On Robert Zoellick, new World Bank president

Published: Saturday 30 June 2007

the controversy that had enveloped the World Bank has died down with the nomination of Robert Zoellick to succeed the scandal-hit Paul Wolfowitz. It would, however, be a pity if this opportunity to re-examine more fundamental questions about how the bank is run and its role in developing countries is lost. The most obvious issue is the nomination of the president. The us has customarily had the privilege of nominating the chief. This is obviously unfair. In the wake of the controversy, there have been renewed calls to initiate reforms that will make the election of the bank's president more democratic, especially given the fact that its operations have the greatest impact on developing nations. The reservations about the functioning of the bank--of which more later--will hardly be allayed by the choice of Zoellick, a senior bureaucrat under both Bush senior and the current us president. Like Wolfowitz, Zoellick was a votary of the Iraq war and is a dyed-in-the-wool free marketeer--a paid-up neocon--with the added qualification of being connected to big corporate interests, including the dodgy and now defunct energy major Enron.

Institution of democratic practice at the bank will mean giving the developed world a greater voice in its functioning, perhaps with some reworking of the statutory representation of the world's biggest economic powers on its executive board. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. Reform will have to be more thoroughgoing if the bank has to function as an engine of egalitarian global development and will have to focus on the way it deals with countries to which it lends. Sovereignty will have to be accorded greater respect.

This is, indeed, the time to seek a comprehensive review of the way the bank has functioned in the developed world--of the way it has wrecked economies by tying conditionalities and restructuring packages with the loans it gives out. This is the time to probe deeper into exactly how the World Bank has manipulated national economic policies to enfeeble governments and pave the way for multinational corporate interests to make inroads into developing markets on grossly unequal terms. This is the time to take stock of how the bank has deepened North-South inequalities as well as inequalities within the developing world, thus further economically emasculating the poorest of the poor.

Is Zoellick the man to take this on? In the immortal words of John Wayne Not hardly.

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