It is useful to go ‘inside’ an organization in order to understand its external manifestations. The World Bank, which is now 70 years old, is, as we all know, a pivotal player in global development both through its lending operations and, more importantly, through its role as a chief conduit of ideas – some good, some bad – that animate both the theory and practice of development.
Devesh Kapur is my ‘go to’ author when reading about the internal architecture of the World Bank. He must have been deeply disappointed at the news that World Bank President Jim Yong Kim has just been re-appointed for a second term. He has condemned Kim as ‘among the worst Presidents in World Bank history’. The World Bank Staff Association agrees with him when it notes that ‘…our annual Employee Engagement Survey has, for two years running, made it painfully clear that the World Bank Group is experiencing a crisis of leadership.’
There were no alternative candidates, despite efforts by Nigeria and Colombia to propose one. Kim’s re-appointment, Kapur would argue, is the product of a deeply flawed selection process.
Who should bear the burden of blame for such a sorry affair? Of course, the US ‘…has been particularly brazen in subverting the nomination process’ – which is business as usual given that the US has long held the view that it is entitled to nominate a US national as the President of the World Bank. But, as Kapur argues, is the US the only culpable actor in this case? After all, other donor countries are also equally brazen about their perceived entitlements. Think of the Europeans – and the French in particular – when it comes to the selection of the Managing Director of the IMF, or the Japanese when selecting someone to head the ADB. Some members of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) themselves are carving out their own self-serving terrain, whether it is ‘striking side deals to ensure generous lending’ from the World Bank or trying to build alternative sources of financial support to the developing world through the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. In this world of mutually reinforcing regional interests, the developing world might find that it lacks a champion that can voice itsr aspirations and make the selection of a future President of the World Bank a truly merit-based and open process.