Bono an unlikely World Bank head

By SHIHOKO GOTO, UPI Senior Business Correspondent  |  March 15, 2005 at 1:10 PM
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WASHINGTON, March 15 (UPI) -- Bono is still in the running for the top job at the World Bank, according to the U.S. Treasury Secretary.

But while John Snow may continue to plug for the front man of the Irish rock group U2, at least in public, jostling for the top spot at the world's biggest international financial aid agency is unlikely to be as good-humored behind the scenes.

Since the bank's current president James Wolfensohn announced in January that he will not be seeking re-election to a third five-year term, a flurry of names have been raised as potential candidates to the post, including deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and Carly Fiorina, who was ousted from her position as the head of Hewlett-Packard last month Both names were reported by major news organizations including the New York Times as being shoe-ins, but both have since then been dismissed as possibilities in part due to the poor public reception they received as potential presidents.

Meanwhile, former Secretary of State Colin Powell flatly refused to take on the post after his resignation from State, while another potential candidate, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick voted with his feet as he took on the post of deputy Secretary of State under Condoleeza Rice instead.

So perhaps it's no surprise that Treasury's Snow, who is ultimately responsible for presenting the short-list of potential candidates for President Bush to review, continues to refuse denying, if not outright support, the possibility of an Irish singer-cum-global debt relief activist as the next potential World Bank president.

Bono is "somebody I admire. He does a lot of good in this world of economic development. ...most people know him as a rock star. He's in a way a rock of the development world too. He understands the give-and-take of development. He's a very pragmatic, effective, and idealistic person," Snow said in a television interview two weeks ago.

Of course, Snow isn't the first treasury secretary to be a fan of Bono. In fact, the singer toured around Africa with then-secretary Paul O'Neill in 2001 to see together first-hand on how many of the world's poorest countries are struggling as their governments continue to be overwhelmed by growing debt from the international community.

But while such adulation from senior Bush administration officials may trigger the interest of a younger generation who might otherwise never have given second thought about the bank or international aid, one thing is clear: Bono will not be the head of the bank, and not because of his lack of credentials, which include being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to relieve the debt burden of some of the world's poorest countries.

Nor is it because Bono himself has said he didn't want the top job at the bank.

Instead, the biggest barrier for the Irish star is his nationality, as there remains an unwritten agreement among World Bank member countries that a U.S. citizen will always head the agency, given that the United States remains the single-largest shareholder, followed by Japan. But while the United States is also the biggest shareholder in the bank's sister organization, the International Monetary Fund, the top spot at the IMF has historically gone to a European national.

In fact, bank insiders point out that the Australian-born Wolfensohn himself took on U.S. citizenship in part to be able to qualify as a potential candidate when then President Bill Clinton named him, a former investment banker who founded an investment group with former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, to head the agency a decade ago.

So the prerequisite to becoming head of the World Bank remains being a U.S. national. But that's not all. While President Bush will have the final say in nominating the U.S. candidate, his choice will have to be approved by the bank's board, which is made up of member nations of the institution.

"Even if he were American, I really don't think a rock star like Bono would have been approved of by board members," noted one senior executive of the bank on condition of anonymity. "While the United States holds the most power, it needs to choose someone who can get along with different countries with different issues. Some are very liberal and others very conservative," he added.

For now, names that continue to resurface include Christina Todd-Whitman, former head of the Environmental Protection Agency under President Bush and former head of Michigan State University Peter McPherson, who had been a key figure in rebuilding Iraq's financial system.

Wolfensohn will be stepping down from his post June 1, and his successor is expected to be named before then.

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