Okonjo-Iweala in line for nomination as World Bank president

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

The Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, is one of the few names lined up for nomination for the World Bank president’s job.

Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala, until recently when she resigned to take up the appointment as Finance Minister as well as the Coordinating Minister for the Economy, was the former managing director of the bank.

She is being lined up alongside the former Colombian Finance Minister, Jose Antonio Ocampo, Reuters reported Wednesday, citing people with knowledge of emerging market on efforts to find candidates to replace Robert Zoellick, who indicated recently of his intention to step down from the post by June.

The decision to nominate Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala and Mr. Ocampo followed weeks of discussions among emerging and developing countries at the World Bank board, including China and India.

Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala and Mr. Ocampo’s candidacies, who have credentials as both economists and diplomats, are being backed by Brazil and South Africa, are posing a challenge to the United States, whose hold on the top post has never been contested.

But with its majority of votes and the expected support of European countries, the United States is still likely to ensure that another American would succeed Mr. Zoellick.

Washington, which is yet to publicly identify a nominee to succeed Mr. Zoellick, has held the presidency since the Bank’s founding after World War 11, while a European has always led the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Though the Obama administration has said it would name its candidate by next Friday when the receipt of nominations are expected to close, indications are that all 187 members nations of the World Bank have committed to a merit-based process to select Mr. Zoellick’s successor.

Emerging and developing economies have long talked up their desire to break U.S. and European dominance of the Bretton Woods Institutions, but have until now have failed to build a coalition large enough to change the status quo.

Three sources said Mr. Ocampo, currently a professor at Columbia University in New York, would be formally nominated by Brazil.

One source said Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala could be nominated on today, while two other sources said it would be Friday. If appointed, Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala would emerge as the first woman to lead the bank in its history.

Nominations would be submitted to the 25-member World Bank board, which has said it would decide on the next president within the next month.

Two sources said Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala’s candidacy had the blessing of President Goodluck Jonathan, who convinced her to join his cabinet last year to lend more weight to his transformation agenda.

Two sources said South Africa’s director at the World Bank board, Renosi Mokate, who also represents Nigeria and other English-speaking African countries, personally flew to Abuja to consult with Okonjo-Iweala about her nomination.

“The impressive credentials of both Ocampo and Okonjo-Iweala puts tremendous pressure on the White House to come up with a candidate of at least equivalent standing,” said Domenico Lombardi, a former World Bank board official now at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

“This signals a big shift and really reflects a game change,” Lombardi added. “This is the first time in history we have a truly contested election.”

Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala, who left the World Bank as managing director last year to become Nigeria’s finance minister, and Ocampo, a former U.N. under-secretary for economic and social affairs, will join American economist Jeffrey Sachs, who has the backing of a handful of small countries, on the nomination list.

Sources with knowledge of the administration’s thinking say Washington has focused on convincing a woman to enter the race, which could go some way to address calls by emerging market nations for change.

Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, was a leading contender, however, it is not clear whether she wants the job, sources said. Former adviser to President Barack Obama, Lawrence Summers, has also been short-listed for the job. He has declined to comment.

U.S. Senator John Kerry and PepsiCo’s Indian-born CEO Indra Nooyi also made an Obama administration shortlist, according to a source, although Mr. Kerry has publicly ruled out the job and Ms. Nooyi is no longer in contention, according to another source.

Jeffrey Sachs has said he aims to challenge with his candidacy what he sees as a history of political appointments by the White House and acknowledges he does not have the support of the Obama administration.

He was formally nominated by Bhutan and a grouping of developing countries, including East Timor, Jordan, Kenya, Namibia and Malaysia.

Lombardi said the test was whether large emerging economies like China would rally support for Mr. Ocampo and Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala, or in the end vote for a U.S. nominee.

Last year, Brazil and China failed to rally around Mexico’s central bank chief, Agustin Carstens, for the top post at the IMF, instead favoring former French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde, who now heads the institution.

The United States has insisted that to keep funding flowing from Congress for the World Bank, it is important to retain the presidency.

 


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