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IMF and World Bank: Appointment Procedures

Volume 722: debated on Wednesday 1 December 2010


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the appointment procedures for the heads of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

My Lords, G20 leaders are committed to open, transparent and merit-based selection processes for the heads and senior leadership of all international financial institutions. The UK supports this commitment as part of a broader package of reforms to increase the institutions’ effectiveness and legitimacy. Further consideration is being given to the processes for search, selection and appointment of heads at the IMF and the World Bank.

I thank the Minister for his Answer and I declare an interest as a former chief economist and senior vice-president of the World Bank.

Does the Minister agree with the assessment that the system of reservation—because that is what it is—of headships of the IMF and the World Bank for Europe and the United States respectively is outdated, unacceptable in the modern world and deeply resented by the Governments and people of developing countries? Does he also agree that past declarations of the importance of open competitions have not prevented the UK Government from participating in the continuation of these stitch-ups? Does he therefore agree that, to make the openness clear, the UK should support non-European and non-US candidates for these positions? There are many outstanding candidates. I am happy to provide him with a list. If the IMF position becomes available first, Europe must take the lead, as a matter of principle, whether or not the US tries to keep its monopoly at the World Bank.

My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Lord for the distinguished part that he played as chief economist at the World Bank and I therefore listen very carefully to what he has to say. I can confirm that this longstanding, informal agreement whereby the managing director of the IMF was always a European and the World Bank was always to be headed by a US citizen is well past its sell-by date. As I said, we support open and transparent appointments based on merit and in that context, while it is right and appropriate that good candidates from wherever should come forward, the UK’s position is emphatically that appointments should be made regardless of nationality or, indeed, of gender.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that waiting for the appointment of the head of the World Bank is like waiting for white smoke to emerge from the building? We know that the Americans fund the World Bank more than anyone else, but, in spite of that, is it right that the President of the United States, behind closed doors, should have the right to appoint the head of the World Bank in today’s world? With the IMF, why should it be a European? Why can it not be, as the noble Lord, Lord Stern, said, someone such as our mutual friend, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, the deputy head of the Planning Commission in India?

My Lords, I will not repeat my previous answers but I draw attention to part of my first Answer. Processes for search, selection and appointment are being worked up by the IMF and the World Bank. I suggest that any candidates that noble Lords think are appropriate for the appointment should apply in due course.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that European countries occupy eight to nine of the 24 seats in the IMF and the World Bank? Does he not consider that we, as one of those European countries, should presume that it is about time some of these privileges were given up in favour of emerging and developing countries?

My Lords, I said at the outset that the improvements to the processes for appointing the heads of these organisations must be part of wider reform packages for the entire governance of the IMF and the World Bank. Progress is being made on that in the quota shares, the voting arrangements and the governance arrangements. Equally, it is critical that, under the new arrangements, the four BRIC countries are in the top 10 voting and quota share countries, so we will have a much better balance in both voting and representation. It is equally important that the UK remains a top five member and that we retain our board seat.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that these top appointments are intensely political? Therefore, simply having a process that is called “open and transparent” will not guarantee that the best person gets the job. Would it not be sensible, as the noble Lord, Lord Stern, said, for the British Government to make it clear at this stage that they expect the next head of the IMF and the World Bank not to be a European or an American?

I can only restate the position of the Government: these appointments should be made regardless of nationality or gender.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that many of the beneficiaries of the World Bank feel that the leadership of both the World Bank and the IMF are out of touch with the complexity of the issues facing the developing world, especially when it comes to land rights?

My Lords, I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for reminding us of what part of the important role of the World Bank is. Indeed, since we are talking about governance arrangements, it is important that there is a commitment to arriving at a new formula for the World Bank shareholding by 2015 that will properly reflect the development mandate of that organisation.

I am most grateful to my noble friend for giving way. I declare an interest, having served 30 years with the World Bank and being in receipt of a pension from it. I totally agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Stern of Brentford, has said about the necessity of broadening the field of recruitment. Does the Minister agree that the most important aspect is to make sure that the best qualified person gets the job and that it is extremely important that, whatever negotiations are held, the G20 should not go from one stitch-up, which we have now, to another and thereby end up with the lowest common denominator of approval? We should at least find the best people available for both these posts.

I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, who speaks from immense experience. I completely agree with what he said.

Undemocratic and non-transparent are the buzzwords of these institutions today. Will the British Government take the lead from the German finance minister who asked for lower representation for European countries so that the sub-Saharan and developing countries can get more representation and so that we have a big step on the way to democracy for these institutions?

The Government are pleased with the recent agreements in the IMF and the World Bank that have seen a significant shift of voting and quota away from the developed towards the dynamic, growing economies.