U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner stressed Jim Yong Kim’s understanding of the World Bank’s responsibilities beyond his area of expertise in a letter drumming up support for the U.S. candidate to head the lender.
Kim “is committed to pursuing an agenda for the Bank that supports all the necessary components of development,” Geithner wrote to the bank’s 187 governors in a letter obtained by Bloomberg.
That includes “greater impact in the delivery of services at the village level” and “advancing the macro, trade and regulatory policies that promote economic growth and job creation,” he wrote.
Kim, 52, this week embarked on a trip to cities including Addis Ababa, New Delhi and Brasilia to seek advice about priorities for the bank. The president of Dartmouth College and a specialist on HIV/AIDS, Kim hasn’t worked in areas such as economic policy or financial markets and faces rivals from Nigeria and Colombia that are, or have been, finance ministers.
“The World Bank is very active in a wide range of sectors and Dr. Kim has outstanding credentials in only one of those,” said Domenico Lombardi, who was a World Bank board official from 2005 to 2007 and never saw such a letter of support in the past. “This is something that maybe is triggering some concerns among stakeholders.”
The World Bank’s board of 25 directors, which represents the institution’s 187 member countries, is striving to choose a president by April 20. The U.S. is the biggest shareholder in the Washington-based bank, which has always been led by an American.
The two other candidates are Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, also a World Bank managing director until last August, and former Colombia Finance Minister Jose Antonio Ocampo.
“Everyone expects that the U.S.-nominated candidate will be elected,” said Lombardi, now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington. “However it is also true that the other candidates have resumes and qualifications more in line with the background of previous presidents.”
Kim, who was born in Seoul and grew up in Iowa, would be the first Asian-American to head the bank. A doctor by training, he would represent a break from the financiers and bureaucrats who have run the lender, and his Korean heritage offers a bridge to developing nations. He was nominated last week by President Barack Obama to replace Robert Zoellick, whose five-year term ends in June.
Kim “understands the increasingly important role of the Bank in dealing with today’s global challenges, including climate change, food security, and the vulnerability of fragile states, and will skillfully convene our countries to address these new and evolving issues,” Geithner wrote.
Kim today met with Erastus Mwencha, the deputy chairperson of the African Union Commission in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to discuss priorities for Africa’s economic integration and development, the U.S. Treasury Department said in an e-mailed statement.
In an op-ed piece published in the Financial Times today, Kim said he would continue giving emerging markets more voting power at the bank if he was elected.
Geithner wrote that Kim “has consistently advocated for sustainable growth, with benefits more broadly shared across society,” also calling him “a man of action, a man that has worked in the field solving complex problems with innovative solutions.”