It's important to have an international forum where leading thinkers can exchange ideas about how to reduce poverty and how to promote growth in low income countries. I'm delighted that, since its inauguration 22 years ago, the Annual Bank Conference on Development Economics (ABCDE) has served this purpose by connecting leading thinkers, practitioners, and students. Now more than ever, we need active and constructive debate about job creation, reducing inequality, empowering women, and improving our approaches to human capital formation and training youth. The Development Economics Vice Presidency that I lead is enthusiastic in its continued support for this forum.
The World Bank's first-ever Open Forum—an interactive online conversation about pressing development issues—threw open to the public discussions normally held behind closed doors.
Three sessions, held Oct. 7 and 8, brought together all-star thinkers and actors in three key areas: the open development movement, jumpstarting jobs, and today’s development challenges.
“We are here to listen—tell us how we can better assist you. And please, be frank,” said Obiageli Ezekwesili, World Bank Africa Region Vice President.
Ezekwesili asked the ministers from Liberia, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to discuss capacity development efforts in their countries, and to identify what has and has not worked, and how donors can provide more effective support for human development, infrastructure, and public sector reforms.
Several common themes emerged from the ministers’ interventions, including:
- Donors prioritizing support for primary and secondary education, and not higher education
- Donors pressing a “one size fits all” approach on countries, trying to replicate programs that were successful elsewhere
- The failure by expatriate advisors in civil service posts to transfer their knowledge and skills to local counterparts
- Tension among returning members of the Diaspora and local populations that stayed behind, partly around incentive structures for civil service
- An urgent need to deliver skills-training and create job opportunities for young ex-combatants
Augustine Ngafaun, Minister of Finance for Liberia, outlined the enormity of the challenges facing his country, which has “75 percent of the educational facilities destroyed” combined with a “massive brain drain” as a result of professionals fleeing during Liberia’s recent conflict.
“We have very few doctors, teachers and hardly any engineers,” said Ngafaun, Liberia's Minister of Finance.
He also noted that, despite the importance of the mining sector for Liberia’s growth, there are not even five geologists in the entire country.
Rwanda’s Finance Minister James Musoni noted that even though the reconstruction challenges were daunting, his country has made significant progress since the 1994 genocide. He said it is crucial for the donor community to understand the context in which each country operates, as in some cases the political leadership may not be ready.
Ezekwesili stressed the need to build confidence in all sectors, pointing out that “development solutions work only to the extent that the capacities of the nation-state, the private sector, and civil society are strong.”
“The lack of capacity is magnified by the stress of the post conflict environment,” Ezekwesili said.
Flanked by the finance and development ministers of France and Germany, World Bank Group President Robert B. Zoellick launched two initiatives today that together are expected to mobilize more than $55 billion in financing for infrastructure projects over the next three years.
The multibillion dollar initiatives—the Infrastructure Recovery and Assets (INFRA) platform and Infrastructure Crisis Facility—were created to address the falloff in funding for the construction of roads, water systems, power generation and distribution, and other critical infrastructure.
There is no doubt infrastructure plays a huge role in economic growth and development, Zoellick said.
“In this crisis, we will need more and more to identify creative ways to mobilize additional financing. This facility sends an important market signal,” encouraging the private sector to continue infrastructure investment and development.
France and Germany became the first to sign on to the Infrastructure Crisis Facility with commitments of about $660 million through German development bank KfW and roughly $1.3 billion through French development bank Proparco.
INFRA is designed to help countries offset the negative effects of the financial crisis on their infrastructure services and investment programs, with up to $45 billion available over the next three years. Assistance will be global, but Africa is expected to see a large share of the funding.
The Infrastructure Crisis Facility, administered by IFC, a private sector branch of the Bank Group, is expected to attract more than $10 billion to help bridge the infrastructure financing gap.
At today’s signing, German Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul appealed to industrialized countries to support the initiative and take into account the situation in developing countries. “They’re not responsible for the crisis. We have a special responsibility to be at their side.”
French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde added: This is a time “when we can put our money where our mouth is and commit to deliver…I think the World Bank has done an outstanding job dealing with issues that are difficult. This is a good illustration of how projects should be conducted. They should be focused where they can actually make a difference.”
On a related note, I caught up earlier today with the Bank’s director for energy, transport and water, Jamal Saghir, who said the Bank’s Board has approved $9 billion in infrastructure projects already this fiscal year. That puts the Bank 47 percent ahead of the amount of infrastructure funding approved this time last year.
Saghir gave a shout-out to staff, who he credited with working hard to speed up project implementation to respond to the crisis.
For more information
- Press release: World Bank Group Launches Multi-Billion Infrastructure Initiatives to Help Developing Countries Weather Crisis
- Website: Infrastructure Recovery and Assets Platform
- Website: Infrastructure Crisis Facility
- Feature story: Infrastructure Financing Gap Endangers Development Goals