Former US Trade Representative and former State Department number two Robert Zoellick has been tapped by President Bush to lead the World Bank. Since the announcement that outgoing Bank President Paul Wolfowitz would step down on June 30, 2007, politicos and development types alike have been buzzing over who would replace him. Tradition has dictated over the years this individual should be an American (the concession being that the head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has traditionally been a European). A letter from four House Committee Chairmen even called on President Bush, appointer in chief in this matter, to cast a wide net among both international and American candidates “to identify the woman or man with the right mix of intellectual, management and diplomatic skills,” regardless of their citizenship to fill the post.
It is not hard to get on board with the idea that the appointment should be merit-based as ideally every appointment should be, still we live in the real not the ideal world. And, yes, the position should be filled by an individual with proven knowledge of finance, development and diplomacy. Zoellick meets all of the above requirements. And despite all the rhetoric and speculation about whether or not the post should continue to be held by an American, Zoellick, a homegrown product of Naperville, Illinois, is indeed an American. In addition to a long list of qualifications that make him a qualified candidate for the post, the last his citizenship is also important. Here is why:
1.) The Bank provides more than $20 billion in grants and loans annually for humanitarian and infrastructure projects in developing countries. The US remains the World Bank’s largest donor and shareholder (followed by Japan, Germany and the UK respectively). The money that helps the US consistently remain the largest shareholder comes from the US taxpayers.
2.) In Washington, the Bank’s home town, who you know is important. Physical and geographical proximity does not ensure communication, cooperation and integration. Institutions separated by only a few blocks like the World Bank and the White House, regardless of who serves as president in either can get lost in their own bureaucracy and forget to reach out and engage with others. An American at the head of the World Bank ensures that all facets of the US government and the international policy making community, particularly inside the beltway, remain actively engaged in the workings of the bank helping it maintain relevancy in a dynamic world.
3.) The power of the American economy is bigger than the US government. World poverty will not be solved by the World Bank alone. An American World Bank president keeps the American people engaged in the process of poverty reduction and helps create a constituency for international aid and development assistance amongst the citizens of the richest nation on the planet.
The World Bank should not be run by an American to ensure that the US helps steer the global economy with solely US interests in mind. The president of the World Bank really does not or should not be focused on that. This work is better left to the US Executive Director who sits on the Bank?s Board and confirms the appointment of the Bank president along with 24 other Executive Directors from Bank member nations. These individuals all must weigh the interests of both donor and recipient nations a task where divorcing yourself from national interests is not always easy.
There are those who argue that the Bank should be more representative of poorer nations and the poor themselves and American leadership does not signal inclusiveness. I have no problem with integrating recipient nations into the World Bank system. In fact this kind of “ownership” has shown increased legitimacy and even effectiveness of aid and development programs for instance the Millennium Challenge Corporation has shown glimmers of hope in this area. But the World Bank should not be a fiscal United Nations and was indeed never designed as such. The UN, while it has lofty and laudable goals, is hardly a model of management and efficiency to be followed. Disparagement of the UN’s slow crawl toward reform is not to say the World Bank is way out in front on the issues of reform and efficiency. Allegations of corruption and graft in and surrounding bank projects climb into the hundreds of millions of dollars. Paul Wolfowitz, while ill advised in approving the pay raise that was his ultimate downfall, was on track in this area. He was working to root out corruption (money withheld from suspicious projects in India and Kenya) and ensure the World Bank’s money is improving the lives of the poor. Zoellick, the new sheriff in town should do the same.