David Malpass unchallenged to be next World Bank president

David Malpass speaks at an event with U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, D.C. Photo by: REUTERS / Jim Young

LONDON — The legitimacy of the World Bank’s presidential appointment process is under renewed scrutiny after U.S. President Donald Trump’s pick, David Malpass, emerged as the only candidate to succeed Jim Kim.

Nominations for the position closed on Thursday, and the World Bank confirmed in a press release that Malpass, currently a U.S. Department of Treasury official and a former investment banker, was the only candidate nominated for the job.

“Going back to choosing the World Bank president by coronation rather than a fair contest is a setback for an effective, rules-based multilateral system.”

— Owen Barder, vice president, Center for Global Development

Civil society groups and development experts reacted with dismay. Many had hoped the historic “gentleman’s agreement,” which sees the United States appoint the World Bank chief and Europe nominate the head of the International Monetary Fund, would face a genuine challenge this time around. With only one candidate, it is hard for the bank’s directors to argue credibly that the process was merit-based and transparent, they say.

“It is very depressing that the World Bank board has failed to live up to the repeated commitments of its members to an open, merit-based process for key international appointments,” said Owen Barder, vice president at the Center for Global Development.

“Going back to choosing the World Bank president by coronation rather than a fair contest is a setback for an effective, rules-based multilateral system. This is another nail in the coffin for the World Bank,” he said.

As Malpass made his rounds to meet with World Bank shareholders, he secured commitments of support from countries including Australia and South Korea before the nomination deadline closed, begging questions about whether they were ever open to challenging the Trump administration’s pick by considering alternative candidates.

“We place the blame for the debacle particularly on the European shareholders, who like to present themselves as champions of multilateral cooperation and are unwilling to act in accordance with their supposed conviction when push comes to shove,” said Luiz Fernando Vieira, coordinator at the Bretton Woods Project.

Others agreed that the bank’s board of directors should have done more to ensure the process lived up to its own criteria.

“There are many qualified women and men available to head the most important and influential actor in global development; the executive directors performed badly in not finding several for a competitive selection,” said Paul Cadario, a former senior manager at the bank.

Until a few weeks ago, Malpass did face one prospective challenger — Ziad Hayek, who was nominated by Lebanon for the bank’s top job. The country later withdrew his nomination under pressure from other governments, Hayek told Devex — an account that Lebanon’s ministry has disputed.

“There are worrying signs that the U.S. candidate for president of the World Bank will not be an active leader on climate action — which would be a major loss for the world.”

— Helena Wright, senior policy adviser, E3G

In addition to concerns about a noncompetitive process, some observers have taken issue with Malpass’ specific views and positions. The Trump administration official has repeatedly criticized the bank’s lending priorities, and many fear he could roll back the institution’s climate change commitments.

“There are worrying signs that the U.S. candidate for president of the World Bank will not be an active leader on climate action — which would be a major loss for the world. The board must demand that whoever becomes president makes continued progress on climate change at the bank,” Helena Wright, senior policy adviser at think tank E3G, told Devex.

On Thursday, 31 civil society organizations sent an open letter to the bank’s board asking it to seek strong commitments from candidates that they will not reverse the institution’s efforts to tackle climate change.

“No candidate who is unable or unwilling to publicly articulate a vision of the bank as a climate champion should be considered a viable candidate for the position,” the letter states.

In an interview with the Financial Times, interim World Bank President Kristalina Georgieva sought to assuage these fears, describing the bank’s commitments to climate action as fundamental to the institution’s mission.

Others worry that Malpass, under the influence of the Trump administration, could force the bank to take a less collaborative approach to China and its massive Belt and Road Initiative.

The race to find a new president began in January after the shock resignation of Jim Kim three years before the end of his term.

Malpass will now be interviewed by the bank’s board of executive directors, which is expected to reach a decision ahead of the institution’s annual Spring Meetings in April.

About the author

  • Edwards sopie

    Sophie Edwards

    Sophie Edwards is a Reporter for Devex based in London covering global development news including global education, water and sanitation, innovative financing, the environment along with other topics. She has previously worked for NGOs, the World Bank and spent a number of years as a journalist for a regional newspaper in the U.K. She has an MA from the Institute of Development Studies and a BA from Cambridge University.