World Bank Presidency: Okonjo-Iweala’s hat in the ring

By TONY NWANKWO & UDEME CLEMENT

I don’t have a learning curve because I know how the institution works and I know what needs to be done to make it work better and faster for developing countries. I know what its strengths are, its weaknesses and importantly I know what policymakers need. I’ve actually done it” – Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

She has not gotten the job yet, but Africa and friends of the continent, including the Peoples Republic of China are excited that Nigeria’s Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is eminently qualified and will dust all contenders to become President of the World Bank, if the election process is open and transparent.

Last Friday, South Africa, Angola and Nigeria nominated her.  The African Union (AU) has thrown its weight behind her. The Ethiopian Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi; the Chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC), Dr. Jean Ping; and African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, have already endorsed her at a meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

A statement entitled: “Africa supports Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as Africa’s sole candidate for the Presidency of the World Bank” posted on the AU’s website said that “AUC is pleased to note that Africa has such a nominee in the person of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who possesses undisputed credentials in terms of her technical and managerial expertise, as well as a strong track record as a development professional, both inside and outside the World Bank.

“Dr. Okonjo-Iweala has spent more than two decades in the World Bank, rising through the ranks to the top management level as Managing Director. At the same time, she brings on board a rich experience of managing a very complex economy.

“The challenge of addressing development in today’s complex world requires a multi-sectoral expertise. It requires a demonstrated ability to draw on knowledge, expertise and experience in a wide range of areas, and to manage the interplay of these. The AUC, on behalf of African countries, is pleased to endorse Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s candidacy in the strongest possible terms.”

World Bank member countries had last Friday submitted nominees to replace Robert Zoellick of the U.S., who said he would step down in June, as expected, after five years in the top job. The position traditionally goes to an American, while a European holds the top job at the International Monetary Fund, but in recent years emerging powers have lobbied for their nationals to lead both organizations.

Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala worked as an economist at the World Bank before returning to Nigeria to serve as finance minister and economic coordinator under President Goodluck Jonathan in 2011.

The daughter of an economics professor from Nigeria’s oil-rich delta, Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala joined the World Bank after graduating from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University. After Nigeria emerged from four decades of sporadic military rule in 1999, then-World Bank President James Wolfensohn sent her home to draft a relief strategy for the country’s $28 billion debt.

Okonjo-Iweala

In 2003, she was appointed the country’s finance minister, a position she returned to in July, vowing to fight corruption that costs Nigeria $15 billion a year. In January, she helped cut much of a $7.5 billion subsidy for motor fuel that millions of Nigerians viewed as their only benefit from the country’s oil wealth.

Expressing confidence at  a media briefing recently in Abuja, Okonjo-Iweala enunciated her vision for the global financial institution, remarking that she possesses the best credentials to turn the focus of the Bank to the challenges facing developing countries and emerging economies across the world.

Okonjo-Iweala, who has since embarked on a tour of the continent to draw support for her candidacy, stated that she enjoys support from emerging market countries because of her experience with developing nations.

She said: “There are many emerging market countries that are very supportive of my candidacy and many of them feel that the World Bank is ready for someone who understands the challenges of emerging economies and of developing countries, and can totally focus on expanding opportunities for growth and development using practical financial tools to create growth.”

She continued: “My vision for the World Bank is that of an institution that is swifter and nimbler in tackling what I consider the most important challenge of many countries, especially developing economies, which is job creation.

“I will work to create an institution that can work fast to support countries in times of volatility and uncertainty such as many global economies are currently facing. That is what I intend to bring to the World Bank if elected President; both practical experience and unimpeachable credentials required to do the job.”

“This is the first time that it is happening, and if there is an open and transparent process, I stand a good chance. If there is no level playing field, then we will see what happens. Otherwise, I stand a very good chance; I have the credentials for this job, and I can only remain positive,” she stated.

Also speaking at the briefing, a former Minister of Finance and presently Nigeria’s representative at the World Bank, Mr. Mansur Muhtar, said Dr. Okonjo-Iweala possesses “one of the best credentials for the position at the moment.”

Speaking on her nomination,  Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, called for emerging nations to have a greater voice in the running of the world economy.

“The world has changed over sixty years,” she told France’s daily Le Monde, saying economic governance also needed to change.

She pointed to success of the G20, which groups the world’s top industrialised and emerging nations, adding that since the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) accounts for more than half of global growth, it was time to include them in the management of the world economy.

However, reports indicate that the BRICS so far have not decided to unite behind a single candidate to replace Robert Zoellick, who is stepping down at the end of his term on June 30.

Under a tacit agreement since the World Bank and its sister institution the International Monetary Fund were founded, the United States always selects an American as World Bank president and Europe puts a European at the IMF helm.

Developing and emerging economies have been increasingly unhappy with this arrangement and have been pushing for greater representation to reflect their rising contributions to the global economy.

This time Washington’s candidate to head up the World Bank, Korean-American physician Jim Yong Kim, known for his work in World Health Organization campaigns against AIDS in Africa, faces competition from Okonjo-Iweala and Jose Antonio Ocampo of Colombia. Okonjo-Iweala is a respected former World Bank managing director and Ocampo is a former finance minister and central bank chief.

Okonjo-Iweala called on nations to honour their pledges to make the selection process transparent and on merit. The World Bank has 187 member nations and focuses its activities on development loans.

The Washington-based lender is expected to select its new president “by consensus” by its 2012 Spring meetings that begin on April 20. “We’re not asking the US not to compete, we are just asking for a level playing field where candidates can be evaluated on merits. America can join the competition,” she said.

A former World Bank managing director, Okonjo-Iweala contrasted her experience with that of Kim, who made his mark fighting disease in some of the poorest corners of the world.

She noted that she has hands-on experience running one of Africa’s largest economies, as well as a proven track record at the World Bank helping nations in Asia, Africa and the Middle East to tap financial markets and fund development.

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World Bank Presidency: Okonjo-Iweala’s hat in the ring

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