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W. Bank post not decided on merit: Nigerian candidate

The Nigerian candidate to head the World Bank said on Monday that the appointment was not being decided on merit and that the US nominee would win, but added that she had helped bring change to the process.

“You know this thing is not really being decided on merit,” Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, also a former World Bank managing director, told reporters after a briefing on the country’s 2012 budget.

“It is voting with political weight and shares and therefore the United States will get it.”

The World Bank’s directors meet on Monday to decide who will be the powerful institution’s next chief, with all expectations that the United States will maintain its unbroken lock on the position.

The next head of the bank will succeed Robert Zoellick, who is stepping down at the end of his term in June.

Okonjo-Iweala said she had declined to withdraw her candidacy and that rules of the process should be published.

“At one point, they said I should withdraw. I refused,” she said, without specifying who. “The Africa which sent me said I should stay on.”

She added later: “If they want me to withdraw, they have to publicly tell people why and everybody will understand. Otherwise, nobody will understand what I’m doing.

“So they need to publish the rules. They did not publish the rules for everyone to know how this thing is going to be done. So now they will have to do it.”

Okonjo-Iweala said that despite the apparent failure of developing nations to have a nominee appointed to the post, her candidacy had helped inject change into the process.

The US nominee, Korean-American physician Jim Yong Kim, faced a challenge for the first time for 66 years from two strong developing country candidates.

The other candidate, former Colombian finance minister Jose Antonio Ocampo, dropped out on Friday complaining that the selection process was all political.

“It will never ever be the same again,” Okonjo-Iweala said.

“So we have won a big victory. Who gets to run the World Bank — we have shown we can contest this thing and Africa can produce people capable of running the entire architecture.”

Under a tacit agreement since the Bretton Woods institutions were founded nearly 70 years ago, the United States has always put a US national at the helm of the World Bank and Europe has picked a European to lead the International Monetary Fund.

Okonjo-Iweala, a respected Harvard-educated economist, was widely seen as a strong candidate to challenge the status quo.

She took over as Nigeria’s finance minister in August, her second time in the role, after serving as World Bank managing director from 2007 to 2011.

The 57-year-old previously served as Nigeria’s finance minister between 2003 and 2006 and was lauded for having negotiated the cancellation of 18 billion dollars of Nigeria’s debt. She also served briefly as foreign minister.

Since taking over in August, she has pushed for various reforms in Africa’s most populous nation and biggest oil producer, which has long been held back by deeply rooted corruption.

The reform push has had mixed results, with the most high-profile initiative — an attempt to end fuel subsidies widely seen as riddled with corruption and a drain on the country’s budget — turning into a political fiasco.

Nigeria’s bid to end subsidies all at once and without prior notice at the start of the year caused petrol prices to instantly more than double and led to a week of strikes and street protests that virtually shut the country down.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan was forced to compromise and partially reinstate the subsidies.

The series of events led to criticism of Okonjo-Iweala from average Nigerians, most of whom live on less than $2 per day and who see fuel subsidies as the only benefit from the nation’s oil wealth.

Other areas the minister has sought to improve include the country’s neglected agricultural sector and its dysfunctional ports, seen as a brake on investment.

Signature : Ola Awoniyi ABUJA (AFP)

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