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The challenge posed by developing countries to the U.S. grip on the World Bank presidency will test industrial nations' commitment to an open selection process, former Colombian finance minister and nominee Jose Antonio Ocampo, said Tuesday at an event (full video) organized by CGD and Washington Post Live
"We are putting the industrial countries to account ... if they are really committed to an open, merit-based system," Ocampo said.
Howard Schneider, the staff writer for the Washington Post who led a discussion after Ocampo’s opening remarks, asked him about his experience with the Word Bank board earlier in the day. Ocampo said that each of the bank’s 25 executive directors had asked him two to five questions during a marathon three-and-a-half hour interview. “You do the math,” he said.
He said that he believed that the bank needed more capital to help member countries deal with emerging problems, especially climate change, which he called “a major challenge to humanity.”
“When the time came for a capital increase, the current president was too shy in asking,’ Ocampo said. ‘‘That is a reason why now the bank is decreasing its lending significantly, because it cannot have a larger portfolio.” Asked whether a non-U.S. president of the bank would have difficulty getting support from the U.S. congress, he said that getting such support would be a difficult task regardless of the World Bank president’s nationality.
His opening remarks were clearly structured and well-informed, with three basic principles for successful development (a balancer of markets, state and society; national ownership of development strategies, and the nature of development as an iterative, ever-changing process); three objectives for the bank (poverty reduction, global public goods, and serving as an international forum for dialogue on longterm development issues); and a thoughtful discussion of the bank’s instruments.
For me, the approach felt was academic and professorial (Ocampo is currently a professor at Columbia University), and at least a few in the audience were left wondering whether Ocampo really wanted to be the next president of the World Bank or had put his name forward primarily to challenge the status quo. Ocampo insists that his candidacy is more than just symbolic.
Asked why he cared about global development and poverty reduction, a question that Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Nigerian finance minister, addressed in her opening remarks the day before, recalling a girlhood of poverty and civil war, Ocampo seemed to struggle. The impression was of a man who believed in the importance of professional qualifications but was reluctant to share of himself in public in a way that would move others to follow.
“I come from a developing country… with lots of difficulties,” he said. “I can go into that… I will not.” He then pivoted to what may be his real reason for running. “I also I consider that the system of the World Bank president is not compatible with multilateralism,” he said. “Any person should have an opportunity to lead, if that person is qualified.”
CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.