The World Bank on Monday chose Korean-born American health expert Jim Yong Kim as its new president, maintaining Washington’s grip on the job and leaving developing countries questioning the selection process.
Kim, 52, won the job over Nigeria’s widely respected finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, with the support of Washington’s allies in Western Europe, Japan, Canada and some emerging market economies, including Russia, Mexico and South Korea.
Unlike previous World Bank elections, the decision was not unanimous. “The final nominees received support from different member countries, which reflected the high caliber of the candidates,” the Bank said in announcing its board’s decision.
Kim, president of Dartmouth College, will assume his new post on July 1 after the Bank’s current president, Robert Zoellick, steps down.
The United States has held the presidency since the World Bank’s founding after World War Two, while a European has always led its sister institution, the International Monetary Fund.
Unlike previous heads of the World Bank, Kim is not a politician, a banker or diplomat. He is a trained physician and anthropologist who has worked to bring health care to the poor in developing countries, whether fighting tuberculosis in Haiti and Peru or tackling HIV/AIDS in Russian prisons.
There had been a three-way contest for the presidency of the poverty-fighting institution until Friday when former Colombian finance minister Jose Antonio Ocampo withdrew. He said the process, which was meant to be based solely on credentials, had become highly political.
South African Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan welcomed the fact that non-Americans competed for the post for the first time, but also said there were concerns the process was not fully merit-based.
“I think we are going to find that the process falls short of that,” Gordhan told the Foreign Correspondent’s Association in South Africa, adding that there were also “serious concerns” the decision was made without full transparency.