Harvard Professor tips Okonjo-Iweala to beat Obama’s World Bank Nomination
Lant Pritchett, a tenured professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government who worked at the World Bank for 17 years, has blasted the nomination of Dartmouth President Jim Yong Kim as “a terrible idea” and tipped Nigeria’s finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, as more suited to assumed the head of World Bank.
Professor Pritchett, who teaches courses in the practice of international development is quoted by Forbes as saying “it’s an embarrassment to the US” to have nominated the scientist to lead the World bank.“There is no way you can say with a straight face that this man is more qualified to head the World Bank than Ngozi,” insists Pritchett.
He argues that Okonjo-Iweala has tackled corruption in Nigeria and because she has worked inside the Bank and as the Bank’s government counterpart in a developing country with complex problems, Pritchett insists she has precisely the kind of experience needed in a World Bank leader.
“At best, Kim has worked with ministers of health, but they are in one of many, many government agencies,” says Pritchett. “A minister of finance has to make hard choices across sectors. Having the experience of a minister of finance is the optimal experience for being president of the World Bank” explained the Havard professor.
He further adds that nominating Kim “is like picking the short stop for the New York Yankees out of the scrub leagues.”
Pritchett points out that the World Bank, whose mission is to reduce global poverty by providing financial resources and sharing expertise with developing nations, works with fragile governments like Pakistan and Afghanistan on complex development issues, from raising tax revenues to elevating GDP to reforming education.
For Pritchett, there is an important distinction between the kind of work Kim has done, which he calls “charity work,” and the complex tasks engaged in by the World Bank.
“Development is about countries becoming prosperous, democratic and capable, like being able to deliver the mail, having police forces that work and kids who get educated,” says Pritchett. “Charity work is helping people cope with the fact that they live in places where they don’t have those things.”
Pritchett, who supported Obama’s presidential bid, says that the President overlooked much more qualified candidates like PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi and Lawrence Summers, the former Treasury secretary who is a colleague and friend of Pritchett’s at Harvard.
“The Obama administration had some concerns about the political left flank on this and did the craven thing,” he said. “There’s no question that Kim has done terrific things, but I wouldn’t nominate Mother Teresa to head the World Bank if she were still alive” he quipped.
An infectious disease specialist, Kim helped found a Boston-based nonprofit called Partners in Health that trains community health workers in developing countries to make home visits to treat diseases like TB. Kim also directed the World Health Organization’s department of H.I.V./AIDS. But unlike past World Bank presidents, he has no experience in banking, policy making, economics or development. Kim has been president of Dartmouth for the last three years. Kim was also awarded a MacArthur “genius” fellowship in 2003, and was born in Seoul, South Korea, moving to the U.S. with his family at age 5.
In the World Bank’s 68-year history, the U.S. has always nominated the president, who must be voted on by the Bank’s 25-member executive board. This year, Angola, South Africa and Nigeria nominated a competing candidate, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Nigerian finance minister and a former World Bank official.
Pritchett insists she is much more qualified than Kim. He points out that the U.S. has less than a 20% share of board votes and though he gives Kim a 60% chance of being appointed, he says that countries like India and China could wind up opposing Kim’s nomination and pressing for Okonjo-Iweala.