Friday, March 23, 2012

US faces deadline to nominate World Bank chief

WASHINGTON: The United States faced a deadline Friday to nominate a new World Bank chief, as strong candidates backed by emerging countries ramped up the pressure on Washington to name a high-profile figure.

The White House has until 6:00 pm (2200 GMT) to nominate a candidate to succeed Robert Zoellick at the helm of the world lender, a post traditionally held by an American according to a tacit agreement with Europe.
But on Thursday White House spokesman Jay Carney said he had "no news to make on the World Bank front."

And it was not known whether the United States would publicly announce its nominee on Friday or wait until the candidates are officially validated by the Bank's 25 executive directors.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton shot to the top of the rumour mill filling the news vacuum after a former Colombian finance minister and central bank chief, Jose Antonio Ocampo, announced his candidacy Wednesday.

Ocampo, currently a Columbia University professor, also said that Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was a candidate.

A spokesman for Okonjo-Iweala said that the former top-level World Bank official "is not seeking it," but told AFP: "There seems to be some serious enthusiasm for the idea."

A person close to the World Bank confirmed that, saying Okonjo-Iweala's name is "making the rounds" and was expected to be proposed by South Africa.

"It's an extremely serious candidacy: she is a woman, black, minister of finance and is a well-known person at the World Bank," where she was managing director from 2007 to 2011, the person said.

"That puts enormous pressure on the US side... They're going to have to propose a high-profile candidate."
An American has always served as World Bank head and a European has always led the International Monetary Fund due to a tacit agreement among Western nations dating back to the founding of the institutions nearly 70 years ago.

But the traditional arrangement governing the two 187-nation bodies has triggered outrage from developing and emerging nations seeking greater representation to reflect their rising contribution to the global economy.

The race to lead the World Bank was set in motion after Zoellick announced on February 15 he was stepping down at the end of his term on June 30.

Upon his resignation, the US Treasury immediately reaffirmed its "leadership role" in the World Bank and said it would announce a candidate within weeks, but has since remained silent on the matter.

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.

Though Clinton repeatedly has insisted she is not interested in the job, it is highly possible that she may give in to White House pressure, the source close to the World Bank said.
If not, "Rice's prospects seem the strongest," the source said, and "Summers hasn't been totally ruled out."

Another American, economist Jeffrey Sachs, has garnered support for his self-declared candidacy from 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' Millennium Development Goals project.
- AFP/ir

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