinating Minister of the Economy and Finance Minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala came out yesterday smoking on global economic and financial issues and emphasised that she envisioned a World Bank that can change the equation of poverty worldwide.

Okonjo-Iweala, at an interview session organised by the Washington Post newspaper and others, also canvassed for the bank to tackle issues of education, unemployment, inadequate power, water supply, sanitation and communicable diseases.

Explaining  that the bank was not a full service financial institution, she said situations globally have informed that World Bank should focus on problems of developing countries.

More revelations also came to light yesterday showing that the front-runner to lead the World Bank, which lends tens of billions of dollars a year around the world, Jim Yong Kim, once admitted that he “had no idea what a hedge fund was” until three years ago when he became a university head.

Kim, a Korean-American Physician and the president of Dartmouth College, got a two-day crash course in finance back then, when the physician and anthropologist was grappling with budget troubles stemming from the 2008 financial crisis.

Also in the race is the Colombian and professor at Columbia University, Jose Antonio Ocampo, who will take his turn today and Kim, whose interview session comes up tomorrow.

The organiser of the interview sessions, CGD, a Washington D.C-based think-tank, in collaboration with the Washington Post, said that at each session, candidates are expected to deliver opening remarks, followed by a discussion and questions from an audience, including members of the media.

The U.S., which is the bank’s largest shareholder, has always picked the bank’s president and it jointly controls 54 per cent of the votes.with Europe and Japan. The U.S. has long backed Europe’s pick for the head of the International Monetary Fund, as it did last year, in exchange for European support for the U.S. choice at the World Bank.  The IMF, a sister Bretton Woods institution, is currently run by French national, Christine Lagarde.

Emerging economies have become increasingly unhappy with this system and are pushing for change.

The leaders of Russia, Brazil, China, India and South Africa recently called for a review of that weighted voting system.

Meanwhile, Kim, 52 years old, has taken heat since he was nominated last month. A long list of development experts, government officials and news organizations around the world have mounted a rebellion of sorts.

Many of them say the two other candidates, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Ocampo, are better qualified for the post.

Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s finance minister, is Africa’s standard-bearer in the contest to become World Bank president.    Ocampo, a former Colombian finance minister, is being championed by South America.

Both say they are better qualified for the job than the American candidate tapped by President Obama last week. But beyond that, each says the other would be better than Obama’s pick.

In interviews, Okonjo-Iweala and Ocampo acknowledged that Kim has unquestioned expertise in public health. But they said public health is a narrow slice of what the World Bank does and an issue that many other global organizations address.

“He is known as a health expert who has helped developing countries and I have great respect for what he has been able to do. When you look at my experience you can see I have breadth and depth,” Okonjo-Iweala said in an interview this week.

Okonjo-Iweala, a former World Bank managing director, said she would make the institution faster to respond when countries need help if she were chosen as its next president. She would also increase its focus on creating jobs and addressing the massive need for roads, ports and other infrastructure in the developing world.

The race marks the first time the selection of a World Bank president has been contested.


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