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Obama picks health expert for World Bank top job

Annie Lowrey  |  Washington 

The White House on Friday named Jim Yong Kim, the president of Dartmouth College and a global health expert, as its nominee to lead the World Bank.

That makes Kim the front runner to take the helm of the multinational development institution on June 30, when its current president, Robert B Zoellick, will step down at the end of his five-year term. Tradition has held that the US selects the head of the bank and Europe its sister institution, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), since their founding after World War II. Kim’s name was closely held and not among those widely bandied since Zoellick announced his plans to move on.

Kim, highly respected among aid experts, is an anthropologist and a physician who co-founded Partners in Health, a non-profit that provides health care for the poor, and a former director of the Department of HIV/AIDS at the World Health Organisation.

“The leader of the World Bank should have a deep understanding of both the role that development plays in the world and the importance of creating conditions where assistance is no longer needed,” US President Barack Obama said. “It’s time for a development professional to lead the world’s largest development agency.”

Kim, who was awarded a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship in 2003, was born in Seoul, South Korea, in 1959 and moved with his family to the US when he was five. He graduated from Brown University in 1982, earned an MD from Harvard University in 1991 and received a PhD in anthropology there in 1993.

He was the first Asian-American to head an Ivy League institution when he took the post in 2009.

While working with Partners in Health in Lima, Peru, in the mid-1990s, Kim helped to develop a treatment program for multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, the first large-scale treatment of this disease in a poor country. Treatment programs for multidrug-resistant tuberculosis are now in place in more than 40 nations, according to Kim’s biography on Dartmouth’s website. Kim also spearheaded the successful effort to reduce the price of the drugs used to treat this form of tuberculosis.

Kim’s ascension to the head of the bank is not a sure thing. But the US supported the candidacy of Christine Lagarde, the former French finance minister, to head the IMF last year, presumably assuring that Europe will support Kim’s nomination.

In recent years, major emerging economies have criticised the decades-old gentlemen’s agreement giving the US control of the World Bank’s presidency. The Group of 20 countries has called for a fairer, more transparent selection process for the top posts at the World Bank and the IMF, and the World Bank itself has reaffirmed its commitment to an open and merit-based process.

Kim, as an American, will not escape some of that criticism. But his background working in poorer countries may partially insulate him, and Obama was reportedly drawn to him in part because of his work fighting tuberculosis and AIDS.

In addition, powerful emerging market countries, like Brazil and China, have failed to rally around a single, viable candidate since the announcement of Zoellick’s departure.

But Kim will not be the only candidate for the World Bank job. On Friday, Angola, South Africa and Nigeria put forward Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Nigerian finance minister and former World Bank official.

José Antonio Ocampo, the former finance minister of Colombia and a United Nations official, is rumoured to be another candidate.

Jeffrey Sachs, the development economist and director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, has put himself forward for the position and won the support of some developing countries, including Kenya, although the US is not supporting his candidacy.

The World Bank will stop accepting nominations at 6 pm Eastern time Friday. If there are more than three candidates, the board will name a short list shortly thereafter. The bank has said it intends to have selected its new president by the time of the World Bank and IMF spring meetings in April.

The bank provided $57.4 billion in support to low-income and middle-income countries last year. Under Zoellick’s leadership, the bank raised an additional $90 billion for its fund for the world’s poorest. It also opened up huge troves of data to the public to aid research on development and poverty.


© 2012 The New York Times Service

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First Published: Sat, March 24 2012. 00:51 IST
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