The leadership of the World Bank

Robert Zoellick (© Simone D. McCourtie/World Bank)

Here is a thought about the proposed new president of the World Bank, Robert Zoellick. He is expected to take over from Paul Wolfowitz, who is being driven out of the bank under the weight of a personal financial scandal. Mr Wolfowitz denies having done anything wrong, but he would say that, wouldn’t he.

It was odd that Paul Wolfowitz could ever become president of the World Bank (read about it here) – he was hardly popular or respected around the world given his role as an architect of the Iraq war (this unpopularity no doubt came back to haunt him as the different national governments with an interest in the World Bank sat on their hands rather than coming to his defence) – but it is a position that is effectively within the gift of the president of the United States. George Bush appointed Mr Wolfowitz, and in turn has appointed Robert Zoellick.

It makes something of a mockery of multilateralism that such an important institution has its leader chosen by a single member state. It undermines the credibility of the World Bank and its leadership. Mr Zoellick will take office with his legitimacy weakened from the outset. But here is a suggestion of something he can do that will start to re-establish his position.

He should visit some of the national parliaments of the member states of the World Bank to hold confirmation-style hearings at which he can present and debate his plans for the future. Better still, he should convene a special meeting of parliamentarians in Washington DC to which those different national parliaments can send delegates. This will strengthen the accountability of the World Bank as a whole and confidence in his own appointment in particular.

He takes over at an unfortunate moment in the history of the World Bank, with its leadership isolated and discredited. It is in his hands to put this right.

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