World Bank picks Korean-American Kim as president

The World Bank chose Korean-American physician Jim Yong Kim as its next chief Monday in a decision that surprised few despite the first-ever challenge to the US lock on the Bank's presidency.

The Bank's directors picked the 52-year-old US health expert and educator over Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala amid rising pressure from emerging and developing countries that the huge development lender needs reorientation under one of their own.

Kim, the president of the Ivy League university Dartmouth College, will succeed outgoing president Robert Zoellick, a former US diplomat who is departing in June at the end of his five-year term.

The Bank's directors expressed "deep appreciation" to Kim, Okonjo-Iweala and a third candidate, Colombian economist Jose Antonio Ocampo, who withdrew from the race Friday.

"Their candidacies enriched the discussion of the role of the president and of the World Bank Group's future direction," the Bank said in a statement.

"The final nominees received support from different member countries, which reflected the high caliber of the candidates."

The US nomination of Kim, breaking the pattern of the 11 American bankers and diplomats who have come before him, had surprised many, as he was little known outside global health circles and has no background in development economics.

The position is crucial for much of the developing world. The president oversees a staff of 9,000 economists and policy specialists, and portfolio of loans for development projects that hit $258 billion in 2011.

South Korea-born, US-raised Kim is neither a banker nor economist.

Instead, he has Harvard degrees in medicine and anthropology, and a strong record in developing programs to fight diseases like HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis in poor countries.

In a statement from Lima, Peru, on Monday, he pledged to "seek a new alignment of the World Bank Group with a rapidly changing world."

"It was here in the shantytowns of Lima that I learned how injustice and indignity may conspire to destroy the lives and hopes of the poor," he said.

"It was here that I saw how communities struggle to prosper because of a lack of infrastructure and basic services... And it was here that I learned that we can triumph over adversity by empowering the poor and focusing on results."

Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington said Kim was a welcome change.

"The Bank has often tended to prioritize corporate interests, and historically the US has used the Bank to promote its own political and economic agenda. Kim can help limit the damage that the Bank does, and steer some money into positive projects that improve health and education."

There had been little doubt about the Bank's choice of Kim. By a longstanding pact Washington has chosen the head of the World Bank while Europe has held control of who leads its sister institution, the International Monetary Fund.

On Friday Ocampo pulled out, saying the decision would be made on politics and not merit.

After Kim was named Monday, Okonjo-Iweala also blasted the "long-standing and unfair tradition" for choosing a Bank head.

"It is clear to me that we need to make it more open, transparent and merit-based. We need to make sure that we do not contribute to a democratic deficit in global governance."

Reacting to the choice, US President Barack Obama said he was confident Kim "will be an inclusive leader who will bring to the Bank a passion for and deep knowledge of development, a commitment to sustained economic growth, and the ability to respond to complex challenges and seize new opportunities."

Zoellick said "his rigorous, science-based drive for results will be invaluable for the World Bank Group as it modernizes to better serve client countries in overcoming poverty."

But the global development agency Oxfam called the selection process a "sham" even as it praised Kim.

"Dr. Kim is an excellent choice for World Bank president and a true development hero," said Oxfam's Elizabeth Stuart.

"But we'll never know if he was the best candidate for the job, because there was no true and fair competition."

Peter Chowla of the Bretton Woods Project, which monitors World Bank work, called the decision "a stitch-up between the US and Europe."

"This will further erode the Bank's legitimacy unless Kim starts listening closely to developing countries and critics of the World Bank, and begins a process of fundamental reform."

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