Okonjo-Iweala denies seeking World Bank’s top job

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ABUJA  (AFP) – The Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is not pursuing the World Bank’s top job, her spokesman said Wednesday, amid reports that her name was being put forth as a candidate.

“The minister has not put herself forward for the position. She is not seeking it,” Paul Nwabuikwu told AFP, though he could not say whether others have nominated her on behalf of developing nations.

He said it was “premature” to say whether she would at some point decide to pursue the job, though he added that “there seems to be some serious enthusiasm for the idea … At this point she has not indicated any interest.”

Nominations are due Friday at the World Bank for candidates to succeed president Robert Zoellick, who is stepping down at the end of his term in June.

Colombian ex-finance minister Jose Antonio Ocampo said Wednesday that he and Okonjo-Iweala are candidates to lead the World Bank.

The United States, the biggest shareholder in the World Bank and its sister institution the International Monetary Fund, has not yet announced its candidate to lead the 187-nation development lender.

Under a tacit agreement since the Bretton Woods institutions were founded nearly 70 years ago, the United States has always put an American at the helm of the World Bank and Europe has picked a European to lead the IMF.

The arrangement has provoked protests in recent year from emerging and developing economies, which are seeking greater representation at the two bodies.

American economist Jeffrey Sachs has declared himself a candidate to head the World Bank and has garnered public support from a handful of smaller emerging-market countries, but so far has not been endorsed by President Barack Obama.

Okonjo-Iweala is a respected former World Bank managing director who joined Nigeria’s government as finance minister in August.

She has since pushed for various reforms in Africa’s most populous nation and largest oil producer, which has long been held back by deeply rooted corruption.

The reform push has had mixed results, with the most high-profile initiative — an attempt to end fuel subsidies widely seen as riddled with corruption and a drain on the country’s budget — turning into a political fiasco.

Nigeria’s bid to end subsidies all at once and without prior notice at the start of the year caused petrol prices to instantly more than double and led to a week of strikes and street protests that virtually shut the country down.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan was forced to compromise and partially reinstate the subsidies.

The series of events led to criticism of Okonjo-Iweala from average Nigerians, most of whom live on less than $2 per day and who see fuel subsidies as the only benefit from the nation’s oil wealth.

Other areas the minister has sought to improve include the country’s neglected agricultural sector and its dysfunctional ports, seen as a brake on investment.

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