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INTERVIEW-Nigeria’s Okonjo-Iweala for World Bank?



May 18 (Reuters) – Former Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, whose name has topped lists of non-Americans to head the World Bank, said she had not been approached about the job.

In a telephone interview with Reuters, Okonjo-Iweala said she was convinced the poverty-fighting institution would be able to overcome damage caused by a pay and promotion scandal that forced the resignation of Paul Wolfowitz on Thursday.

Asked if she would be interested in leading the bank, the former World Bank executive said: “No one has asked me, let me make that clear. But who wouldn’t be interested?”

While Okonjo-Iweala’s name has been tossed around Internet and other circles as a possible candidate to replace Wolfowitz, a non-American has never been nominated to head the bank.

The White House indicated on Thursday it was not about to change that tradition.

“What has happened has happened. It’s time to move on,” said Okonjo-Iweala, a distinguished visiting fellow at the Washington-based Brookings Institution, adding that developing countries ought to get a stronger voice in running the World Bank.

“It is an institution that is very worthy and I really believe in the institution. It needs a lot of healing.”

Okonjo-Iweala has been praised for her fight against corruption and spearheading free-market reforms in her native Nigeria, one of the most corrupt countries in the world.

When she was suddenly reassigned by President Olusegun Obasanjo to foreign minister in 2006, a move that was never properly explained, Wolfowitz traveled to Nigeria where he praised her leadership and fight against corruption.

Anti-poverty activist and U2 singer Bono has also shared platforms with her and praised her work.

In the interview, Okonjo-Iweala said that as a former World Bank official who had also been in government, she knew the bank’s worth.

“The World Bank still has a very strong role to play, not only for poor countries but also for middle-income countries, not only for Africa but also developing countries, so it’s an institution that needs to be nurtured,” she said.

Wolfowitz found an ally in Okonjo-Iweala in his fight to make anti-corruption and good governance more of a priority in the World Bank, eventually succeeding in passing a strategy that put it at the forefront of the bank’s work in poor countries.

Later, as the controversy swirled around him, World Bank staff accused Wolfowitz of having “double standards” and “not practicing what he preaches.”

But Okonjo-Iweala said his anti-corruption strategy could still be effective, even after his resignation.

“The anti-corruption initiative started before Mr. Wolfowitz, who gave it a strong push,” she said. “I think it will be continued and should be continued.”

For the story on Wolfowitz’s resignation [ID:nN18356649]

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