Friday, October 05, 2007

Ngozi's curious Renaissance

Nigeria's former Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has for some time been widely praised in western policy-making circles and in serious newspapers. She pushed through difficult economic reforms in Nigeria, helping the country secure major debt relief, before being shunted rudely aside by outgoing President Olusegun Obasanjo. She is a member of the Clinton Global Initiative, and the Nelson Mandela Institute. Now, as the FT reports, she has been appointed to be the World Bank's managing director for Africa, South Asia and Europe and Central Asia and will be one of the top aides to Robert Zoellick, president of the World Bank.

But at almost the same time, something else curious has happened too. And it worries us. A couple of days before her World Bank appointment she was made chairwoman of the African and Nigerian advisory boards of the Moscow-based financial services group Renaissance Group. Renaissance says it is

an independent group of investment banking, asset management, merchant banking and consumer finance companies, specializing in high-opportunity emerging markets. Renaissance Group operates in Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Cyprus, Sub-Saharan Africa, the British Virgin Islands, Switzerland and Bermuda.

Most of those places are tax havens. And here is something else. Ngozi is an adviser on, and has been a key driver behind, the World Bank's recently launched Stolen Assets Recovery (StAR) initiative -- which for the first time appeared to put the issue of tax evasion and tax havens firmly on the Bank's agenda for the first time. So what is Ngozi doing stepping into the world of tax havens, hand-in-hand with Renaissance? From where we are sitting, this looks like a serious conflict of interest. Perhaps there is an innocent explanation. We look forward to this explanation from Ms. Ngozi and from the World Bank.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're right this Renaissance role looks like a conflict of interest with the Bank one. Ngozi would do well do divest herself of such private engagements before returning to the World Bank, a public institution.

Several of us have long suggested that the Bank should have clearer rules to prevent such perceived or actual conflicts, and also clauses in their contracts providing for quarantine periods for people moving from the Bank to Wall Street or other overlapping roles where information they gained at the Bank can yield a private advantage.

I have not heard that the Bank has instituted such. The Bank prides itself on its "good governance" work should clarify this urgently.

4:33 am  

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