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Ex-World Bank managers back Okonjo-Iweala

By Babajide Komolafe & Uduma Kalu
LAGOS — As the World Bank gets set to interview the three candidates vying for its presidency from April 9-11 before announcing its decision the following week, a group of former World Bank officials, including one-time chief economist, Francois Bourguignon, said it supported Nigerian Finance Minister, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s candidacy to become the lender’s president even as Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi said Nigeria’s nominee was the best candidate for World Bank top job.

The 39 former managers, in a letter to the bank’s members, cited Okonjo-Iweala’s “deep experience in international and national issues of economic management” and said she had the ability to increase the bank’s effectiveness. Okonjo-Iweala, who was a managing director at the bank until last August, “would hit the ground running and get things done from the start,” the letter said.

According to the former World Bank officials, “challenges for the future president range from international fundraising to brokering agreements on global issues and while all the three presidency candidates, including former Colombian Finance Minister Jose Antonio Ocampo, have strong qualifications, Okonjo-Iweala’s skills cover the full spectrum of criteria. Uri Dadush, a former World Bank director of policy and one of the 39 signatories, provided a copy of the letter.

The US is the bank’s largest shareholder and has always picked the bank’s president, a tradition that’s now being disputed by rival candidates. The US nominee, Dartmouth College President Jim Yong Kim, has received an endorsement from countries including Canada and Japan. Kim has been on a world tour to seek advice about priorities for the bank.

The former officials endorsing Okonjo-Iweala, who said they wrote in their personal capacities, include Mustapha Nabli, governor of Tunisia’s central bank, and Jean-Michel Severino, who headed France’s International Development Agency from 2001 to 2010.

Okonjo-Iweala is best candidate — Sanusi

Meanwhile, CBN Governor, Mallam Sanusi, has said Dr. Okonjo-Iweala is the best candidate for the President of the World Bank.

Sanusi said this in Lagos, Wednesday night, while fielding questions from journalists  at the  send-forth for the International Finance Corporation  (IFC) Vice President, Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and Caribbean and Western Europe, Mr. Thierry Tanoh.

He said: “Before I said it, The Economist has said it, The Financial Times has said it and I don’t think there is anybody that doubts that Ngozi is the candidate to beat there. We are talking about somebody who is competent, not because she is a Nigerian, black or a woman, but because of her curriculum vitae, her education, and her experience. There is simply no candidate out there on merit that can compete with her.

“So we do hope, as they have said, that it would be a merit-based contest. We do hope that the Americans and Europeans would practice what they preach to us and actually allow merit to reign.”

Sanusi commends IFC

In his remarks at the send forth, Sanusi commended IFC for standing by Nigeria during the banking crisis and supporting the banking sector reforms. The support of the IFC, he said, helped sustain confidence in the Nigerian banking system and in the economy, adding that the corporation not only supported the reforms, it also continued to invest in Nigeria.

He said: “When you have a banking crisis, your biggest problem is not how to raise liquidity, not how to raise capital, but to make sure that confidence does not disappear because once there is no confidence, nothing will work.

Then, when we needed credible institutions that would come up and say what we did was right, at that time, the IFC was one of the first that came to meet us and issued a public statement in support of the actions that we had taken and effectively said what we did was what central banks everywhere should be doing.

“And that was all we needed. That was one moment that as an institution, as a country, we remain grateful to the IFC for. And since then, they (the IFC) have moved their investments from the bank to other sectors of the economy.

“I know people would think that as the Central Bank governor, I will want the investments to remain in the banks. But we need to diversify the economy. The banks in Nigeria will not grow in the long-term until we have the structural adjustment into manufacturing, into agriculture and agro-business, into power and these would not happen without the basic infrastructure.

“And these are the kind of things that the IFC is focussed on. We have tried to use the CBN balance sheet to support power, agriculture and somebody has been trying to chat me up to go into real estate, but I won’t go there. I am going to start buying into shopping malls.

“But certainly, the IFC has worked like a development bank with an eye on returns. So, and I think that is one of the reasons I believe Ngozi is the best President for the World Bank, that you can do development in a manner that is consistent with economics.”

“That is, you can make good money while contributing to growth and development. If you invest in Nigerian power sector, you make a lot of money and by generating power, you create jobs and you lift people out of poverty. If you invest in infrastructure, it is the same thing.

So, there is so much you can do in this country to make money and move so many people out of poverty. And that is what the IFC has done.  For me as a policy maker and as a member of the economic management team, these are the type of thing we would like to see.”

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