Chaos without change at the World Bank

Wednesday, April 16, 2014    

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THE appointment of Mr Jim Yong Kim by the United States Administration as president of the World Bank has come as a surprise because he is an academic with no financial expertise, no development policy experience, and no administrative track record.

His lack of pertinent qualification was supposed to be his asset allowing him to bring a fresh approach to the leadership of the World Bank. Instead, what we see is a Bank now mired in a vortex of chaos without producing any positive change. As often happens when there is a change of leadership, the new president has re-organised the Bank, resulting in a shedding of some of its most experienced staff and a collapse of morale, which usually takes years to overcome.

At the level of vice-presidents, Mr Kim has been orchestrating a game of musical chairs. His critics believe that this is change to give the appearance of improving the operations of the Bank. In the past, such house-cleaning exercises have usually failed to improve the efficacy of the World Bank to reduce poverty across the globe.

The neophyte development policymaker has not yet earned the trust and respect of the top management and staff of the World Bank, which makes the staff unwilling to go along with a reorganisation which lacks a clearly articulated cogent strategy. The new president is accused of indulging in change by intuition and causing confusion, which has immobilised the top management already denuded by enforced early retirement.

What makes the reorganisation difficult to understand is that Mr Robert Zoelinck left a well-functioning institution when he demitted office. If it is not broke don't fix it, is a phrase lost on the new president.

The real priority of the World Bank is to help developing countries survive the tail end of the global economic crisis and resume sustainable economic development. The priorities at this time must be to increase the resources of the Bank and increase lending and technical assistance to the poorest countries. The success of the World Bank and indeed Mr Kim, will and must be measured by real progress in the poorest countries eg improvements in health, education and nutrition, and increases in per capita income.

Change is necessary, but what is needed is orderly change in which all those involved have participated in the formulation of a process and a strategy for going forward. Change can only be implemented if those involved and affected have understood and have ownership of the goals and the rationale. Poor management of the changes have not helped as there is now a very high level of anxiety caused by crudely handled exit of very experienced people of 30 or more years of development work.

Mr Kim, by no means a charismatic leader, needs to inspire the staff if the World Bank is to achieve the goal of a meaningful reduction in world poverty by 2030.

For the good of Jamaica and the developing world we hope, Dr Kim is providing the right medicine to cure what ails the World Bank.





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