- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 21, 2012

President Obama is going down to the wire on naming his candidate for the president of the World Bank, even as foreign candidates have emerged for a post that has always gone to an American.

Nominations to succeed retiring World Bank President Robert Zoellick are due Friday, and Mr. Obama has taken an unusually long time revealing his preference for one of the top jobs in the international financial hierarchy.

“I still think in the end, before Friday, there will be someone else,” said Claude Barfield, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, “unless the administration has some sort of secret decision that they’re not going to do it.”

White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters Wednesday he had no updates on the World Bank post, but Lawrence MacDonald, vice president for communications and policy outreach for the Center for Global Development, said it was highly unlikely the U.S. government would pass on the opportunity to install its own candidate in the job, however difficult choosing from the pool of candidates may be.

“The fact that they have not yet nominated a candidate suggests that they’re having difficulty identifying somebody who they are confident could get the sufficient support,” he said.

An American has headed the World Bank and a European the International Monetary Fund since the two institutions were created in the final days of World War II. But the duopoly has come under increasing criticism from rising powers in the developing world in recent years.

Mr. Barfield said that it may be time for the U.S. and Europe to give up their naming rights to the top financial posts.

“I actually think we should have given it up, throw it open to a real contest,” he said. “There are plenty of good economists around the world who can do the job as well as a U.S. or European economist.”

Two non-American candidates have been mentioned prominently in recent days as the United States delayed announcing its choice. Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a former World Bank managing director backed by many top African nations, announced she was not actively “seeking” the presidency while Colombia is offering ex-Finance Minister Jose Antonio Ocampo as a candidate.

Because of the large investment the U.S. has in the World Bank, Clay Lowery, former Treasury assistant secretary for international affairs, said Washington will have a “heavy say” in the choice and that the White House will come to a decision Friday without extending the deadline.

“Whoever the next president will be should be focused like a laser beam on what the mission and their vision of the World Bank is,” said Mr. Lowery, now with Rock Creek Global Advisors.

Until Mr. Ocampo’s declaration on Wednesday, only development economist Jeffrey Sachs, director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, has openly declared his candidacy for the World Bank job - with or without an executive branch endorsement. There have also been a number of names that have been mentioned who could be on Mr. Obama’s short list.

A brief flurry of reports last year that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was considering the post were quickly shot down, and a State Department official confirmed this week that Mrs. Clinton “isn’t going anywhere.”

Still said to be in the running were former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers; U.S. U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice; former Council of Economic Advisers chief Christina Romer; New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg; and Indra Nooyi, the Indian-born head of PepsiCo.

Mr. Barfield said grumbling by rising powers such as China, India and Brazil over the U.S. monopoly on the World Bank post has never led to action, in part because critics have never been able to present a united front by rallying around a single candidate.

“It’s a prestigious post,” he said. “The large developing countries - the Brazils, the Chinas, Mexicos, whatever - have not gotten together, just like they didn’t in the IMF.”

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