US right to pick World Bank chief questioned

By Arun Kumar


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Washington : As the search for a new World bank chief to replace Paul Wolfowitz begins, many are questioning the United States' traditional right to pick the top man – a claim reasserted by the White House.

As the influential New York Times noted, "For decades, the World Bank has lectured borrowers on the virtues of competitive bidding, merit selection and transparent procedures. Yet when it has come to choosing the bank's leadership, Washington has never accepted those principles."

Under an unwritten rule, US presidents pick up the World Bank chief -whether or not the chosen one has the desired managerial skills or development credentials. European leaders have exercised similar authority over the top job at the International Monetary Fund since the two institutions were created six decades in the aftermath of World War II.

"That deeply flawed selection process …has long made the bank a less effective and credible vehicle for financing international development than it should be," the daily suggested, seeking a reform to require merit selection and throwing open the job to highly qualified applicants worldwide.

But "unfortunately, that is not likely to happen," the Times acknowledged as the White House had agreed to Wolfowitz's resignation only after the bank's directors signalled that they would let President George Bush decide who would fill out the three years left in the current presidential term.

Wolfowitz's departure under an ethics cloud also leaves Washington facing the tough task of healing rifts with Europeans who said his handling of a high-paying promotion for his companion damaged the institution's credibility. Bank staff complained the crisis had undermined their mission of fighting poverty in developing countries.

The White House said Bush would move quickly to nominate an American successor. US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson has said he would help Bush identify a nominee after consulting with other countries. But he made clear it would be an American.

Wolfowitz's decision to step down at the end of June did not quell anger among staff. The bank's staff association said it was important to the institution's credibility to ensure the process of choosing the next chief was more transparent. "The next president should be selected based on merit and qualifications, after full consultation of all shareholders," it said.

The association also demanded that Wolfowitz, a former US deputy defence secretary and Iraq war architect, be put on administrative leave immediately and forbidden from making policy decisions.

Senior bank managers urged staff to focus on the bank's goal of fighting poverty with Praful Patel, Vice President, South Asia Region noting, "For over a month – while our work has continued strongly – the institution has been battered by a crisis of governance."

Wolfowitz's departure would allow the bank to "return our full attention to continuing the development work at hand," Patel stated noting that South Asia had a great opportunity to end mass poverty with reforms opening up new pathways for the region to accelerate growth to new highs of 8 to 10 percent.