World Bank directors selected White House nominee David Malpass on Friday to run the institution after an uncontested race, giving the job to a former Trump campaign adviser and Treasury official who has at times spoken critically of the bank.
Development officials had expected a more competitive contest for the job after the previous president, Jim Yong Kim, stepped down in January. But no other countries nominated candidates, apparently content to stick with the long tradition of allowing the United States to chose the bank's leadership.
In a message to World Bank staff on Friday, Malpass sought to reassure skeptics who have called out his and the White House's critical remarks on multilateral institutions.
Malpass also repeated his intention to focus the bank's attention on the neediest nations, a priority that could cause friction with the World Bank's more affluent borrowers, including China.
"The poorest countries face the steepest challenges. In sub-Saharan Africa, the number of people living in extreme poverty is on the rise, and 15 million new jobs would be needed every year to keep up with population growth," the former Wall Street economist said.
The bank "is strong financially and well equipped with the tools and talent to achieve measurable successes - in helping raise median incomes, create job opportunities and skills for all including women and girls, foster markets and private sector development, provide tools for debt transparency and sustainable debt management," and other measures, he said.
In 2017 remarks to the House Financial Services Committee, Malpass, then undersecretary of the Treasury for international affairs, said there was "a lot of room for improvement" in the World Bank's lending program.
He also said globalism and multilateralism had "gone substantially too far, to the point that they are hurting US and global growth."
After his nomination to run the World Bank, he said some of his criticisms were already being addressed in a reform plan the bank adopted last year.
One of those reforms winds down lending to higher-income countries such as China, a plan Malpass has endorsed.
"China is the world's second-biggest economy," he said in February. "It doesn't make too much sense for the higher-income countries to be drawing so many of the resources of the bank when there are poorer countries that could make use of those resources."
Scott Morris, a former Treasury official and senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, said Malpass' Friday remarks were an "important and constructive signal," but that bank shareholders would have to exercise strong oversight to be sure the bank's mission stays on track.
"As bad as the Trump administration's posture and policies are on climate change or support for refugees, Mr. Malpass now seems to recognise that he is accountable to a diversity of governments and shareholders - not just one. But saying he understands the multilateral goals of the bank is one thing, and embracing the agenda is something else," Morris said.
Doug Hertzler, senior policy analyst with ActionAid USA in D.C., said he found it "disturbing" that "someone who has been against international cooperation would be named to head the World Bank, really without much objection."
The Trump administration has questioned the value of multilateral institutions including the United Nations and the World Trade Organisation. But it supported a funding increase for the World Bank last year, which raised US$13 billion ($19.3b) from member countries.
In exchange, the White House got the bank to agree to reforms, including a review of the salaries of board members and staff, which the administration viewed as excessive in some cases. Senior managers this year received no salary increases.