Saturday, March 25, 2006

Did the Minister do right?

I recently ended my two years as an ED in The World Bank Group in representation of Venezuela and seven other countries. Even though it sounds strange, I was nominated for that job through a process that initiated in a chat box on the Web (Foro Nacional) where the then Minister of Planning, Mr. Felipe Pérez, asked for candidates.

I, as a born optimist, sent the Minister my curriculum vitae reminding him in clear terms that I had no experience in the public sector; that I was fiercely independent, “a radical of the middle or an extremist of the center,” and that I had no interest at all in going to Washington if that meant silencing my own voice. But, if the government could live with all that, I felt myself both capable and honored to represent my country.

As I had met the Minister only briefly, once when he invited me to give a conference in IESA about the taxes charged on gasoline in the consuming countries, I did not harbor any major expectations, and, in fact, I forgot all about it. One month later, out of the blue, the minister calls me on my cell phone, and informs me I had been nominated.

The nomination of an Executive Director, politically independent, from the private sector, with no public-service trajectory, and picked on the Web, did also surprise the World Bank, and therefore the question posed by the article’s title. Its answer is not easy.

First. Was my election simply an accident, a craze of the moment never to occur again, or was it just the tip of the iceberg of a new way. If an accident, I was just lucky, but, in fact, the new technological advances are pointing toward new forms of government. In the future, instead of governing by polling opinions, we could have daily referenda, with all citizens, at zero costs, for good or bad. In this sense, as Mr. Perez seems to be a person who believes a lot in the revolutionary power of transparency, my selection could have been a precursor, and the Minister a prophet. Even though I harbor many doubts about where so much transparency could take us, intuitively I support it as such advances seem to be an important evolution of our society.

Second. Of an ED in the World Bank it is expected that he represents, simultaneously, both the interests of his constituency and the interests of the Bank, as an institution. And that balancing act is not easy. In this respect, the question is whether someone with my characteristics could walk the rope. Though clearly someone from the public sector and appointed for political reasons should be much better positioned to represent the short-term interests of the current governments, a free agent like me, inasmuch as he can provide new perspectives on issues, could also turn out to be useful, both for the institutions as well as for the country.

Subjectively, I have no doubt that the Minister did splendidly. I have had an incredible experience and I believe that I have served well the interests of my beloved Venezuela, of the other brother countries I represented, of The World Bank Group and of that whole little planet earth where we are all stuck on. And so … Thank you, Felipe!

Published in El Universal