Okonjo-Iweala: How I joined World Bank presidency race
Accra: Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, at the weekend opened up on her historic entry into the race to become the next president of the World Bank, which she said was made possible by enthusiastic support of African leaders and the approval of President Goodluck Jonathan.
The minister, whose bid is gathering support both locally and internationally, told THISDAY in an exclusive chat in Abuja how Jonathan called to inform her of the decision by some African leaders to push her candidature for the World Bank top job. She also praised the chairman, Federal Inland Revenue Service, Mrs. Ifueko Omoigui-Okauru, whose tenure expires this month for the way she has improved the nation’s tax base and the integrity she brought to the process.
More support came the way of minister’s bid for the World Bank job, in which she is pitted in the race against the United States’ nominee, Jim Yong Kim, as the Peoples Democratic Party and the House of Representatives threw their weight behind her.
Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, said the Nigerian delegation to the 126th Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union meeting would use the opportunity of the forum to rally support for Okonjo-Iweala, in her bid to clinch the presidency of the World Bank.
Besides the race for the World Bank presidency, the minister also told THISDAY that she is fully on top of her current portfolio and committed to playing her part in realising the economic priorities of the administration, especially with regard to job creation and expanding the infrastructural base.
According to Okonjo-Iweala, is was President Jonathan who first intimated her that some African leaders, particularly President Jacob Zuma of South Africa and President Allassaine Quattara of Cote d’Ivoire, had been putting pressure on him (Jonathan) to allow the continent field her for the job.
“Without the efforts of key African leaders and the gracious acceptance of my nomination by the president, none of this would have been possible. I am really grateful and highly honoured that Africa has united behind my nomination. I value the opportunity to compete in this contest and the tremendous support my candidacy has generated but the priority remains the best interests of Nigeria. Nothing changes that,” she said.
Findings revealed that the support of South Africa for Okonjo-Iweala was especially significant because the highly respected former finance minister of the country, Trevor Manuel, had indicated interest in contesting for the World Bank presidency. When he, however, got feedback that Okonjo-Iweala was the continent’s top choice, he decided not to join the race.
Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, who also had another candidate in mind before Okonjo-Iweala joined the race, last week called on African countries to stand behind her candidature as the nominee of the continent.
Okonjo-Iweala, whose formidable credentials have led respected publications such as The Economist and the Financial Times, both London-based newspapers, to endorse her ahead of Kim and Mr. Jose Antonio Ocampo of Colombia, said she is overwhelmed by the global show of support for her aspiration.
On what it would mean for Africa if she got the job, Okonjo-Iweala said the Bank could help to push the developmental agenda of the continent with her in charge. “An African presiding at the World Bank knows the problem confronting the continent and is therefore in the best position to design workable solutions that will take into account the socio-cultural environment within which the ideas would be applied, using existing benchmarks. We know where the shoe pinches,” she added.
She, however, noted that World Bank is a multilateral institution for all continents, adding that given the potentials she has seen within the continent, the Bank could play a very critical developmental role in Africa with the right leadership. She identified the challenge facing the continent as that of infrastructure – physical and human. Yet, according to her, there are resources within the continent that could be deployed, with the right instruments, to bridge these gaps.
“For instance, pension reforms have created the huge capital base that the World Bank can help to mobilise by designing instruments that can help mitigate associated risks,” she said.
On human infrastructure, Okonjo-Iweala said her focus would be on tertiary and vocational institutions that help skills acquisition.
On her current portfolio in Nigeria, she also said she was fully committed to her job and whatever the outcome of the World Bank bid, development of Nigeria remains for her a priority agenda.
According to her, the focus of the Jonathan administration is job creation, noting, “If you take a look at the global survey, you will realise that many people are increasingly out of job and it’s the same here in Nigeria where graduate unemployment is very high. What we are doing is to take sectors like agriculture, power, road construction and reforms in critical areas like ports that have the capacity for job creation. Notwithstanding the challenges we face, our economy grew last year by 7.9 per cent. Imagine what would happen if we can remove all the bottlenecks.”
On power, Okonjo-Iweala said there is a roadmap being followed and remained optimistic that the plan would work even though she admitted there are challenges with gas. “You must admit that there is measure of stability now that many people attest to but once we can resolve the issue of cost-reflective tariffs and other issues, we would make more progress in the sector,” she said.
On the tenure of Omoigui-Okauru which expires this month, the minister said she had done a good job in FIRS. “She has done a great job and we hope we can get a successor who can continue with her legacy. She has raised the tax profile of the nation threefold but beyond that she has professionalised the FIRS such that you no longer hear the stories of corruption that more or less defined the place in the past.”
The minister, however, added, that the nation’s tax base was still shallow in that it captures mainly government officials and workers in the formal sector. “But I understand the psyche of the people who wonder why they should pay taxes given that the infrastructural support is not there but the way to look at it is that those things would be provided from revenues generated from taxes,” she said.
Okonjo-Iweala said she was aware of the difficulty many Nigerians faced but she remained optimistic that though things may be tough now, the situation will only prevail for a short time as she expressed optimism that things would soon turn around positively for the nation and its people.
Meanwhile, the PDP has described Okonjo Iweala as the most suitable of all the aspirants to the presidency of the World Bank and urged Africa and the world to support her.
In a statement by the party’s national publicity secretary, Chief Olisa Metuh, the PDP described her as a global citizen whose critical roles in global financial circles have positioned her as an eagle on the tallest iroko in the contest for the leadership of the world apex financial institution.
“She is without doubt the best person to lead the World Bank at this material time of global economic challenges. Her decades-long track record of excellence in financial management, locally and internationally is an unimpeachable score card, a rare type that the global community is in dire need of at the moment,” it added.
Also, deputy speaker of the House of Representatives, who is already in Kampala, Uganda for the IPU meeting, said the House resolution supporting the minister’s bid strengthens her race for the World Bank top job. According to him, Nigerian legislators attending the IPU meeting had resolved to engage their counterparts from other parts of the world in order to secure broad-based support for Africa’s aspiration to occupy the post.
However, a former US Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. John Campbell, has said that notwithstanding the growing support for Okonjo-Iweala, she might not win the presidency of the World Bank. According to him, her victory is unrealistic because she does not have the support of America, European countries and Japan, who have 54 per cent of the voting power. Campbell, in a memo, also said South Africa has a hidden agenda for promoting Okonjo-Iweala’s candidacy.
The World Bank board of directors will choose through a system of weighted voting in which the US has 16 per cent, the EU states altogether 29 per cent, and Japan nine per cent. As the US supported Christine Lagarde of France for the International Monetary Fund top spot, the Europeans are highly likely to favour Kim. So, too, are the Japanese. That means Kim could anticipate 54 per cent of the vote.
Campbell said based on Nigerian journalists’ calculation, South Africa’s support for Okonjo-Iweala might generate African sympathy for its candidate for the position of chairperson of the African Union Commission, Nkosanza Dlamini-Zuma, and soften Nigeria’s opposition to the candidacy of the former wife of South African President, Jacob Zuma. Nigeria has opposed her and supported the incumbent, Gabon’s Jean Ping.
* From: Nigeria | Thisdayonline.com