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The Kim Shoo-In

Jim Kim8.jpgJim Kim’s original appointment as President of the World Bank was announced on March 23, 2012, and six weeks later, after some jostling with other candidates, his appointment was confirmed. He began work on July 1, 2012. Total elapsed time between announcement and start of work: three months and seven days. During the interval, there was time for two Third World candidates to put their names forward, people who had been preparing for the appointment process in the preceding months as the previous President’s statutory term wound down.

This time around, however, the appointment process began without warning in — surprise, surprise — August of the preceding year, over ten months before the end of the President’s term, and well before any other candidates had had time to organize. The nomination period, in case you missed it (everyone else did; there were no other nominees), was a scant three weeks long, and the U.S. government weighed in immediately to support Kim, thereby chilling any other candidacies.

How did Jim Kim pull that off? (And as a parenthetical, why did President Obama not leave the appointment of the World Bank President to his successor, as the previous nomination calendar would have dictated?) Was the Harvard/Yale mafia (the alma mater schools of Kim, Obama, the Clintons and John Kerry) hard at work protecting one of its own?

In any event, out in the real world where such arcane concepts as performance and honesty have currency, people are still protesting Kim’s re-appointment, even if it is a fait accompli.

Nancy Birdsall, president of the Center for Global Development, called Kim’s re-appointment “a kind of insider coup by the United States,” and she noted that a World Bank Staff Association letter termed the process “a charade.” And in an open letter to the Financial Times, 42 former senior officials of the World Bank wrote to express their “deep concern about the shameful action of governments around the world in bypassing good governance and transparency in the selection of the next president of the World Bank.” Among their salient points:

In 2011, the bank’s governors adopted a framework for an “open, transparent, and merit-based” process to appoint the president…

During the four years of Dr Kim’s presidency, some timely initiatives have been taken on health and climate change, but a clearer strategic direction is still missing.

The two latest surveys show that less than one-third of staff trust the leadership. Decision-making is opaque, and effectiveness on the ground [has been] reduced by late and confusing budget allocations.

Several of Dr Kim’s senior appointees have had to be dismissed on performance grounds; there has been a pattern of firing senior women; and the number of reporting layers has grown. Equally worrisome is the weakening of the bank’s finances resulting from ill-advised decisions.

And, as the Financial Times has reported, the poorly designed and implemented reorganisation will not lead to anything like its promised savings of $400m…

The next presidential term for the World Bank is a critical global decision. It should be made with all deliberate care and in broad daylight.

Instead, the US launched a hasty nomination process in August when many board members and government decision makers were on their summer break, a full 10 months ahead of the end of Dr Kim’s term of office, and persuaded the bank’s executive directors, who represent the global membership, to agree to a short three-week window for nominations and immediately nominated Dr Kim.

The process is deeply flawed and flies in the face of the criteria established in 2011. Reforms in the governance of the Bretton Woods institutions must continue and accelerate, and leaders should not be chosen via antiquated “gentleman’s agreements”.

In a biting commentary, Penn Professor of Political Science Devesh Kapur wrote:

Moreover, as the incumbent, Kim can grant favors to win support: make loans that play to influential shareholders’ pet preferences, promise certain countries spots on the leadership roster, and stamp the Bank’s imprimatur on particular governments’ own domestic initiatives. Given the contents of Kim’s political toolkit, this match was never going to be played on a level field.

Many people can stomach questionable means if they consistently generate positive ends, but this has not been the case with Kim, who is among the worst presidents in World Bank history. His administration has been marked by authoritarianism and capriciousness, and he has forced out senior managers at unprecedented rates, sometimes requiring the Bank to reach quiet settlements with those affected. In four years, the president’s office has had five chiefs-of-staff, and several of the Bank’s senior women have left, hinting at a wayward leadership culture.

Just to be clear here, Professor Kapur is accusing Kim of the deepest dishonesty: making decisions for the World Bank and its client countries with his own self-interest foremost in his mind — his own re-appointment — rather than the interests of the world’s poor.

Of course, in Hanover, we’ve seen it all before. The dissembling. The falsehoods. The self-promotion. What a shame that the Dartmouth faculty did not get around to voting no confidence on Kim. Doing so would have saved the world and the World Bank a decade of incompetence and behind-the-scenes venality.

Addendum: The New York Times, in a rehash of a World Bank press release, wrote the following lead about Kim’s reappointment:

For the more than 70 years since the World Bank was founded as an institution to give loans and grants to developing countries, an American has been at the helm.

Despite recent upheaval at the bank, and criticism of how it has been managed, only one nomination was submitted for the job of president: that of the American currently serving in that role.

Jim Yong Kim, 56, a public-health official and former president of Dartmouth College, was unanimously appointed by the World Bank’s executive directors to a second five-year term as president, according to a statement released by the bank on Tuesday.

Seems like nobody else was interested in the job, right? Not a word from the Times in this article about the unseemly expediting/foreshortening of the nomination process — though the paper did follow up with a somewhat-more-critical editorial.

Addendum: Any ideas on what the golfing buddies chatted about at Martha’s Vineyard over the summer?

Kim Obama Golf.jpg

Obama: “That was a heck of a drive, Jim. I only beat you by one shot on this round, just like the last round, and the round before that.”


Kim: “Now can you re-appoint me to run the World Bank?”

Addendum: My wife and I spent an hour and a half with Jim Kim about six months after he became the College’s President. His charm offensive was on in full force, and after we left the meeting, I said, tentatively, to Elizabeth, “Pretty good, don’t you think?” She, ever the more perspicacious of the two of us in judging character, did not hold back: “That’s one sleazy guy,” she said.

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