LIBERIA: World Bank Group President Outlines Post-Ebola Development Initiatives

The World Bank Group (WBG) has outlined several development initiatives that would assist Liberia in its post-Ebola recovery exercise. Through its President Jim Yong Kim, the WBG named five strategic areas that the bank is to prioritize in order to get the Liberian economy back on track.

The World Bank has also pledged to help government manage the consequences of the Ebola epidemic on the public accounts. The bank, according to its president, is working closely with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the African Development Bank (AfDB) in preparing several tranches of budget support to the government.

The WBG President, who was on a one day visit to Liberia, said he and President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and other government officials, during a closed-door meeting, discussed the importance of finishing the job on Ebola and beginning the work on economic recovery.

He made the disclosure at a press stakeout with President Sirleaf in the foyer of the Foreign Ministry on Tuesday. Dr. Kim was heading a high level World Bank delegation to the country. He noted that the WBG is committed to help Liberian authorities in the coming 18 months in key areas that would help reawaken the economy as quickly as possible.

With the Ebola outbreak at a stabilized stage, next up in the hearts and minds of many is the status of the already fragile Liberian economy, which has plummeted further as a result of the epidemic, thus the imminent intervention of the WBG is indeed a highly welcome move.

This means that the worries of some government officials, especially President Sirleaf and Finance and Development Planning Minister, Amara Konneh, are at the verge of being alleviated to some extent.

It is recalled that Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Konneh, recently said that in the face of the ongoing Ebola crisis, the Liberian economy is being dealt a huge blows, receding by over 6 percent in less than six months.

He said the gross domestic product (GDP) was projected to have grown by 5.9 percent in the first quarter of 2014, but it is now revised downward to 0.4 percent due to the health crisis in the country. In 2013, projected GDP growth was 8.0 percent, but it was later revised downward to 5.9 percent prior to the Ebola outbreak.

GDP growth was further projected downward to 2.5 percent after the Ebola outbreak and has now shrunk into negative growth.

With the increasing threats the Ebola outbreak poses to the economy, the Liberian Government also revised its draft fiscal budget downward reducing revenue projections from over US$540 million to about US$470 million. This is happening in the face of increasing government spending.

Dr. Kim speaking at the press stakeout said the WBG, which has already provided US$200 million dollars to Liberia for the Ebola crisis, is in collaboration with some financial institutions preparing several tranches of budget support to the government. This will help alleviate some of government’s worries and fears.

He said the bank will continue to support the government’s ambitious plan to get to zero cases as soon as possible. This involves making sure that every community is protected from the virus and that all Liberians have access to the health care they deserve.

“But we don’t need to wait to get to zero to start working on the economic recovery, so our second area of support is agriculture. Agriculture is a key pillar of the Liberian economy and we are concerned that agricultural production has dropped as a result of the epidemic,”

“We will help Liberian farmer recover from this crisis. We must make sure that the Ebola outbreak is not followed by a food security crisis,” he said.

The bank is also poised to help improve selected infrastructure that are critical for economic competitiveness, such as urban infrastructure, access to electricity, and the construction of roads and bridges that connect farmers to markets.

He congratulated the government for its leadership in handling the emergency response to Ebola, further encouraging President Sirleaf to continue working with neighbors to strengthen the regional response and promote greater regional integration.

President Sirleaf welcomed Dr. Kim and his delegation to Liberia and said that the Bank has been a long standing partner to Liberia beginning in the 1960s and has supported much of the country’s development efforts.

“In most recent years, we have had from you and your team the kind of support that has enabled us to make a lot of progress on our vision 2030 and our Agenda for Transformation.

The Bank’s support cut across many sectors including energy, roads, agriculture, health, education, in all of which the Liberian leader said the country has made much progress as a result of the Bank’s support and that of other partners.

She said Dr. Kim has been exceptional in his support to Liberia since the outbreak of the virus by bringing his personal knowledge of the health sector and organizing some of his colleagues in the sector, who in turn have become partners to the government.

He has also provided support that have enabled Liberians to combat the disease and “I dare say the progress we have made come from that very support, including budgetary support.

“As we continue to work with you, moving along our plans of being able to treat the disease, moving on to making sure that our communities take responsibilities to ensure that we move up to zero and at some point in time being very conscious that we remain resilient as a people,” said President Sirleaf.

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