Some excellent candidates to head the World Bank and the IMF never get nominated because they lack the support of their own country—usually because the party they are affiliated with is not in power at the critical moment. Consider, for example, Ernesto Zedillo, a former president of Mexico who now heads the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization. He led a high level study group that recommended eminently sensible changes in governance at the World Bank to strengthen the voice of developing country members. Or Kemal Dervis, a former minister of the economy in Turkey, former head of the United Nations Development Program, and former World Bank vice president who is now vice president of the Brookings Institution. A former CGD visiting fellow, he is the author A Better Globalization: Legitimacy, Governance and Reform (a CGD book). Both would be eminently qualified to lead the World Bank (Dervis was a top choice of respondents in a 2007 CGD survey) but neither has had the right affiliation in his own country when it mattered.
José Antonio Ocampo is an impressive candidate who has broken this outdated convention by getting nominated even though he does not enjoy the support of his country. He is a former minister of finance in Colombia, former head of the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, and current professor at Columbia University in New York. (Full disclosure: his chapter in this book I co-edited influenced my thinking about the relationship between changing macroeconomic conditions and social policy, and I have a chapter in a forthcoming book that he is editing.)
Ocampo was nominated not by Colombia but by the Dominican Republic, which along with Colombia is part of the multi-country constituency represented on the World Bank’s Board by Brazil. Word is that Colombia is not directly supporting Ocampo because it is instead lobbying for its candidate to be the next head of the International Labor Organization when the ILO’s Chilean head finishes his term this year. (Let’s hope that decision is made in an open, transparent, merit-based manner, and with some healthy competition too!) Something similar happened once before; Stanley Fischer’s name was placed in nomination at the IMF years ago by a group of African countries, and in 2007 Russia nominated a Czech national. But those nominations amounted to little in substantive terms; as far as I know the IMF Board did not interview either candidate.
This time the Ocampo and Okonjo-Iweala nominations are much more than symbolic, and both will be interviewed by the World Bank board. That’s an important breakthrough, too. I’m hoping that the board will not rush the process but, as Lawrence MacDonald has urged, allow sufficient time after the interviews are complete for the board members to consult with the countries that they represent.
Even better would be if the next World Bank president puts in place governance reforms that include a standing committee of eminent persons, approved by the board, that would nominate highly qualified candidates for her or his successor, without regard to nationality.