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World Bank Picks New President With Development Focus

New head of the World Bank and former Dartmouth College president, Jim Yong Kim, reaches out to shake hands as he arrives for meetings at the bank's headquarters in Washington, April 11, 2012.

A prominent U.S. economist says poor countries throughout the world should benefit from the World Bank’s pick of Jim Yong Kim as its new president.

Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, highlighted Kim’s achievements in increasing access to affordable HIV drugs in the developing world.

“When he was at the World Health Organization he fought very hard and won successfully…he fought to extend treatment for HIV and AIDS to 3 million people. I think it’s now up to 7 million in poor countries. And that was a hard battle and he was very dedicated,” said Weisbrot of Kim’s past work.

The bank announced Kim as their new president on Monday. Kim, a Korean-American doctor, was a former director of the World Health Organization and a co-founder of global non-profit Partners in Health.

But amid the praise of Kim, some also expressed worries that the new bank chief has no experience in the financial sector.

“I think those critiques were not really valid,” said Weisbrot. “Especially if you compare him to any of the past presidents who came from banking and finance, and who spent most of their adult life trying to get rich and powerful and you look at what he’s done trying to help poor people.”

Weisbrot said Kim will be able to rely on the bank staff to handle the details of the bank’s finances, and he said the main thrust of the job is development work.

Kim won the post after an unprecedented challenge for the position from Nigeria’s finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, and Colombia's former finance minister and development expert, Jose Antonio Ocampo.

In the bank’s 68-year history, an American has always headed the institution, while the top job at its sister organization, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), traditionally goes to a European. But emerging economies have recently been contesting that informal arrangement at both the IMF and the World Bank and presenting their own candidates.

Kim’s ascension was applauded by Weisbrot, and international aid agency Oxfam called him “an excellent choice,” but both said it is time for the nomination process to change.

“Dr. Kim is an excellent choice for World Bank president and a true development hero. But we’ll never know if he was the best candidate for the job, because there was no true and fair competition,” said Oxfam spokesperson Elizabeth Stuart in a statement released shortly after the announcement. “The world deserved better than a selection process with a forgone conclusion. Poor and emerging countries are insisting the Bank be more accountable and open in how it does business. This sham process has damaged the institution, and sullied Dr. Kim’s appointment.”

Weisbrot agreed it’s time for an emerging economy to be given a shot at the World Bank’s reins. “Of course, it’s ridiculous that the U.S. should ever get to choose the head of the World Bank,” he said. “The only reason they get away with it is that because the developing countries are not organized as any kind of a bloc within the bank.”

He added a prediction: this could be the last time the US chooses the leader so easily.

Kim will begin his five-year tenure in July.