The UK has repeatedly said that it favours merit-based appointments of the heads of the World Bank and IMF. It is also a leading advocate for transparency and accountability in development. Now it can live up to both these commitments.
The UK Executive Director will shortly be casting a vote on behalf of British citizens for the next President of the World Bank. At the beginning of the process it was widely assumed that all the European countries would back Dr Jim Kim, because he is the American nominee. Now that all three candidates have been interviewed by the board, I gather that is no longer being taken for granted.
The average British family contributes more than £30 a year to the World Bank and they are entitled to hold the British government to account for the choices that the British government makes about how it is managed. There is no reason why Bank shareholders should presume to fill this job without consulting the publics whom they represent. Since Andrew Mitchell believes in transparency and accountability, before casting the UK’s vote, the UK government should:
a. set out what it regards as the merits which are important for a ‘merit-based’ appointment (presumably these do not include ‘is an American’)
b. given these criteria, say which candidate it plans to support on behalf of the British public.
My former civil service colleagues will come up with any number of reasons why they do not want to reveal their hand; and few governments like to be accountable for hard choices. But the system of making international appointments by doing back-room deals behind closed doors has not served us well, often resulting in the wrong people ending up in powerful jobs. Whitehall rightly argues that transparency improves decision making in other aspects of public life; they should let the sunlight in here too.