EDITOR, The Tribune
The Inter-American Development Bank finds itself at an historic crossroad. The direction it takes will affect the lives of the nearly 700 million people living in Latin America and the Caribbean.
For over 60 years, the bank has promoted social and economic programmes that have helped member countries lift hundreds of millions out of poverty.
That is an enviable track record set against a background of just five presidents in five decades, proving that a steady hand at the wheel has its merits. After a brief stint the fifth president was accused of ethical lapses and was removed.
With the presidency vacant, the board of governors must decide on a leader to help the bank burnish its bruised reputation while guiding it back to relevance in the lives of the people of the region.
Five candidates are in the hunt and strategically, for the first time the Caribbean has fielded a stellar candidate around whom hemispheric consensus can be built.
Trinidadian Gerard Johnson brings to the table the unique combination of institutional knowledge and a regional vision forged over a long career at the Bank where he served in South and Central America, the Caribbean and at headquarters in Washington, DC.
Qualified Caribbean nationals have long been overlooked during recruitment for top positions in global institutions that Caribbean governments subscribed to. Language deficiency is often cited as a reason.
That dog won’t hunt this time. Johnson has bona fide fluency in all four official languages in which the Bank conducts its business: Spanish, Portuguese, French and English.
None of the other candidates has worked for the bank despite having impressive political and/or academic jobs in their home countries. They are from Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Mexico. A Mexican and a Chilean have headed the bank in the past.
The Brazilian candidate was nominated by a president on his way out the door after losing an election mere weeks ago.
The bank governors could do well to listen to words of advice given by another West Indian, St Lucian economist Sir Arthur Lewis when he won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1979: The fundamental cure for poverty, he said, is not money but knowledge.
Johnson offers the region the benefit of vast knowledge gained in the trenches. The others will need on-the-job training to take on any brief from the Board.
The 200 million of our fellow citizens who the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean say are currently living in poverty don’t have time to wait for an IDB President who needs a learning curve.
November 12, 2022.