Mia Mottley, the prime minister of Barbados who is leading efforts to overhaul global financial institutions, voiced support for two of the contenders with development experience to reform the World Bank as its new president.
Rockefeller Foundation President Rajiv Shah and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the World Trade Organization director-general, were both “more than qualified” for the top job at the World Bank, Mottley said in an interview with the Financial Times. They had the “instinct for reform” needed to integrate climate change into the multilateral lender’s work, she said.
Mottley’s vision for reforming the World Bank and IMF has won her wide recognition and the public backing of French President Emmanuel Macron, with whom she will co-host a summit in Paris in June to scope out what is known as the Bridgetown Initiative.
Mottley said the question for the World Bank leadership candidates was whether they could “carry the G7 countries along with them”, and rally their support for change.
The bank’s board on Wednesday said it hoped to select a new president by early May as it formally opened a month-long nomination process. It said it “would strongly encourage” female candidates.
The US is the leading shareholder in the bank, followed by China, Japan, Germany, France and the UK. Developing countries such as Barbados have only a small vote among the 189 country members but can carry sway with their public agenda.
German World Bank governor Svenja Schulze, who is minister for economic co-operation and development, said it was “definitely time for a woman to lead” the institution. The new president should push “the reform of the World Bank with full power and conviction”, Schulze added.
Other than Okonjo-Iweala, other potential women contenders for the role include Samantha Power, the former US ambassador to the UN, and US Agency for International Development chief Gayle Smith, of the ONE Campaign anti-poverty group.
World Bank President David Malpass’s abrupt announcement a week ago that he would resign almost a year early followed months of mounting pressure from shareholders who stress the need to make the lender fit for the challenges of this century, including climate change and pandemics.
The US traditionally nominates the president, and is rarely opposed, though other nations are free to put forward alternatives.
There is not yet a preferred US candidate. Following its board meeting on Wednesday, the bank’s directors said there would be an “open, merit-based and transparent” selection process, with a shortlist of up to three candidates to be made public after the close of the nomination period at the end of March. They would look for someone with development experience and diplomatic skills.
Mottley said the success of the IMF and World Bank spring meetings would come down to the “will of the G20” group of nations, since a new president was not expected to be in place by then.
“The only entities that can spur that decision-making are the shareholders and not management,” she said, adding that the timing of Malpass’s resignation “may prove to be difficult for progress”.
Analysts said the bank and shareholders could press on with reforms that were already under way, including proposals to lower the bank’s equity-to-loan ratio.
The Barbadian prime minister also said the present system for appointing leaders of the multilateral institutions, under which the US and major European shareholders select the heads of the World Bank and IMF, respectively, was overdue for reform.
While “the system must change”, there was not enough time to alter it before the appointment of Malpass’s successor, Mottley said. “What the world needs now more than ever is somebody in place to take decisions to minimise the scale of suffering that has taken place as a result of a looming set of problems.”
“As soon as a new president is elected, there ought to be a process to change the rules so that we don’t find ourselves, again, having to accept the status quo simply because we’ve not undertaken the necessary reform in good time.” Developing country shareholders “can’t be at the table and not be seen or not be heard”.