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Zoellick poised to clinch job as World Bank chief

Officials say Zoellick's credentials as an ex-US trade representative are solid enough to garner support from developed and developing nations.

business Updated: Jun 17, 2007 02:37 IST

Robert Zoellick, US President George W Bush's candidate to be World Bank president, looked set to clinch the job as expected without a challenger when a deadline for nominations expires on Friday.

The lack of other nominees continues the traditional, long-standing practice in which the United States picks the head of the bank as part of a political trade-off with Europe, which chooses the leader of the International Monetary Fund.

After the forced resignation of World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz last month over a high-paying promotion for his companion, most of the bank's 185 member countries indicated they wanted a more open process for selecting the bank chief.

However, World Bank board officials told Reuters they expected no challengers to Zoellick to surface on Friday, with a majority of countries supporting the Bush nominee.

The officials said Zoellick's credentials as former US trade representative and deputy secretary of state were solid enough to garner support from developed and developing countries. "The reality is that no one wants to do it against the United States at this stage," said one board official. Zoellick's resume is quite impressive and everybody sees that and it's been a smart move by the US administration to come up with somebody like him," the official added.

While the bank's board needs to approve the nomination, the appointment is now only a matter of formality. A bank official said the board was expected to meet with Zoellick next week, with an eye toward finalizing the process by June 29 and having the new president in place on July 1.

Over the past two weeks, Zoellick has made a concerted effort to speak with the bank's borrowing nations and funders in visits to Africa and Europe. He is now heading to Latin America.

Few criteria

The desire by most countries to change how the bank chief is picked found no traction even after calls for a more transparent process by South Africa, Brazil and Australia.

Board officials told Reuters that the battle to force Wolfowitz out had caught countries by surprise and left little time to properly debate changes to the selection criteria.

"If we are really at a turning point and we won't again see a presidency determined in this way, the challenge will be to keep the issue in people's consciousness and approach some presentable open but well-governed process in good time before the end of this current presidency," one board official said.

The bank president's term is normally five years.

The World Bank's internal watchdog, the Independent Evaluation Group, warned in a recent letter to the board that the crisis over Wolfowitz had damaged the institution's image and credibility and revealed flaws in its governance.

The letter by IEG Director General Vinod Thomas said the crisis presented an opportunity to implement needed reforms, including the process of selecting the president and senior management officials.

He warned that the functioning of the institution was being hampered by a disconnect between board-approved policies and how they get implemented, instances of disregard for human resources policies, and parallel lines of authority. "These contributed to significant instances of inconsistent and non-transparent application of policies," the IEG said.

Colin Bradford, a senior fellow for global economics and development at the Brookings Institution, said he was not surprised that another candidate had not emerged to challenge the current political status quo, but added that he did not expect the current political arrangement to hold longer term.

"Change is afoot and it is very clear that it will be hard to do this again when Zoellick's term is over," he said.

First Published: Jun 16, 2007 13:13 IST