The World Bank on Monday chose Korean-born US health expert Jim Yong Kim as its new president, maintaining Washington’s grip on the job and leaving developing countries frustrated with the selection process.
Kim, a physician and anthropologist who makes for a somewhat unorthodox choice to head the global anti-poverty lender, won the job over the widely respected Nigerian Minister of Finance Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, with the support of Washington’s allies in Western Europe, Japan and Canada — as well as some emerging economies.
It was the first time in the World Bank’s history that the US’ hold on the job was challenged.
The decision by the World Bank’s 25-member board was not unanimous, with emerging economies splitting their support. Brazil and South Africa backed Okonjo-Iweala, while three sources said China and India supported Kim.
Kim, 52, who is president of Dartmouth College, will assume his new post on July 1 after World Bank President Robert Zoellick steps down.
“I will seek a new alignment of the World Bank Group with a rapidly changing world,” Kim said in a statement.
He said he would work to ensure that the World Bank “delivers more powerful results to support sustained growth; prioritizes evidence-based solutions over ideology; amplifies the voices of developing countries; and draws on the expertise and experience of the people we serve.”
Okonjo-Iweala congratulated Kim and said the competition had led to “important victories” for developing nations, which have increasingly pushed for more say at the World Bank and the IMF.
She said more effort was needed to end the “unfair tradition” that ensured Washington’s dominance of the global development lender.
“It is clear to me that we need to make it more open, transparent and merit-based,” Okonjo-Iweala said. “We need to make sure that we do not contribute to a democratic deficit in global governance.”
Some development experts criticized US President Barack Obama’s choice as lacking the economic and financial credentials needed to respond to the needs of rising middle-income countries, which are still riddled with poverty, but which are increasingly looking for innovative ways to finance their development.
The US said the process was open and transparent, but a number of emerging nations questioned whether candidates were assessed on their nationalities rather than on their merits, as World Bank member countries had agreed in 2010.
The US has held the presidency since the World Bank’s founding after World War II, while a European has always led its sister institution, the IMF.
Unlike previous heads of the World Bank, Kim is not a politician, a banker or a career diplomat. He has worked to bring healthcare to the poor in developing countries, whether fighting tuberculosis in Haiti and Peru or tackling HIV/AIDS in Russian prisons.
His training and experience, including directing the WHO’s HIV/AIDS department and developing treatments for a form of drug-resistant tuberculosis, gave him immediate credentials as a campaigner on behalf of the poor.
South African Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan welcomed non-US citizens competing for the first time, but also said there were concerns the process was not fully merit-based.
“I think we are going to find that the process falls short of that,” he said.
As part of their efforts to gain greater say in global financial institutions, emerging economies are also pushing for greater voting power at the IMF.