South Africa has called a news conference for today to announce an African candidate for the World Bank presidency, widely expected to be Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, sources familiar with the discussions said, yesterday.
South Africa chairs one of the three African seats on the 25-member World Bank board, and Okonjo-Iweala’s candidacy was being proposed after consultations between South African President Jacob Zuma and Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, the sources said.
2011 Budget Breakdown : Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala addressing Pressmen on the 2012 budget with Director General of Budget, Bright Okogun. Photo: Gbemiga Olamikan.
A statement from South Africa’s Treasury said the Finance Ministers of Angola, Nigeria and South Africa would hold a news conference in Pretoria today, although it did not disclose details of the agenda.
Okonjo-Iweala and former Colombian Finance Minister Jose Antonio Ocampo are set to make the first concerted challenge to the US grip on the top job at the World Bank, according to a source.
Brazil said this week that both Okonjo-Iweala and Ocampo would be “great” candidates to replace Robert Zoellick as head of the Washington-based development institution, the latest sign of emerging nations wanting more say on how it is run.
Washington has held the presidency since the bank’s founding after World War II, while a European has always led its sister organisation, the International Monetary Fund.
Despite the push by emerging nations, the United States has the bank’s largest voting share and is expected to win the support of most developed nations, making it likely that another American will succeed Zoellick.
All of the World Bank’s 187 member nations have committed to a transparent, merit-based process to select Zoellick’s successor, a step adopted last year to give emerging economies a greater say in who heads the poverty-fighting institution.
Emerging and developing economies have long expressed a desire to break US and European dominance of the two Bretton Woods institutions, but until now had failed to build a coalition large enough to mount a credible challenge.
According to reports, the decision to nominate Okonjo-Iweala and Ocampo followed weeks of consultations among representatives from BRICS nations — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa— and other developing countries at the World Bank board level aimed at finding credible nominees.
Carlos Cozendey, Secretary of Foreign Affairs at Brazil’s Finance Ministry, said both Ocampo and Okonjo-Iweala were ‘great’ candidates and their candidacies signalled increased coordination among developing countries.
“We continue to believe that the president should be chosen based on merit, and it is very positive to have an open competition process,” Cozendey said.
Nominations will be submitted to the 25-member World Bank board, which is expected to make a decision within the next month.
However, sources said China is also considered putting forward a candidate, while the United States has focussed its search on convincing a woman to enter the race.
Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the United Nations, is a leading contender, though it is not clear she wants the job, sources said.
Lawrence Summers, a former economic adviser to President Barack Obama, has also been short-listed, in addition to US Senator, John Kerry and PepsiCo’s Indian-born chief executive, Indra Nooyi,
However, reports have it that Kerry has publicly ruled out the job, while sources say Nooyi is no longer in contention.
“The impressive credentials of both Ocampo and Okonjo-Iweala puts tremendous pressure on the White House to come up with a candidate of at least equivalent standing.
This is the first time in history we have a truly contested election.” said Domenico Lombardi, a former World Bank board official now at the Brookings Institution in Washington.