IFI governance


Revolving doors: staff turnover between IFIs and African governments

3 July 2012 | Inside the institutions

The term ‘revolving doors’ refers to frequent staff turnover between institutions, usually relevant when these represent different interests working on the same policy issues. This serves to foster cross-institutional networks, practices and alliances. The staff turnover between international financial institutions (IFIs) and borrowing governments works as a mechanism through which specific ideas and practices learnt and promoted in IFIs are translated into policies in borrowing countries.

The World Bank’s Global Secondment Program is designed to train officials from borrowing countries through special assignments at the Bank. The stated goal of this programme, which many times serves as a pre-recruitment stage, is “skills enhancement, knowledge sharing, strategic alliances, cultural exchange, and diversification”. The Voice Secondment Program, meanwhile, targets civil servants from low-income countries aiming to assist the Bank’s relations with their governments.

As of April this year, of the 47 Sub-Saharan African countries funded by the Bank, 20 per cent of finance ministers were found to have previously been employed by the Bank or IMF. Out of these, 77 per cent took up their initial government posting within a year of leaving their IFI post and only Uganda’s finance minister, Maria Kiwanuka, was an elected representative.

practices learnt in IFIs are translated into policies in borrowing countries

The high salaries and career opportunities offered by IFIs represent an incentive that might discourage dissent towards or within these institutions. World Bank staff refer to this problem as the ‘golden handcuffs’ in allusion to the lucrative career one risks damaging by dissenting against orthodoxy (see Update 53).

Nigerian finance minister and unsuccessful candidate for the Bank’s presidency in 2012, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, is a good example: she entered the Bank in 1982 and rose to vice president in 2002, but left in 2003 to become Nigeria’s finance minister, where she promoted privatisation, austere fiscal policies and financial deregulation. In 2007, she returned to the Bank as managing director, but left again again in July 2011 to resume her position as finance minister.

Cameroon’s current minister of agriculture and rural development, and former minister of finance, Lazare Essimi Menye, provides another example. Having worked for seven years as a statistician in Cameroon’s ministry of planning, Menye joined the Bank from 1992 until 2003, when he became an adviser at the IMF. Leaving the Fund in 2006, he was appointed to a senior position in the ministry of finance and took the top job after a year.

In the case of Cape Verde, the head of the country’s Bank-funded privatisation programme, Cristina Duarte, became minister of finance in 2009. Her policies in office have remained coherent with her previous post, with Cape Verde advertising itself as an offshore banking haven and cutting government spending. Former IMF economist Pierre Laporte offered similar prescriptions as governor of Seychelles’ central bank and then finance minister, cutting social spending and further developing the nation’s offshore banking facilities.

Antoinette Sayeh’s appointment as Liberia’s finance minister in 2006 “delighted international financial institutions” according to the BBC, which noted that she had committed the country to a controversial economic plan entailing a high level of foreign supervision of the country’s finances via IFI programmes. She had previously been at the Bank for 17 years and, upon leaving her ministry of finance role, became the director of the IMF’s African department.

Former IFI staff are not just confined to financial roles. The current Ivory Coast president Alassane Ouattara had a long career as an international civil servant. After 11 years at the IMF he took up an unelected position as prime minister in the Ivorian government in 1990, but returned to the IMF in 1994 as deputy managing director. He then left in 1999 to run in the 2000 Ivorian presidential election, but was declared ineligible and instead founded the International Institute for Africa, a Washington-based consultancy with close links to the IMF. In 2010 he ran again for the Ivory Coast presidency and took the post amidst claims of electoral fraud.