World Bank economist Paul Romer quits after Chile comments

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Paul Romer stepped down as the World Bank’s chief economist on Wednesday after he came under fire for saying that Chile’s rankings in a closely watched “Doing Business” report may have been deliberately skewed under socialist President Michelle Bachelet.

Romer’s resignation, just 15 months after taking the job, was announced in an internal note that was posted by World Bank President Jim Yong Kim and seen by Reuters.

“Paul Romer has informed me that he is stepping down from his position as chief economist, effective immediately,” Kim said in the announcement.

“I appreciated Paul’s frankness and honesty, and I know he regrets the circumstances of his departure,” Kim said, adding that Romer would return to his position as economics professor at New York University.

Kim said the World Bank would launch a global search for a new chief economist.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal on Jan. 12, Romer apologized to Chile for changes to the report’s methodology that he said “conveyed the wrong impression” about the business environment under Bachelet.

The annual report has long been controversial because it ranks countries based on indicators that grade them on how their government bureaucracies affect, and often limit, their business environments.

Chile currently ranks at 55 out of 190 countries on the list, down from 34 in 2014, the year Bachelet took office. In other recent years its rankings were to 41 in 2015, 48 in 2016 and 57 in 2017, the World Bank’s reports show.

Romer told the newspaper that the decline resulted from methodological changes, rather than a deterioration of Chile’s business environment, and may have been the result of the World Bank staff’s political motivations. He told the newspaper he would revise the reports.

Reporting by David Lawder and Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Leslie Adler