World Bank Presidency: Ocampo steps down for Okonjo-Iweala

A former Colombian Finance Minister, Jose Antonio Ocampo, has withdrawn his candidacy from the race for the World Bank presidency to support Nigeria’s Coordinating Minister of the Economy and Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

Former Colombian Finance Minister, Jose Antonio Ocampo and Nigeria's Coordinating Minister of the Economy and Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

Mr Ocampo, who was nominated by Brazil to represent a constituency of Latin American countries on the World Bank board, reportedly agreed to withdraw from the race following an agreement among emerging and developing countries to come together to support a nominee.

“For me as an economist and as a Colombian, it has been a great honour to participate in this first open competition for the presidency of the World Bank,” Mr. Ocampo said in his withdrawal letter.

“I am pleased with the great success they have had from the Directors, evaluating my candidacy as one of the most strong, and the international public opinion, the ideas I have proposed throughout the debate, and now I hope to contribute to reform the World Bank in the coming years.

“However, as we approach the final phase of this process, it is clear that this is becoming no longer a competition on the merits of the candidates, but a political exercise. In this exercise I am at a disadvantage by the lack of support from the government of my country and how this has hindered the accumulation of political backing for my candidacy.

“Although this choice does not comply in a full feature an open, transparent and based on the merit of candidates, it has established the precedent that the election of President of the World Bank has to be different.

“In that spirit, for the reasons given above, and to facilitate the desired unity of the emerging and developing economies around a candidate, today I am retiring from the race to support the Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who I wish the best of luck in this final stage.”

Okonjo-Iweala would remain as the sole candidate from developing nations in a race against U.S. nominee Jim Yong Kim, a Korean-American health expert who is seen as the favourite to win the race.

A straw poll among World Bank directors representing the Group of 11, which includes emerging countries and Australia, backed Okonjo-Iweala, a source in the Bank reportedly told Reuters.

Emerging market nations are seeking to challenge U.S. leadership at the bank to increase their influence in global economic institutions long controlled by rich nations.

While Kim is still the favorite to win the World Bank presidency because of his backing from the United States and European countries, a rigorous challenge from emerging market countries could put them in a stronger position to extract concessions favorable to their interests and also increase their odds of winning senior jobs in the future.

Earlier, Brazilian Finance Minister Guido Mantega said that the BRICS group of emerging market countries is likely to make a joint decision on who to support for the World Bank top post as soon as Friday.

Mantega told reporters the five countries were still discussing which candidate they would support. The BRICS group also includes Russia, India, China and South Africa.

Ocampo, who met with Mantega on Thursday, said developing nations wanted a single candidate to challenge Kim.

Jim Yong Kim to begin world tour to seek support for his World Bank candidacy

Jim Yong Kim, the U.S. pick to take over as head of the World Bank, launches a world tour on Tuesday to seek support for his candidacy.

Kim, a Korean-American, will be contesting two nominees from emerging market countries – Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and former Colombian Finance Minister Jose Antonio Ocampo – for the World Bank’s top job.

The Treasury Department said Kim will visit Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, as well as Beijing, Tokyo, Seoul, New Delhi, Brasilia and Mexico City between March 27 and April 9 to meet heads of state, finance ministers and others to talk about priorities for the World Bank.

Kim, president of Ivy League university Dartmouth College, was born in South Korea, but moved to the United States as a boy.

Treasury calls the trip a “listening tour” by Kim, the physician and anthropologist named by the Obama administration last Friday as the U.S. pick to succeed Robert Zoellick when he steps down in June.

By tradition, an American has headed the World Bank since its founding after World War Two, but emerging economies are increasingly open about challenging that convention.

Okonjo-Iweala was nominated by African powerhouses Nigeria, South Africa and Angola and could garner more support for her candidacy from the emerging markets bloc. On Monday, African Union finance leaders unanimously endorsed her candidacy.

The United States is a major contributor to the World Bank and can likely count on backing from several European countries for its nominee Kim, which could make it an uphill battle for Okonjo-Iweala.

In an interview with Reuters, however, Okonjo-Iweala expressed hope the World Bank’s 187 member nations would hold to their pledge for an open, merit-based process.

A decision on a new leader for the poverty-fighting organization is expected to be announced by the time the World Bank and its sister organization, the International Monetary Fund, hold semiannual meetings in Washington on April 20-22.


Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala joins race for World Bank presidency

Coordinating Minister for the economy and finance Minister, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has finally thrown her hat in the ring for the race for the World Bank’s president.

Flanked by her counterparts from South Africa and Angola, Dr Okonjo-Iweala, unveiled her candidacy at a press conference in Pretoria, on Friday.

Her candidacy is backed by Africa’s leading economies and its two biggest oil producers in a push for greater influence at global financial bodies dominated by rich nations.

According to the two-time Minister of finance, “I consider the World Bank a very important institution for the world and particularly for developing countries deserving of the best leadership,” she said.

“So I look forward to a contest of very strong candidates, and am I confident? Absolutely” she added emphatically.

Her bid was unveiled in the South African capital, hours before the deadline for nominations to succeed current president Robert Zoellick, who is stepping down at the end of his term on June 30.

Former Colombian finance minister and central bank chief, Jose Antonio Ocampo, who has also been tipped to assume the office, announced his candidacy on Wednesday. Washington has yet to announce its own candidate for the office which American has held since it was founded nearly 70 years ago.

Okonjo-Iweala is a respected former World Bank managing director who joined the Goodluck Jonathan administration as finance minister in August. A capacity she once served during the regime of President Olusegun Obasanjo after which she was transferred to the Ministry of foreign affairs before her resignation.

“I have long experience in the World Bank, in government and in diplomacy and I look forward to giving you my vision at the appropriate time,” she said.

“I share the World Bank vision of fighting poverty with passion. The issue is in what direction one must take this to make this the most beneficial,” she said.

The World Bank has 187 member nations and focuses its activities on development loans.

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.

That traditional arrangement has triggered outrage from developing and emerging economies seeking greater representation to reflect their rising contributions to the global economy.

The US Treasury in February declared “the United States continues its leadership role in the World Bank,” as the largest shareholder, and would announce its candidate “in the coming weeks.”

Since then, the Treasury has declined to comment on the nomination process.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has long been among the most circulated names rumoured to be under consideration by President Barack Obama, along with UN ambassador Susan Rice, Democratic Senator John Kerry and former Treasury secretary Larry Summers.

Clinton has insisted that she is not interested in the job. Another American, economist Jeffrey Sachs, has garnered support for his self-declared candidacy in small developing countries.

Sachs, the director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, has a decades-long career in development and poverty eradication and headed the United Nations’s Millennium Development Goals project.

A candidate must be presented by the Bank’s 25 executive directors, or by governors through the director representing them on the executive board.

The World Bank said that if there are more than three candidates, it will release a short list of three candidates but did not indicate the timing of the publication.