Sunday, May 27, 2007

Two brief comments on naming a new World Bank President

1. I would love for the world at large to be able to put forward their proposals for a new president at the World Bank but, having been an Executive Directors and having seen how so few of these EDs are truly allowed to speak out their own voice, I would also like to see that once they have received the list of candidates, they are isolated from any further interference from their capitals, and forced to reach a consensus between themselves as Executive Directors individually responsible for the Bank and the World.

2. If we are going to waste time just to haggle on who is going to be the next President of the World Bank, I would much rather have just about anyone named so that the Bank could go back and focus at the real issues. While an Executive Director of the World Bank (2002-2004), I calculated the cost of each of the EDs jointly debating an issue to cost around 80.000 US dollars per hour. Therefore I raised my voice quite noisily when the Board had to spend many hours discussing a salary increase of US$ 40.000 for our then president, Jim Wolfensohn, just so that he would earn as much as his counterpart at the IMF. Frankly, I do not know what I would have done with a Wolfowitz incident and now the follow up; I might have just gone berserk

The World Bank needs a president credible to the world (and to the USA).

My friend and as an Executive Director of the World Bank former colleague Otaviano Canuto is quoted in FT May 22 saying with respect to the appointment of the next president to substitute for Wolfowitz that the selection should be “based on the merits of a plurality of candidates regardless of nationality” and who could argue with that, though of course the problem of defining what are these “merits” remains.

The first and foremost merit that I believe a World Bank president must have besides the basics is to be able to generate enough credibility outside the small world of the World Bank. This is so since no matter how this multilateral twists and bends, the chances for most of the poor of this world to come out of their misery in a sustainable form lies in being able to connect with the real world. Also the World Bank itself is dependent on this connection if it is to strengthen its role as a global public-goods producer.

And so, unfortunately, we might be back to square one where the best we can hope for now, is for the United States to nominate a person that fully and truly represents the United States, and counts with the favourable opinion of Europe. By the way I would never view such a candidate as a foe but, if I did, I much more prefer to work with an impressive foe than with a diddling friend.

Let us not despair though; the time will come when the world will be ripe for Otaviano Canuto’s proposal, and much faster than what we can imagine.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Let us keep the eyes on the ball!

If we want good government results that have a chance of doing what is humanly good for humanity, in a shrinking world, that could only happen through more credible and better governed multinational institutions. But in this case, while rolling up or shirtsleeves to get going at it, we must also learn about how to prioritize our efforts.

Instead of beating the good guy on the head, just because he is more amenable to being beaten on the head, and start with a World Bank and that no matter Wolfowitz and some others, in relative terms, still stands out as a shining example of relative good governance in the world, we should all concentrate more on where good governance is much more lacking and much more needed, namely the United Nations.

May I humbly suggest we keep our eyes on the ball!

Per Kurowski
The Voice and Noise Foundation for International Development and Global Strategic Action

And now it is for the World Bank to convince the world that it was more than about politics

Now when after so much procrastination, by all, Wolfowitz has finally resigned it is now the World Bank’s turn to convince the world that all this was indeed an institutional fight over what is right or wrong, and not some political bickering against an unpopular president.

Having had the privilege to act as an Executive Director of the World Bank (2002-2004), I am truly convinced of the high human quality of all its people but, given that out there, for instance in the world of blogs, there exist so many 100% professional haters who don’t care a iota for the World Bank as long as they get their sweet revenge on Bush or Wolfowitz, now the World Bank’s directors, staff and managers must act decisively on the fundamental governance issues, so as to distance themselves as much as possible from these loonies.

One of the first tasks has to be to review the whole concept of external assignments or secondments, since it beats me how it could have reached that point where someone could even have thought of this as a useful instrument for removing to a distant place a conflict of interest of the President, at the expense of the World Bank. Can you even think of a listed corporation trying to argue with the IRS about the deductibility of salaries paid in such a way?

As with this it should be clear that there was a serious problem even before Wolfowitz intervened pushing promotions and salary increases, something that the Executive Board also valiantly recognized, it is obvious that the institutional integrity teams, and all other, have some solid homework to do before they can re-launch the good governance and anti corruption initiative the world needs so much, and that unfortunately seems to have hit an iceberg, while still in port. I am certain that they will succeed.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The World Bank deserves more than a banal political row

The Ethics Committee proposed a solution to Mr. Wolfowitz’ “conflict of interest” that could have the poverty fighting World Bank paying out US$1.950.000 over the ten years of what could be his presidency (US$ 130.000 plus 50% benefits per year), while receiving absolutely no services at all. No matter how delicately you phrase it as a secondment, this sure must be a crazy and an unethical proposal. How come they did not just help her (or Wolfowitz) find another job for which the Bank did not have to pay? Should that have been so difficult?

Mr. Wolfowitz, who as President should know that something is not right just because an Ethics Committee proposes it; then went on influencing so as to raise the potential cost of this proposal for the Bank to US$2.700.000. For this Wolfowitz should resign; and most seem quite clear about that.

It is hard though for me to understand why there has been so little discussion about the Ethics Committee’s initial proposal. Although I was an Executive Director at the World Bank, 2002-2004, I came there from the private sector, and so I might not possess sufficient intimate knowledge of all the nuances of diplomatic affairs… (which could perhaps just be lucky me).

I sincerely believe that the overwhelmingly good staff, management, board members and presidents, present or past of the World Bank, as well as a world that needs a respected multilateral institution where global challenges can be discussed, they all deserve that this affair is handled correctly, on the basis of what is right or wrong, and not just as a banal political row, of a for or against Wolfowitz.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

We need to make more of a world bank out of the World Bank

Sir of course the "World Bank has greater problems than Wolfowitz", as E.A.S. Sarma says, May 8, but if he as a Former Secretary of Economic Affairs of India really believes that "setting up an Independent People's Tribunal to place the policies and programmes of the World Bank under the scanner, is part of finding the path for their own development", then may I suggest he has himself a bigger problem, as so do those who like my country Venezuela believe they are better off outside the World Bank.

Lets face it, the World Bank, after 64 years of activities has an outstanding accumulated portfolio of $103bn which compared for instance just to the $62bn in remittances made only last year to their homelands by the Latin-American migrant workers is a drop in the ocean, much more so when the financial flows to the richest country of the world are such staggering amounts that we are better off not even mentioning them.

As I see it, the faster we split up the bank in two completely separate areas, one for the development issues of the poor, laggard or left behind countries, and one for the global world development issues, the better chances we have of making a big dent in the poverty and a truer world bank out of the World Bank. At the Word Bank's Executive Board instead of reshuffling the seats among countries, we need to assure the representation of international actors such as multinational corporations, migrant workers and international labour unions.

By the way, if I had the luck and honour to be left in that division of the World Bank in charge of helping the laggards catch up, I know exactly what I would do. I would put all my efforts to strengthen the confidence of the poor people in their own capacity, so that they dare to ride a bicycle on their own, instead of trying to make their misery more liveable, holding their bikes, or offering them scapegoats and excuses for their falls, such as the World Bank.