The World Bank’s board of directors interviewed noted development economist, Columbia University professor and former Colombian Finance Minister Jose Antonio Ocampo, competing for the World Bank presidency with College President Jim Yong Kim and Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, on Tuesday. While the interview and selection processes may eventually be merit-based in the future, they are still largely a formality, rendering it unlikely that Ocampo will win the Bank position, according to professors interviewed by The Dartmouth.
Despite the Bank’s claim that the presidency will be determined by candidates’ qualifications and not than United States hegemony over the presidency, it is unlikely that the U.S. nomination of Kim will truly be contested, according to government professor John Carey.
“I think at some point, this standing practice that’s been in place since the World Bank was founded where the U.S. effectively gets to name the president will come to an end,” Carey said. “If I had to bet, I wouldn’t bet it’s this time, but maybe next time.”
Columbia political science professor Robert Jervis said that Kim’s win is almost guaranteed.
“We were joking about this the other day,” Jervis said. “It’s been a great honor for [Ocampo] to have been nominated, but he knows and we know they won’t elect him even though he’s very well qualified. This is politics their qualifications are secondary.”
Ocampo is currently the director of the economic and political development concentration at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs and a public affairs professor.
It would be surprising if Ocampo were elected, particularly given his economic policy leanings, according to Columbia economics professor Jagdish Bhagwati.
“Ocampo is a traditional [United Nations]-style bureaucrat and is for as The Economist pointed out returning the world to a kind of interventionalism, which has gone out of fashion for good reasons,” Bhagwati said. “It will be surprising if his candidacy prevails.”
Ocampo said in a March 29 interview with Reuters that he recognizes he is facing an uphill battle but believes the fight is worth it.
He and Okonjo-Iweala are “essentially planting the seeds in a new, more open, transparent form of choice for the World Bank president,” Ocampo said in the interview.
Although Kim’s chances of being selected by the Bank’s directors are good, the election is being contested at an unprecedented level, according to Carey.
Countries vote based on their contributions to the World Bank reserves. The U.S., Europe and Japan have traditionally exerted the most influence, but other countries are gaining larger financial stakes, according to Carey.
Practices such as the official interviews currently being conducted are likely to become determinants rather than formalities in the future, Carey said.
“I doubt we’re in that world yet, but pretty soon we will be, and probably what they’ll do is use this round of interviews as a step toward a little bit more substance in the process,” he said.
The current interviews are largely put on “for show,” Jervis said.
Carey said that Ocampo is more impressive than Kim by conventional standards in that he is an economist and has held high-level economic policy positions.
Ocampo has held various positions in both government and academia, including positions at the Colombian Ministry of Finance and at the country’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. He served as the chair of the board of Colombia’s Central Bank and as the UN Under-Secretary-General for economic and social affairs.
“The fact that Colombia in the last decade and a half has gotten its fiscal house in order also helps,” Carey said. “You look at Colombia’s economic fundamentals, and they’re a lot better than they were 20 years ago. It’s not like Ocampo gets all the credit for that, but people look at the country as a success story, and he’s part of it.”
Jervis said that despite his qualifications, Ocampo lacks expertise on the World Bank’s operations.
In a March 29 interview with Bloomberg, Ocampo said that his breadth of experience across different sectors and the fact that he comes from a developing country qualify him for the job.
His priorities as World Bank president would include “the fight against poverty and the contribution that the Bank can make to global issues,” such as climate change, he said in the interview.
Colombia is not campaigning for Ocampo, partially because the country’s leaders feel that Colombian interests are adequately represented in Washington, D.C. by Luis Alberto Moreno, the president of the Inter-American Development Bank, according to Bloomberg.
Over 100 renowned economists and government officials have endorsed Ocampo and have sent a petition to the executive directors of the World Bank asking that he be elected. The petition has been published on the Triple Crisis blog, co-chaired by Boston University professor Kevin Gallagher and Nehru University professor Jayati Ghosh.
Carey said that both Okonjo-Iweala and Ocampo are strong candidates and were likely “articulate and smart” in their interviews, though the board members are likely driven by factors larger than what is said in the official interviews.
“They already know that Ocampo is a smart guy,” he said. “I would guess that there’s bigger deals being struck than necessarily just listening to the case that he makes.”
Carey said that the fact that two nominees come from the developing world makes it difficult for countries to rally around a single candidate.
“If you’re a supporter of Ocampo, you don’t want to give up and support the Nigerian candidate instead and vice versa,” he said.
In an ongoing poll conducted by The Guardian, 45.3 percent of readers support Ocampo, 32 percent support Okonjo-Iweala and only 22.7 percent support Kim.
Okonjo-Iweala was interviewed by the Bank’s board of directors on Monday for three and a half hours, according to The Washington Post. Kim’s interview will take place on Wednesday.
Emily Brigstocke contributed reporting to this article.