The World Bank’s quota system for leaders

Uri Dadush and Moisés Naím
Washington Post
March 23, 2012

The scandal over the repellent way the World Bank president is appointed has obscured an equally scandalous situation: the appointment process of the rest of the senior managers at the bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). They too are selected through opaque, quota-driven negotiations that are a far cry from the meritocracy these two institutions claim to value and preach to others.

When the World Bank needs a new president — and this time the Obama administration is expected to name its candidate Friday — the charade goes like this: The public is told that the selection process will be “open, transparent and merit-based.” Then, the White House announces a name — how, we do not know — and the anointed American goes through pretend job interviews with the bank’s board of directors, who pretend to make a decision about which, in fact, they have no say. The handpicked American gets the job.

The indignant denunciations of this process — that it reeks of patronage and colonialism — obscure an interesting question: Why do developing countries allow this? For that matter, why do rich countries whose citizens are not considered, such as Canada and Japan, tolerate it?

We know why Europe accepts it: The same charade is played at the IMF, starring a European — the only “acceptable” origin for the top job. In last year’s non-contest to lead the IMF, Agustin Carstens, the highly respected chief of Mexico’s central bank, barely got a nod of support from developing countries; the French candidate, Christine Lagarde, was a shoo-in (and the same nationality as her predecessor as managing director).

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