IMF directorship: A rigged race
This game of sharp elbows runs directly counter to what is best for the International Monetary Fund and the world economy
There is a thin line between due speed and indecent haste, and the discussion about who should replace Dominique Strauss-Kahn as head of the International Monetary Fund has surely lurched over it. Given Mr Kahn only tendered his resignation on Thursday, a remarkable gaggle of politicians has come forward with firm views about who should replace him.
Germany's Angela Merkel, France's Nicolas Sarkozy and José Manuel Barroso of the European commission all insist that the job goes to a European – sharpish. For Silvio Berlusconi, not known as an authority on the global economy, the French finance minister Christine Lagarde would make "an excellent choice". Anders Borg of Sweden agrees, and so too now does George Osborne, relishing the chance to twist the knife into Gordon Brown's faded hopes. These are just the public pronouncements; imagine the lobbying backstage.
Such jostling for the top job happens in organisations far less exalted than the IMF, of course. But this game of sharp elbows runs directly counter to what is best for the Fund and the world economy. It is also precisely what world leaders promised they wouldn't do.
In 2009, at the G20 summit in Pittsburgh, Mr Sarkozy, Ms Merkel and Mr Berlusconi were among the government heads who signed a communique stating: "We agree that the heads and senior leadership of all international institutions should be appointed through an open, transparent and merit-based process."
A line was supposed to have been drawn under the old system of a White House crony ruling the World Bank and a spare European politician running the IMF. That had often led to poor governance of these supposedly vital institutions, it was widely acknowledged, and was out of place after the banking crisis.
So why is an argument that commanded fervent global agreement just two years ago now being trampled over? It's no good pointing at the eurozone crisis: a new IMF boss will have a five-year term and other big issues to deal with. If you doubt it, look at this week's warning from the International Energy Agency about high crude prices: "Oil-importing developing countries are most likely to be seriously affected by high oil prices, undermining their economic and social wellbeing." Or else cock an ear to the rows between America and China.
Ministers constantly tell voters that competition is good for economies. So why don't they follow the same principle when it comes to choosing who runs economic institutions? Publish the criteria for appointing the next IMF boss and hold an open recruitment process. And let the best candidate get the job – wherever they come from.
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