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Kim Takes It on the Chin

Our former President is in for a tough time in trying to keep his prestigious job at the World Bank. The folks at the Financial Times have his number, and they are fighting the good fight by printing stories and letters to keep the controversy about Kim’s reappointment (or not) alive:

FT Letter Kim Comp.jpg

How nice to see an honest reference to Kim’s weak tenure in Hanover.

The FT also ran a letter from Tim Cullen, a former chief spokesman at the World Bank. An excerpt:

While the Bank’s Staff Association has focused its attention on the need for a transparent process to appoint a new president, rather than on attacking the incumbent, the reality is that Jim Yong Kim has demonstrated over the past four years that he is not the leader the Bank needs. His development priorities seem aimed at soundbites rather than sound policies.

It was good that he initiated organisational change to make the Bank more effective and relevant, but his intolerance of any dissent, which included firing three of the Bank’s most senior women over a single weekend, and his apparent contempt for staff in general, doomed his messy restructuring to failure.

I had high expectations for an Asian-American president with a development record. But I was appalled when I heard him address 40 or so ministers from small states at the 2013 annual meeting. Dr Kim poured scorn on Bank staff, saying, among other things, that if doctors (like him) got as many things wrong as the Bank’s hopeless economists had, they wouldn’t keep their jobs for long. This particular doctor has got too many things wrong to be allowed to keep his job beyond a single term.

It isn’t just about process. The Bank’s member countries need to appoint a real leader if the Bank is to remain relevant and effective in the fight against poverty.

Lance Pritchett, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development (CGD) and a professor of the practice of international development at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, offered a general argument on the CGD blog against the WB President being named again by the American President:

There has never been any expectation that World Bank Presidents would be reappointed. Only two of twelve presidents have been reappointed for a second five year term: Robert McNamara and James Wolfensohn. Reappointment, then, is the exception rather than the rule. The argument that the selection process for a reappointment should be different and isn’t a “time” is a non-starter, as it thwarts the very idea of having limited five year terms. Every President would love to declare that a re-election doesn’t need a full blown election, which is precisely why democracy requires that re-elections are just the same as elections.

Second, I am not (now) arguing that Jim Kim should not be reappointed because of poor performance. I am just arguing that the context within which his performance should be assessed is an “open, merit-based and transparent” process for considering who should lead the World Bank this time. Certainly it is possible that one of the candidates to be the next president will be Jim Kim. Assessing his strengths and weaknesses in his current term will be important factors in deciding whether he or some other nominee should be the World Bank’s next leader.

But even if, counter-factually, there were broad and deep consensus among all stakeholders that Jim Kim had done a fantastic job in his first term, this time would still be last time’s next time and it still would be necessary to go through a full-blown selection process in order to ensure the legitimacy of the selection, even if the result of that process is a re-appointment. Given the World Bank Staff Association’s recent open letter, it is clear there is not a broad and deep consensus on Jim Kim’s performance, which makes the legitimacy of the process even more important.

Addendum: Slightly below the radar, a WB staffer has written to me to note the repeated accusations that Kim has engaged in racist and sexist hiring practices while at the Bank. See: I can no longer remain silent about racism in the World Bank and Diversity Challenge At World Bank: How An “Exceptional” Confidential Assistant Was Ousted By President Kim. My correspondent asserts that there have been “over 20 articles” of this nature about Kim.


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