Heather Stewart and Larry Elliott in Washington
The US is to lose its power to appoint the president of the World Bank after the UK’s development secretary, Douglas Alexander, brokered a deal to throw open the post to candidates from any country.
Backed by European governments and developing countries, Alexander overcame resistance from the US and Japan to secure a reform he described last night as “a significant step forward”.
Washington has had the right to hand-pick the president of the World Bank since the institution was founded after the second world war, with Europe choosing the managing director of the International Monetary Fund.
Alexander said: “The agreement provides the opportunity for candidates to be nominated regardless of nationality. It will ensure that the best-qualified candidate is selected.”
Developing countries have grown increasingly frustrated at the stranglehold of rich nations on the two Washington-based multilateral bodies, with pressure for change accelerating after the controversial presidency of Paul Wolfowitz, who was forced to step down after a scandal involving his partner’s promotion.
Alexander said that more changes were needed: “It is a significant step forward, albeit on a much longer journey.”
The bank’s development committee yesterday was dominated by concerns that poor countries would fall victim to the global financial crisis. It backed proposals that will give countries from sub-Saharan Africa a third seat on its 25-strong governing board.
The bank’s president, Robert Zoellick, urged rich countries not to forget their pledges of financial support to the developing world. The bank believes the number of malnourished will increase by 44 million this year.
Donor countries were also discussing whether to release a multibillion-dollar reconstruction package to Zimbabwe. Alexander said the tests a new Zimbabwean government would have to meet included respecting human rights and allowing charities into the country to deliver aid.