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Survey: US Alone Should Not Pick World Bank President

Haider Rizvi

NEW YORK - Whoever takes charge of the World Bank in July must be elected, not selected, say experts on global financing for development in a survey conducted by a U.S.-based independent think-tank."We are surprised at how strong and consistent the results are in support of reforms in the selection process of the World Bank," said Lawrence MacDonald of the Center for Global Development, the group that initiated the opinion poll last week.

0530 03The ongoing survey indicates that a vast majority of those working to promote the development of poor countries, as well as many of the World Bank's own employees, do not like the way the president of the Bank is chosen.

MacDonald told OneWorld that in four days his group surveyed some 600 people. Amongst them, more than 85 percent said they would like to see a democratic way of choosing the Bank president.

Under the current procedure, it's the United States, not any of the other 183 countries involved in the institution, that names the Bank president. The nomination process does, however, require some informal consultations with other members.

The World Bank was founded in 1944 to help rebuild a European continent devastated by World War II. In recent decades, its purpose has shifted to lending funds and providing advice to the world's poorer countries.

Proponents of Bank reforms say there is no justification for the United States to impose its will on the selection process because the world's economic superpower no longer enjoys a dominant role in the Bank's financing.

Currently, U.S. donations account for about 16 percent of the World Bank's total shares. Over the past many years, while U.S. shares have continued to decline, those coming from Europe, Japan, and some large developing economies have increased.

"Other countries feel it's not appropriate that the United States should be the only one to make this decision," MacDonald said in explaining the survey's findings.

The poll shows strong support for a suggestion that the Bank's board adopt a new voting system, in which confirmation of the new president would require a so-called "double majority."

The concept of a double majority refers to a decision endorsed both by a majority of member countries as well as a sub-group of countries representing a majority of the Bank's shares.

Most of those interviewed by the Center said the next president must be a development expert with experience in banking, management, and diplomacy.

The search for a new head has been on since Paul Wolfowitz announced his resignation some two weeks ago. He was forced to step down by the Bank's 24-member board for violating the Bank's ethics and standards.

Wolfowitz, a close confidante of U.S. President George W. Bush and former deputy secretary at the U.S. Department of Defense, was accused of giving preferential treatment to his girlfriend and fellow bank official, Shaha Riza.

The board has allowed Wolfowitz to continue in his current job until June 30.

Published reports suggest there are 10 potential candidates to replace him. Pollsters said they included all those names in the survey, but, in return, they received 50 additional names from their respondents.

Such additional candidates include the Nigerian finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a woman who negotiated a $36 billion debt relief deal for the struggling democracy.

According to the Center, many people said they would like to see Muhammed Yunus as the next head of the Bank. Last year, Yunus was awarded the Noble Peace Prize for his extraordinary efforts in helping the world's poor acquire micro-loans to help develop small businesses.

The survey also shows strong support for former U.S. President Bill Clinton.

Researchers at the Center acknowledge that their survey is not scientific because it is not based on a random sample. However, they seem greatly convinced that such an exercise could be useful in raising awareness about the selection process.

"Over and over again, we have seen that when credible, appropriately targeted information is made available," said David Wheeler, a senior fellow at the Center, "people in positions of power and influence are more likely to make sound decisions."

Apart from the survey's findings, many civil society groups are currently engaged in campaigns for reform of the Bank's selection process.

"The head of the World Bank should not be the unilateral decision of the U.S.," said Sameer Dosani of the 50 Years Is Enough Network, an organization that has challenged the Bank's influence on poor nations.

To Dosani, it's time for the Bank to make "at least some attempt at developing transparent and democratic procedures for hiring its own president."

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