Okonjo-Iweala calls for ‘level playing field’ in World Bank leadership race

Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. Photo by: World Economic Forum / CC BY-SA

The next World Bank president should be selected based on merits, not on a decades-old informal agreement, a contender for the top bank position has argued.

“We’re not asking the U.S. not to compete, we’re just asking for a level playing field where candidates can be evaluated on their merits,” Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said, according to Reuters.

Okonjo-Iweala is one of three nominees to replace World Bank President Robert Zoellick, who is set to step down in June. The other two are former Colombian finance minister José Antonio Ocampo and Dartmouth College president Jim Yong Kim, who was nominated March 23 by U.S. President Barack Obama.

Kim is most likely to get the post when the World Bank executive board makes its choice in April. A U.S. citizen has always held the position since 1944 as part of an informal agreement with European leaders, which have since then nominated one of their own to lead the International Monetary Fund. There has been mounting pressure for a change in the tradition, but the IMF top seat went to Christine Lagarde of France last year.

Okonjo-Iweala’s appeal echoes much of previous criticism of the informal agreement: It is outdated and not in line with the changing global development and economic landscape. Emerging countries, she says, are “contributing more and more to global growth” and should be “given a voice in running things.”

“If you don’t, they will lose interest,” she adds.

The Nigerian official also compared her credentials with Kim’s, highlighting her extensive knowledge of the bank and understanding of what developing countries need. Okonjo-Iweala served as managing director from 2007 to 2011, when she left the post to join President Goodluck Jonathan’s cabinet.

“I know what its strengths are, its weaknesses and importantly I know what policymakers need. I’ve actually done it,” Okonjo-Iweala told Reuters.

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    Ivy Mungcal

    As senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributes to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.