Last updated: April 16, 2012 8:49 pm

World Bank picks Kim as next head

The World Bank has chosen Jim Yong Kim as its next president, ending a bitter selection process that the US nominee’s main rival said was not decided on merit.

Dr Kim, a public health expert and former president of Dartmouth College, becomes the first World Bank leader with a background in development. Previous presidents have been bankers or Washington officials.

Dr Kim will have to consolidate his authority after both of his rivals, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s finance minister, and José Antonio Ocampo, a former Colombian finance minister, said he was the weaker candidate .

Voting power at the bank is heavily weighted towards the US, Japan and western European countries, who have always given the post to an American to balance European leadership of the International Monetary Fund.

“You know this thing is not really being decided on merit,” AFP quoted Ms Okonjo-Iweala as saying at a briefing. “It is voting with political weight and shares and therefore the United States will get it.”

Ms Okonjo-Iweala won around 18 per cent of the vote from seven of the twenty-five World Bank executive directors in a straw poll on Monday, according to people close to the process. Brazil, Argentina, Switzerland and all three African directors voted for her despite US political pressure for a consensus.

Dr Kim’s first challenge will be to set out a clear vision for the institution. During the selection process he called for an “inclusive” development strategy, including investment in health and education, while nodding to infrastructure, economic growth and climate change. That has led to a backlash from some development economists who fear he will not focus on economic growth.

“Dr Kim’s appointment was inevitable ... The Obama administration would almost certainly have withheld support for [Christine] Lagarde’s appointment to [head] the IMF if European nations had not agreed in advance to support whomever was Washington’s candidate for the World Bank,” said Simon Evenett, professor at the University of St Gallen in Switzerland and a former World Bank official. “There was never really a contest.”

Ms Okonjo-Iweala, however, said the process “will never be the same again”. “We have won a big victory,” she added. “We have shown we can contest this thing and Africa can produce people capable of running the entire architecture.”

In an interview with the Financial Times before the decision was announced, Rogério Studart, executive director of the World Bank representing Brazil, said Brics countries such as Brazil would support the new president “whichever one of them wins ... because the institution is more important”.

“The whole process so far has been very enriching for the institution because for the first time we have had a discussion about change,” Mr Studart said. “In my point of view and in the point of Brazil, a democratic process doesn’t mean always getting the candidate you want, but once someone is appointed in a democratic process you have to support that person 100 per cent.”

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