HOW DO WE FIX THE IMBALANCE?
April 22nd, 2012 4:45 PM
By Esha Chhabra
A few weeks back, there was a lot of chatter about who would don the hat of president of the World Bank. As the NYTimes reported, having more than one candidate for the top seat was a first for the bank. The discussion about who would finally get that seat was based on the increasing power of emerging markets, countries that were once the focus of the Bank and now players in development themselves.
But, finally, an American, Kim Yong Kim, was selected, leaving aside the Nigerian candidate, finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. Kim’s background in public health, work at WHO, and presidency at Dartmouth has been celebrated, but some writers were disappointed with the decision to put another leader from the so-called “North” at the helm of an organization that’s designed to aid the “South.”
Richard Adams of the Guardian described the decision with a slight comical edge:
“In any other year, the choice of a 52-year-old doctor who established innovative programmes to fight HIV-Aids and tuberculosis would have been applauded as progressive — especially as the bank’s previous 11 presidents have all been white men. The difference is that this year, for the first time, the US nominee was challenged by a strong candidate from the developing world: Nigeria’s finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. The prospect of backing Okonjo-Iweala must have tantalised the US. But political considerations forced Obama to nominate a US citizen.”
The Council on Foreign Relations’ Internationalist blog also wasn’t so thrilled with the decision:
“I argue that the U.S. diplomatic push to install an American as the next World Bank president squandered a golden opportunity to promote a new era of global governance founded on contemporary economic realities, and not outdated Western prerogatives. The Obama administration could have thrown its weight behind either of the two outstanding alternatives–Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria or José Antonio Ocampo of Colombia–and in doing so, would have signaled that global institutional reform requires integrating the dynamic developing world. Nevertheless, the first multi-candidate competition is a historic turning point.”
The American Enterprise Institute’s Roger Bate dug into Kim’s public health background, which includes a stint at WHO and developing Partners in Health with classmate Paul Farmer. The latter has been highly respected for its impact, whereas Kim’s work at WHO has been questioned by Bate:
“Kim ran the World Health Organization’s 3 by 5 Initiative, a program to treat three million people with HIV drugs by end of 2005. It failed to hit its target, but more importantly caused major problems that were glossed over by the HIV community in their glee over all the money the program attracted. As I wrote in November 2006: ‘in a rush to improve access mistakes have been made. The ’3 by 5′ initiative cut corners on drug quality, exposing thousands of patients to drugs of unknown quality (all over Africa); it over-strained poor countries’ fragile health systems, potentially undermining small-scale but successful treatment programs (notably in Sierra Leone and Lesotho); it failed to maintain dialogue or even consult with some countries that disagreed with its targets and methods (notably South Africa); furthermore, it failed to promote good clinical practice, so it is unknown how many patients are failing treatment (all over Africa).’ The Canadian government funded a report of 3 by 5 which was just as damning as my own assessment.”
But the questions around Kim underline a grander debate about the Bank itself – does it have applicability in today’s world and if so, what is its role? It cannot be development, in the traditional sense, as it’s done that for fifty years (and some would argue, that it’s failed). Furthermore, the countries that it lent to have been growing economically, and talking of creating their own such institution (ie the BRICS).
Nancy Birdsall of the Center for Global Development in DC told the NYTimes:
“The world doesn’t need another aid agency. It needs to have an agency with this broader function, to deal with domestic political and development challenges in middle-income countries.”
William Easterly, who’s been outspoken with his skepticism of the World Bank and other development institutions said:
So, then, that raises the question – does it really matter who sits at the helm of the World Bank, if the Bank itself doesn’t carry the prominence it once did? Is it simply a relic of 20th century global governance that’s struggled to keep up with the times?
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