Home Money Ajay Banga Vows to Build a Better World Bank: But Is He the Wrong Man for the Job?

Ajay Banga Vows to Build a Better World Bank: But Is He the Wrong Man for the Job?

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Career: World Bank President Ajay Banga (pictured) was CEO of Mastercard.

The World Bank has never been more important. The resilience of the global economy as it recovers from the twin shocks of Covid and Russia’s war against Ukraine has been remarkable.

In particular, the inflationary spiral has stopped without major consequences in terms of growth and unemployment.

But amid the optimism embraced by Western financial leaders at the spring sessions of the IMF and World Bank in Washington, little was heard about the plight of the planet’s 75 poorest nations.

After decades of progress, they find themselves in the midst of what the Bank describes as a “historic economic setback,” hit by pre-pandemic vulnerabilities, overlapping crises, climate change, and rising violence and conflict.

Bulletins broadcast in the West have been dominated by Gaza and concerns about famine (which is now receding as aid begins to flow again).

Career: World Bank President Ajay Banga (pictured) was CEO of Mastercard.

But extreme poverty elsewhere is rising, with the number of people facing hunger or malnutrition doubling since 2019 to 651 million.

It is not surprising that resentment in the world’s poorest south over the lack of health support during the pandemic, including some of the vaccines, has transformed into a deep geopolitical rift, in which emerging markets and poor nations They sympathize more with Russia and the Palestinians than those who understand. embattled democracies in Ukraine and Israel.

Amid this catastrophic convergence of poverty and political outrage, the recent meetings in Washington were a glorious opportunity for World Bank President Ajay Banga to leverage the presence of top financial officials and the global media to gather opinion public in support of a rescue for the world’s most needy.

Banga occupies a position held by luminaries such as Robert McNamara, who was able to make tough financial officials cry with his determination to lift the world’s least fortunate out of poverty.

IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva made headlines when she said the world had achieved a “soft landing” from inflation and growth prospects were improving.

Banga, after an illustrious career at Mastercard, a paragon of consumer capitalism, was a shadowy presence.

His central press conference did not take place, much to the chagrin of media who had traveled from all over the world, including from Africa.

It was explained that it had provided an “online” briefing a week before the meetings and wanted to focus on visiting delegations rather than public sessions.

No matter how laudable the goal, open public seminars and press events at IMF and World Bank meetings are critical to generating support for financing, such as the next round of financing for the International Development Association (IDA21). , which worse provides marginalized countries with grants and loans on favorable terms.

Banga was at a summit in Nairobi last week where donors were told: ‘IDA’s country-driven model has tangible results that have real impact. In the last IDA20 cycle, every dollar of donor contributions generated $3.50 in assistance.’

The president of the World Bank told the Financial Times: “Ignoring Africa is like ignoring the future of where the world is headed.”

His organization estimates that as a result of its efforts between “2012 and 2023, 1.18 billion people worldwide received essential health services, 117 million gained access to improved water services, and 92 million gained new or improved electricity services.”

Projects: The World Bank estimates that through its efforts between 2012 and 2023, 117 million gained access to improved water services

Projects: The World Bank estimates that through its efforts between 2012 and 2023, 117 million gained access to improved water services

The weight of this powerful message at the Washington meetings, attended by finance ministers, central bankers and private sector lenders from all corners of the world, would have been much greater.

I attended one of the few public sessions with Banga when he appeared before the World Health Organization (WHO) to advocate for universal healthcare in least developed and developing countries.

IT WAS an uninspiring appearance. It started with him talking about the process. He argued that you can’t build a “new house with poor plumbing” and explained that his priority was to “improve the speed of delivery times for approving projects.”

Previously, it had taken 19 months and he had shortened it by three months. His goal was to reduce the gap to one year.

The president of the Bank spoke at breakneck speed and gave the impression that he would rather be anywhere else than on the public stage.

It was recognized that there are two billion people who don’t have access to health care so they can get insurance and get it for free. So we are going to set a fundamental requirement for human existence.”

After a request for funding, Banga left. He left behind Japanese Finance Minister Shunichi Suzuki and WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who explained the flight plan toward a universal healthcare center to be based in Tokyo in 2025.

Banga’s diary was largely filled with meetings with representatives of the bank’s clients. However, the health session, billed as a masterpiece, might have been expected to attract all the attention.

Maybe that’s the way top executives handle things at Mastercard. However, it seemed not to be in line with the collegial and participatory approach fostered by the World Bank over decades.

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