Has Jim Kim's re-election campaign begun?

By Michael Igoe 10 August 2016

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim talks to staff members in Tunis, Tunisia during a visit in March 2016. Photo by: World Bank / CC BY-NC-ND

With 10 months still remaining in World Bank President Jim Yong Kim’s first term, the first shots have already been fired in what could be a contentious renomination process.

The World Bank’s staff association, under the impression that Kim is actively seeking support for a second term from the bank’s executive directors, took the unusual step of sending a letter to the executive directors in August — normally vacation season for bank staff — in an effort to ensure their concerns are included in whatever process may be underway.

“While this is many months away, we understand that active discussions on the leadership transition are now taking place,” the letter reads.

Another well-placed source who wished to remain anonymous in order to maintain working relationships confirmed that executive directors have been approached with requests to accelerate the reappointment process.

A World Bank spokesperson told Devex that this year’s timeline is no different from past selection cycles.

“It is customary for executive directors to begin discussions on the process six months to a year before a president's term ends,” Jeremy Hillman, the bank’s director of corporate communications, wrote to Devex in an email.

Kim has yet to formally submit his intention to seek a second term, Hillman confirmed. But the bank chief has indicated publicly — in a recent town hall meeting with staff — that he wants the job.

In 1999, former World Bank President James Wolfensohn was reappointed for a second term at the bank’s annual meetings, nine months before his term expired. Robert Zoellick announced that he would step down in February 2012, only four months before the end of his first term.

The World Bank has taken steps to open up its presidential appointment process in recent years. In 2011, the executive directors agreed to principles outlining an open, merit-based process. But many felt Kim’s appointment in 2012 maintained the closed-door status quo where the United States, the bank’s largest shareholder, has unofficial power to handpick the leader of the world’s largest development finance institution.

In the World Bank’s 70-year history, all 12 presidents have been American men.

“Let there be an international call for candidates, women and men, with clear qualification criteria, followed by nominations and a long-listing process handled by a credible search committee, together with a transparent interview and selection process,” the staff association letter reads.

Hillman said that the executive directors intend to carry out the type of open, merit-based process that the staff association is requesting.

“In 2011, the board approved principles for open, merit-based and transparent presidential selections. These principles were used in the 2012 selection and will govern the upcoming presidential selection process," he wrote.

The 2012 presidential appointment process was hotly debated. Developing country candidates Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the former Nigerian finance minister, and José Antonio Ocampo, the former Colombian finance minister, were nominated by South Africa and Brazil respectively.

Kim’s appointment came as a surprise to many who thought the bank’s first contested appointment process would usher in the first non-American president.

The staff association’s letter questions how the World Bank will maintain its legitimacy and relevance at a time when the landscape of wealth and poverty is changing without rethinking its own political leadership system.

“The world has changed, and we must change with it. Unless we revisit the rules of the game, the World Bank Group faces the real possibility of becoming an anachronism on the international stage,” the letter reads. “We have now operated for 70 years with an arcane and outdated process.”

Kim’s efforts to reform the bank have met vocal detractors, and staff engagement surveys point to a lack of confidence in the bank’s senior leadership. His case for reappointment will be heavily scrutinized inside and outside the bank, and a process seen to be lacking in transparency would likely only add to the internal dissent.

Whether that will have any bearing on the executive directors’ support for his reappointment remains to be seen.

“We’re going to keep the pressure on,” said Daniel Sellen, the staff association’s chair.

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About the author

Igoe michael 1
Michael Igoe@AlterIgoe

Michael Igoe is a senior correspondent for Devex. Based in Washington, D.C., he covers U.S. foreign aid and emerging trends in international development and humanitarian policy. Michael draws on his experience as both a journalist and international development practitioner in Central Asia to develop stories from an insider's perspective.


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