Many friends and colleagues are asking me to comment on the World Bank President’s election of Jim Young Kim. Only fair since I spoke about it before the games were over and gave my opinion.
A bit unfair since, while having worked at the World Bank (WB) (but not for the World Bank, I was there working for the Italian government on WB’s public procurement), I am in a far distant position from these themes than others more expert who have spoken about it.
Just a few thoughts.
1. Symbolism matters beyond CVs in nominations at this level. And while no woman with an Indian-only passport was chosen as I was wishing for, the choice diverged from the traditional one of a Caucasian-only political based choice. Changes can happen more slowly than desired, but it is better to have change than no change at all, so 1 point for Obama on this.
2. The most interesting comments so far that I read were in the Economist and by JFK Harvard School of Government’s Professor Pritchett. Far from the criticism that was pointed out at the beginning of the selection process when candidatures were communicated (“Mr. Kim is pro-growth but not pro-markets”) now the issue sems to be “Mr. Kim will concentrate on micro-interventions” (the humane development model) rather than the (by some people needed) “large-scale approach” (the national development model). I don’t subscribe to that view.
Many persons I have met, when discussing how the Bank should work, were asking not about grandiose visions from the top but effectiveness in ensuring that contracts are awarded to the right firms and that the final quality in projects financed by the Bank was delivered as promised. One of the most important debates right now in the world of aid relates to “Country systems”, among which the rules of how to do procurement well with the money coming from WB: making procurement better is one of those micro-reforms that would have a huge impact on the aid effectiveness of the WB.
I fear that a manager in charge of a global ambitious pro-growth agenda rather than one focusing on the quality of intervention might not help aid effectiveness. Which is what is truly needed right now.
I understand Dr. Easterly’s (a former WB employee turned critic of it) point of view in his beautiful book “The Elusive Quest for Growth” that WB aid should be given on the basis of policy performance of a given country, but I dont agree with it. Measuring performance of a country creates stress across countries, infuriates local governments ranked worse, is hardly capable of considering the history of a country and its contingent needs, might lead to tricks in measurement of past performance and might even make geopolitical preferences of rich countries easier to be imposed, lowering WB independence.
We will see if Dr. Kim will be the right leader at the right time for the WB. As of now, my hunch is an optimistic one. But only time and opportunity will prove me right or wrong.