"It's time to end the gentleman’s agreement" – an open letter to the IMF

Over 100 organisations and academics sign a letter demanding a fair selection process for the next IMF managing director.

Bretton Woods Project
20 August 2019, 2.32pm
Image: Liu Jie/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

To governors and executive directors of the IMF,

The ‘gentleman’s agreement’, which has ensured that the IMF managing director has for 75 years been European and the World Bank president a US national, is undemocratic, illegitimate, and rooted in neo-colonial principles.

International institutions currently face a crisis of legitimacy, as faith in the multilateral system of global governance withers. If the IMF and World Bank want to present themselves as modern institutions capable of tackling today’s challenges, it is imperative that they become democratic and accountable to all of those they represent.

Despite over 150 civil society organisations and individuals calling on the World Bank for an open, transparent and merit-based leadership succession process earlier this year, the US candidate David Malpass was appointed president of the World Bank. This, exacerbated by the fact that the only other nominee cited pressure from “other governments” as the reason for withdrawing, brought global governance into further disrepute.

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It is high time to end the ‘gentleman’s agreement’ and replace it with a genuinely open, democratic, merit-based, transparent process, that goes beyond rhetorical commitment, and allows candidates, regardless of nationality, to be put forward on an equal footing. In line with longstanding civil society demands, we believe that no country – or indeed bloc of countries – should wield excessive power in this process. Instead, the winning candidate should gain support of a majority of both voting shares and member states.

The opaque nature of the selection process must be scrapped in favour of a transparent one that allows space for public scrutiny of candidates. This should entail a commitment to ending the convention that candidates must be supported by the government of their home country – which restricts applications – as well as public interviews, transparent voting procedures, and sufficient time to allow for deliberation.

Building on the IMF’s candidate profile, a clear job description and comprehensive set of qualifications should be drafted and made public. This should include the ability to defend the independence of the IMF from its powerful members and stand up for less powerful nations. It is vital that candidates are well-versed in problems experienced by low- and middle-income countries.

Recognising the IMF as a specialised agency of the United Nations, it is essential that candidates are committed to embedding the IMF in agreed international frameworks and norms, such as international human rights law, and are dedicated to building on the IMF’s recent commitments on economic inequality, social spending, gender inequality, and climate change.

The IMF leadership race coincides with the 75th anniversary of the creation of the Bretton Woods Institutions. 75 years is enough – it is time to end the ‘gentleman’s agreement’.


1. ActionAid International

2. Adam Tooze, Director of the European Institute, Columbia University

3. Africa Development Interchange Network (ADIN)

4. African Coalition on Green Growth

5. Afrodad

6. AfroLeadership

7. Age International

8. Alan Cibils, Professor of Political Economy, Universidad Nacional de General Sarmiento

9. Alexander Kentikelenis, Assistant Professor of Political Economy and Sociology, Bocconi University

10. Alliance Sud

11. Arab NGOs Network for Development

12. Asia Monitor Resource Centre

13. Association for Promotion Sustainable Development

14. Bank Information Center Europe

15. Bilge Erten, Assistant Professor, Northeastern University

16. Bonn Juego, University Teacher and Researcher

17. Bretton Woods Project

18. Buendnis Eine Welt Schleswig-Holstein

19. CAFOD (Catholic Agency for Overseas Development)

20. CAFSO-WRAG for Development

21. CEE Bankwatch Network

22. CEKOR (Center for ecology and sustainable development), Serbia

23. Center of Conjuncture and Economic Policy of the Economic Institute of the University of Campinas

24. Centre National de coopération au développement CNCD-11.11.11

25. CESR

26. Christian Aid

27. Civil Society Coalition on Sustainable Development

28. Common Weal

29. Common Wealth

30. Community and Family aid, Ghana

31. Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd

32. Daniela Gabor, Professor of Economics and Macro-Finance, University of the West of England.

33. DAWN

34. Debt Justice Norway

35. DemNet Hungary

36. Democratic Culture, Argentina

37. Diane Elson, Emeritus Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Essex

38. Dr Catherine Bernard, Founder-director of SERFAC

39. Dr. Jeff Powell, University of Greenwich

40. Društvo EnaBanda

41. Ecumenical Academy, Czech Republic

42. Erlassjahr.de

43. Eurodad

44. Fight Inequality Alliance

45. Financial Justice Ireland

46. Free Trade Union Development Center

47. Friends of the Earth US

48. GADN

49. Gestos, Brazil

50. Global Alliance for Tax Justice

51. Global Justice Now

52. Health Poverty Action

53. Help Age International

54. Ilene Grabel, Distinguished University Professor, University of Denver

55. International Trade Union Confederation

56. International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific

57. Isabel Ortiz, Director Global Social Justice Program, IPD Columbia University

58. Jason Hickel, senior lecturer, Goldsmith’s University

59. John Miller, Professor of Economics, Wheaton College, Norton, MA

60. John Weeks, Professor Emeritus SOAS, University of London

61. Jubilee Australia

62. Jubilee Debt Campaign UK

63. Jubilee Germany

64. JusticeMakers Bangladesh

65. Khartoum Sudan

66. Latinddad

67. Madhyam (New Delhi)

68. Nancy Alexander

69. National Society of Conservationists - Friends of the Earth Hungary

70. New Economics Foundation

71. Nigeria Private Sector Alliance

72. Oikos - Cooperação e Desenvolvimento

73. Olive Community Development Initiatives, Nigeria

74. Oxfam

75. Peter O’Flynn, Researcher, Development Finance and Impact Investing, Institute of Development Studies

76. Phenix Center for Economic and Informatics Studies, Jordan

77. Professor Sir Richard Jolly, Research Associate, Institute of Development Studies

78. Radanar Ayar Association from Myanmar

79. Radhika Balakrishnan, Rutgers University

80. Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary NGO

81. Rethinking Economics

82. Rick Rowden PhD

83. SDGs Kenya Forum

84. Sisters of Charity Federation

85. Society for International Development

86. Stamp Out Poverty

87. Stephany Griffith- Jones, Emeritus Professorial Fellow, Institute of Development Studies, Sussex University

88. Tax Justice Network

89. The Feminist Task Force

90. The Hunger Project

91. Thomas Stubbs, Senior Lecturer in International Relations

92. Trademark Belfast

93. UndebtedWorld

94. Urgewald

95. VIVAT International

96. War on Want

97. Wemos

98. Willow Empowerment For Grassroot Development Initiative

99. Womankind Worldwide

100. Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom

101. Youthhubafrica

102. Zimbabwe United Nations Association

This letter was originally published at IMF Boss.

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