Obama nominates US candidate for World Bank role

Sat, Mar 24, 2012, 00:00

US PRESIDENT Barack Obama on Friday nominated a Korean-American known for his work in fighting HIV/AIDS in impoverished countries to lead the World Bank, a job emerging economies are contesting for the first time.

Jim Yong Kim is president of Dartmouth College, an Ivy League school in New Hampshire, and former director of the Department of HIV/AIDS at the World Health Organisation.

Despite the challenge from emerging nations – with Angola, Nigeria and South Africa endorsing Nigerian finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala – the United States is expected to maintain its grip on the job, which it has held since the World Bank was founded after the second World War.

“He’s worked from Asia to Africa to the Americas; from capitals to small villages,” Mr Obama said.

“His personal story exemplifies the great diversity of our country and the fact that anyone can make it as far as he has as long as they’re willing to work hard and look out for others.”

The choice came as a surprise.Washington’s past picks for the World Bank presidency have had more standing in political circles, and Kim’s name had not surfaced in several media reports on potential nominees.

Mr Okonjo-Iweala, a respected economist and diplomat, is likely to draw support from many emerging nations in Africa, Asia and Latin America which want the bank to focus more on helping their economies develop and less on traditional poverty-fighting aid.

Her backing by Angola, Nigeria and South Africa was a rare example of unity among countries often at loggerheads but ones that, like many developing economies, want to upend the tradition of always having an American lead the World Bank and a European at the helm of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The bank’s current president, Robert Zoellick, steps down at the end of June.

“You will see more of a debate, an assessment of the merits of the different candidates and the direction of the bank,” said former IMF official Arvind Subramanian. “It is not a slam dunk. It is not an obvious choice,” he said of the US nominee.

Washington, however, retains the largest single voting share at the World Bank and could expect the support of European nations and Japan, the bank’s second-largest voting member. South Korea signalled its support, but India said it wanted to consult the other so-called BRICS countries – Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa – before making a decision.

US economist Jeffrey Sachs, who had been put forward for the job by a group of small countries, withdrew and threw his support behind Kim.

He had entered as an effort to break Washington’s penchant for political appointments. – (Reuters)