Civil society groups want open debate among candidates
NIGERIA’S missions abroad are being activated to intensify the lobby of the rest of the world for Finance Minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s bid to become the president of the World Bank.
The step is being taken in the wake of the open support expressed by President Goodluck Jonathan for her candidacy.
And with interviews to select a new World Bank president starting soon (April 9-11), a global coalition of campaigners have called on the global financial institution’s executive directors to ensure that as part of the selection process, the three candidates face one another publicly in a debate.
The campaigners – Eurodad, the Bretton Woods Project and Oxfam – urged the World Bank to break with past practice and select the best candidate, backed the wider Bank membership, not just the United States.
Director of Eurodad, Jesse Griffiths said: “Without public interviews and debates, it will be impossible to ascertain whether a genuine merit-based decision has taken place, or whether convention and U.S. power have ruled the day. If the board selects the U.S. candidate in a closed-door process, it will seriously undermine the legitimacy of the new president.”
Oxfam spokesperson Elizabeth Stuart said: “It’s no longer tenable for the U.S. to anoint the World Bank’s leader behind closed doors. The Bank will undermine its legitimacy if this interview process is a charade with a pre-determined outcome. A truly fair selection will boost the Bank’s legitimacy and relevance. The three candidates should debate each other publicly, so that when the selection is made, the world knows why.”
The co-ordinator of the Bretton Woods Project, Peter Chowla, said: “The World Bank’s policies and projects have the potential to improve or destroy the livelihoods of people in developing countries, which makes it unacceptable that unaccountable officials conduct this process behind closed doors. With unprecedented competition for the job, the public needs to have a chance to question the candidates.”
After a closed-door briefing session with members of the diplomatic corps accredited to Nigeria in Abuja on Monday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday explained that there was no blind nationalism emanating from Abuja over Okonjo-Iweala’s bid.
Responding to an enquiry yesterday, the ministry said: “Nigeria is supporting the candidacy of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala because she is eminently qualified for the job”
The Nigerian lobby group that has been charged with the responsibility of selling the Okonjo-Iweala candidacy through contact cells in the nation’s missions abroad had earlier told The Guardian “Dr. Okonjo-Iweala is indeed the most qualified of the three candidates. So we are insisting on competence and propriety. Nigeria is opposed to the international politics being played out today”
The other candidates for the plump job are Dr. Jim Yong Kim, a South Korea-born, naturalised American and President Barack Obama’s nominee and Jose Antonio Ocampo, former finance minister of Colombia in South America and currently a professor at Columbia University in New York. Kim, who is President (Vice-Chancellor) of Darthmouth College, New Hampshire, is a medical doctor and reputed as a global expert on health matters.
The Abuja briefing was executed by the Minister of State (1), Foreign Affairs, Viola Onwuliri, and the ministry’s permanent secretary Dr. Martin Uhoimobhi.
The minister ran through the career of Dr. Okonjo-Iweala and stated that Nigeria’s Minister of Finance is highly qualified for the position. She said Nigeria wants attention to be focused on the future of the World Bank and not the nationalities of the candidates.
“Dr. Okonjo-Iweala epitomises the kind of visionary leadership, courage and innovation needed for the Bank today…She will hit the ground running in leading the bank. It is my pleasure to present Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to you as candidate for the presidency of the World Bank and urge for the support of your various governments for this exceptional nominee,” Onwuliri said.
Noting that Okonjo-Iweala’s nomination has already received the support of various governments and leaders from across Africa including a strong endorsement by President Goodluck Jonathan and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Onwuliri noted that “Nigeria welcomes the commitment to an open, transparent, and merit-based selection process for the World Bank President and urge that choices would be made by taking into account, the future of the institution rather than the nationalities of the candidates.”
“Dr. Okonjo-Iweala has spent more than two decades in the World Bank, rising to the top management level as Managing Director, the number two position in the bank. The challenge of addressing development in today’s complex world requires a multi-sectoral expertise…It requires a demonstrated ability to draw on knowledge, expertise and experience in a wide range of ideas, a role for which Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s sterling academic achievements speak.”
Speaking with journalists on the matter, the minister however admitted that it is quite a tall order getting other countries to line up behind Nigeria for the task given that some countries whose ambassador were being briefed who some of them have interest in the position, said: “Some people have made up their mind to support while others are yet to decide. But in all, they know she is highly qualified for the position.”