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The World Bank Needs A New President

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The World Bank is looking for a new president. The current president, Jim Yong Kim, abruptly resigned. Traditionally, the president of the huge global development bank has been an American. But now, there are calls to open up the position to international candidates. NPR's Jackie Northam reports.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Since the World Bank was formed in the wake of the Second World War, the U.S. has always chosen its president. That's because the U.S. is the largest shareholder in the World Bank Group. Nancy Birdsall, the founding president of the nonpartisan Center for Global Development, says it's part of a tacit agreement that the Europeans have gone along with for decades.

NANCY BIRDSALL: They have a deal where the Americans get the head of the World Bank and the Europeans have a lock similar on naming the head of the International Monetary Fund.

NORTHAM: But President Trump's openly hostile attitude to multilateral institutions such as the World Bank and his confrontational stance towards European allies could shake up the nomination for a new leader of the bank. Johannes Linn, a former World Bank vice president now at the Brookings Institution, says the U.S. doesn't have a veto on the choice.

JOHANNES LINN: If the U.S. puts forward a candidate who is not credible or could even raise significant opposition, then, you know, it's possible that a credible candidate from elsewhere could get the support of a majority of voters.

NORTHAM: Linn says the board introduced a merit-based selection process several years ago, but so far, it hasn't made much of a difference. The last time a World Bank president was chosen in 2012, there were strong international candidates, but an American still got the position. Birdsall says Jim Yong Kim's seven years in the job got mixed reviews. She said he was able to secure a $13 billion capital increase for the bank. But she says his attempts to restructure the organization only created more problems.

BIRDSALL: A lot of people internally expressed a lot of concern including about a kind of hemorrhage of very good, experienced longtime staff at the top level during Kim's stint there, including many women.

NORTHAM: The change in leadership comes as the World Bank is facing competition from regional development banks. China, which receives loans from the World Bank, has launched its own massive international development program. Congressman Andy Barr, a Republican from Kentucky, says that undermines U.S. interests overseas.

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ANDY BARR: You know, it's not a stretch to see a kind of colonialism that is going on and why the United States would tolerate taxpayer funds going to an international organization, a multilateral development bank that is in turn enabling an adversary to grow its influence around the world. That's the concern.

NORTHAM: Barr says for that reason, he can't see anyone else but an American leading the World Bank. Some of the names being floated include David Malpass, a senior Treasury Department official, and Nikki Haley, former ambassador to the U.N. Ivanka Trump's name briefly rose to the surface, but administration officials say the president's daughter is not a contender. Nominations for the post open February 7. Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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