World Bank needs refocusing, says Nigerian contender

The World Bank needs a shake-up to end the inertia that has built up over six decades, Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, hoping to become the development lender’s next president, said on Monday.

Okonjo-Iweala, who spent more than two decades at the World Bank before becoming Nigeria’s finance minister, pledged a sweeping reassessment of the way it does business if she is chosen over two rivals for the job.

“There are things that really frustrate me” at the bank, she said in a talk at the Centre for Global Development in Washington.

“You have to have the courage to say: look, certain things that we’ve always made this way, they have to go.”

Okonjo-Iweala, who faces an uphill battle for the job against US nominee Jim Yong Kim, was in Washington to pitch her candidacy to the bank’s directors, who aim to select a replacement for outgoing president Robert Zoellick by April 20.

The 57-year-old Harvard-educated economist said she was willing to shake up the institution.

“The president has to be a leader, to have the vision, to have the courage. It takes a lot of courage,” she said.

“You know the bank has been around 60 years, there’s quite a bit of inertia.”

The bank has inadequately addressed more current issues of job creation, weak housing markets and helping poor people build up assets, she argued.

“There’s a big gap there, we’ve not done enough,” she said.

“We haven’t come with instruments to deal with regional integration. Why? Is that beyond what we can think of?”

Okonjo-Iweala said the tradition that the US chooses the head of the bank needs to change.

Together with a third candidate, Colombian economist Jose Antonio Ocampo, she is mounting the first serious challenge to the US nominee since the bank was launched 47 years ago.

The Americans and Europeans who dominate World Bank affairs “have the responsibility not to continue a system that is 60 years out of date,” she said. — Sapa-AFP

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