AIIB to choose top officials 'on merit'

AIIB president Jin speaking to journalists in Beijing yesterday. His pledge comes amid concerns that the AIIB might fail to keep global standards in environmental, labour and anti-corruption protection.
AIIB president Jin speaking to journalists in Beijing yesterday. His pledge comes amid concerns that the AIIB might fail to keep global standards in environmental, labour and anti-corruption protection.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Lender wants to avoid perception of political appointments seen at other multilateral banks

Key senior appointments at the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) will be based on merit and a candidate's competence, bank president Jin Liqun has stressed, as the world's newest multilateral lender prepares to offer its first loan by the middle of the year.

"With regard to senior positions such as vice-presidents and the director-general, the basic principle is meritocracy. This can never ever be compromised," he said at the AIIB's first press conference in Beijing yesterday, a day after the 57-member bank was officially opened. Singapore is a founding member.

"The vice-president position will be created for the purpose of specific responsibilities. I will try to avoid creating senior positions just for the sake of meeting the needs of some countries as that will lead to redundancies in the future," he said, noting that the bank's human resources head is not a Chinese national.

Existing multilateral banks, including the Washington-based World Bank and the Japan-led Asian Development Bank (ADB), are frequently criticised for filling senior positions on political grounds, and experts have been sceptical about whether the AIIB can avoid giving in to the same political pressures.

Dr Robert Wihtol, a former ADB country director for China, said the establishment of the AIIB is a golden opportunity to break with this practice and ensure that appointments at even the most senior levels are merit-based. "Appointments to the top position at other major international financial institutions have for decades been nationality-based," he said.

While Mr Jin did not address the issue of whether China will have a monopoly on the presidency, Dr Wihtol said "rotating the nationality of the AIIB presidency would be a bold and welcome move and would set a new standard for other international financial institutions to follow".

The new bank, proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping in October 2013, is meant to fund infrastructure investment in Asia.

Mr Jin, who is a former Chinese vice-finance minister, also revealed that the Beijing-backed lender has a good pipeline of both standalone and joint financing projects. It is working closely with other international lenders such as the World Bank and the ADB, he said.

"Most likely, the bankable and mature projects will come from the ideas of the World Bank, ADB... and other institutions.

"We are certainly open to co-financing with other partners (such as) private sector companies. But one thing is sure, we will work with partners who can (meet) the same standards as us."

Reports say the AIIB's first loans could be related to transport such as roads, renewable energy, urban development and water.

The US$100 billion (S$144 billion) bank will also have a special compliance and integrity unit that will exercise oversight over the management and report directly to the board, said Mr Jin, who is also a former vice-president of the ADB.

Developing a good corporate culture that holds its staff to high standards is "far more important than just making loans", he added.

Mr Jin's pledge comes amid concerns that the AIIB might fail to keep global standards in environmental, labour and anti-corruption protection, given that China's bilateral lending programmes in Africa, Asia and Latin America have been tainted by controversial projects.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 18, 2016, with the headline 'AIIB to choose top officials 'on merit''. Print Edition | Subscribe