Balance of power

AND so, Paul Wolfowitz's career, bearing chilling similarities to the careers of a number of chief architects of the war against terrorism, crashes into oblivion after having soared to dizzying heights by helping feed post 9/11 paranoia as fuel to the neocon agenda. His last few days in office will without doubt make him feel like an isolated, toothless and powerless Bank president.



The Bank can and should make the most of these unsettling times to settle the issue of the chief appointment once and for all. Traditionally, America has always chosen the head of the World Bank while Europe nominates the IMF boss, though there is no such constitutional requirement. And as the White House is reportedly moving "swiftly" to name the replacement, the board would be well advised to consider nomination on the basis of merit, as a number of senior Bank officials and economists have repeatedly suggested.

Importantly, even though Wolfowitz's departure is in no way linked to the Bank's functioning and is not a poor reflection on his credentials as its president, it will still have repercussions on its functioning, stemming from the strain it is already causing US-Europe relations. US Vice-President Dick Cheney had found it difficult to hide his feelings, suggesting that the ouster is a European reaction to Iraq and part of an effort to counter US influence.

The political connotations, in fact, bolster the case for restructuring – a process which needs to be extended to the board. Presently, economic strength dictates power of votes on the executive board, which is why rich countries are generally over-represented while rising economies like India and China are under-represented.

For the Bank to fulfil its mandate, it has become important for it to open its higher offices to representatives of the economically poor and suffering countries, especially when there is arguable evidence to suggest, as implied by Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki, that the "nationality of the successor is (very much) a governance matter for the World Bank".

The world's poor need immediate help, and high-level bureaucratic bickering is not going to make that achievable. Wolfowitz' exit provides an opportunity for the board to end all forms of unfairness in the world's premier and best equipped organisation to battle poverty across the globe. This opportunity must not go waste.


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