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Outgoing World Bank Country Manager Outlines Progress in Liberia

Outgoing World Bank Country Manager Outlines Progress in Liberia

Monrovia - Since Liberia returned to peace, the World Bank has provided support to the country in several sectors including infrastructure, agriculture, health, education and others.


Report by Samwar Fallah, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. & Zachary Williams, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


“I think that together with the Government of Liberia we have done very well. When I arrived, four and a half years ago, I saw Liberia on a steady, strong development path, good growth prospects and GDP growth per year around 7 to 8 percent.

Therefore, it was very good to see the development happening. However, in the last two years we have seen things changing.

Two external shocks - the decline in commodity prices and the Ebola outbreak - significantly affected Liberia’s development and the economic outlook today is challenging”- Inguna Dobraja, outgoing World Bank Country Manager

During the last four years, Inguna Dobraja has been serving as the WB Country Manager and as she now takes on a new task, the outgoing County Manager in an exclusive interview with FrontPageAfrica expressed that Liberia has made significant achievements in the last four years despite the Ebola outbreak that put the country’s steady progress on hold for over a year.

She is calling on the country to sustain the gains made and improve other areas including education, strengthening health systems and  building sustainable social protection program for the most needy  and disadvantaged people in Liberia.

In addition to many supporting many priority infrastructure projects, Madam Dobraja also expressed that the Bank has helped in putting in place strong financial management systems and accountability processes supporting Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, General Auditing Commission of Liberia, Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission and others.

She stressed that transparency and accountability is of utmost importance when implementing activities financed by the Bank and the Bank works very closely with the Government in monitoring the use of resources provided through various programs.


READ FULL INTERVIEW


FrontPageAfrica: How do you look at what the World Bank has done in Liberia during your tenure (four and half years) in the country?

Outgoing Country Manager Dobraja: I think that together with the Government of Liberia we have done very well. When I arrived, four and a half years ago, I saw Liberia on a steady, strong development path, good growth prospects and GDP growth per year around 7 to 8 percent. Therefore, it was very good to see the development happening.

However, in the last two years we have seen things changing. Two external shocks - the decline in commodity prices and the Ebola outbreak - significantly affected Liberia’s development and the economic outlook today is challenging.

Talking about the World Bank’s contributions to Liberia’s development, I think we have done quite a lot; I am really grateful for being able to see many achievements over these four and a half years: investments in transport and energy priority programs, supporting provision of health services, especially during the Ebola outbreak, and improvement in building strong financial management systems to name a few.

Through the Liberia Reconstruction Trust Fund (LRTF), several major infrastructure projects, including Monrovia-Buchanan highway, Monrovia-Gbarnga-Ganta-Guinea Border road, Caldwell Bridge, Emergency Monrovia Urban Sanitation Project (EMUS), and several others.

The LRTF is a multi-donor trust fund for infrastructure, which is supported by contributions from the European Union, and the governments of Great Britain (DfID), Sweden (Sida), Ireland (Irish Aid), Norway and Germany (KfW) and the World Bank. The LRTF is administered by the World Bank and supervised by an Oversight Committee comprising Government of Liberia, contributing donors, and the World Bank.

I walked across the Caldwell Bridge, I went to Ganta, and the road is good and well built. When I came in 2012, it took me seven and half hours to go to Ganta.  Beginning of June this year, it took me three to three and half hours.

Sometimes we do not notice these things, or we think they just happen; no, they don’t just happen like that. It is hard work by the Government with funding from the World Bank and many other development partners. I think there have been a lot of successes.

FrontPageAfrica: Talking about infrastructure, I know four years ago our infrastructures were so bad, roads were deplorable, and bridges cut off. The World Bank intervened but during these interventions there were reports of corruption in awarding of contracts, amongst others, processes being manipulated. What has been your assessment of these excesses?

Outgoing Country Manager Dobraja: I am not aware of any specific corruption cases in any of our transport infrastructure projects; so it is difficult to answer or elaborate on what you are talking about.

Yes, there has been issues with the waste management project,  and I want to stress that when cases of corruption and fraud were discovered, they were addressed immediately and the companies were debarred from any future contracts not only in Liberia but worldwide. That is the way to look at it. One thing is that you could say yes there was corruption.

Another approach is, once the fact of fraud is acknowledged, a proper investigation process follows and, as a result, specific actions are taken. That is what has happened in the project and the company has been debarred and is not working in Liberia.

FrontPageAfrica: Yes we saw the company that was debarred, but since that company went away, the succeeding companies have not been able to handle the waste in Monrovia and environs. We still see waste as a big problem. The old guy is gone, new ones come and we still see the same problem. Why?

Outgoing Country Manager Dobraja:  This is development; you cannot address development issues in a year or two. It will take a long time, and we always have to look at what was the starting point. There wasn’t a waste collection project before the program came in Liberia. Even at this point the city has so many needs and very limited resources.

Therefore, it is important to prioritize because, let me stress it again,  there is no way we can address all the issues of development in few years; it will take long time, significant resources and everybody working together to fix them.

Talking about waste management, sure, when we look at private sector in Liberia, it is small. There is limited competition and very limited choices to find qualified and experienced best service providers. And again, it will take time for those private sector service providers to establish their businesses and grow to provide high quality services, but at this point, the private sector is still struggling.

However, what I have noticed travelling around Africa is that Monrovia streets are clean. It is a clean city, though we have spots here and there, but, by and large, when I arrived in Monrovia for the first time, I was impressed with what I saw.

FrontPageAfrica:  Sometimes ago during the visit of some donors to the Liberia Reconstruction Trust Fund, you said the funds were depleted. What other interventions the World Bank is looking to make? When we look at the infrastructure there is still a need although you have said it cannot be done in few years but what is the next step of the World Bank support to infrastructure?

Outgoing Country Manager Dobraja:  I would not say the resources have been totally depleted because the Liberia Reconstruction Trust Fund is still in place, and the Government is having discussions with partners who are involved to continue providing funding to the Trust Fund.

Just recently KfW, from Germany provided US$10 million to the Trust Fund. Yes, it is not as much as we saw when the Trust Fund was established.  But at the same time I would like to say that Liberia’s infrastructure sector (energy, roads) has many development partners that are supporting Liberia and the Liberia Reconstruction Trust Fund is only one mechanism to channel funding for development.

There is IDA, International Development Association of the World Bank. IDA, established in 1960, helps the world’s poorest countries by providing grants and low to zero-interest loans for projects and programs that boost economic growth, reduce poverty, and improve poor people’s lives.

African Development Bank, European Union, USAID, US Government, and the Liberian government, all of whom are providing significant funding for developing infrastructure.

There are many players in the reconstruction sector besides the LRTF, but I agree that needs are huge. However, what I have seen being achieved in these four and a half years by everybody working together is very impressive. I already mentioned several large projects funded by IDA and LRTF.

Mount Coffee Hydro Power plant, not with our financing though, will be up and running this December. I agree that the needs are huge, but a lot has been happening and more will happen in the coming years.

FrontPageAfrica:  You mentioned setting priorities for infrastructure projects, what is the World Bank priority about proposed railroad?

Outgoing Country Manager Dobraja: I think in most cases, what we do before we start an investment project is to look at what we and others have done, and look at the sector as a whole.

For example in the energy sector, we have done the energy options study and the least cost energy sector investment plan, which helped to determine the most effective ways to invest limited financial resources. Therefore, we look at what potential the country has, what investments are needed and what could be done in the shortest period of time and what could take longer.

What we have done in the transport sector is similar – we coordinated our sector program with the Government’s development priorities, and, in this case, it is closely aligned with the Government’s Agenda for Transformation strategy to ensure that we support the Government’s development agenda. The last thing for anyone to do is to have a separate development agenda different from that of the government. This is not sustainable.

The government was very clear about the transport corridors that will support the growth triangle. The road going to Ganta is part of that growth triangle and that was an agreed investment. You can see that the new road is having an impact already; you see things coming along the road; farmers are able to bring goods to the markets.

When we align our investments with the development agenda of the Government, the implementation of the projects also is much better.

FrontPageAfrica:  You mentioned quite a few roads, have you had any discussion or thinking about investing in other modes of transportation including railroad?

Outgoing Country Manager Dobraja: Together with the Government we are preparing a Multimodal Transport study that will look at different modes of transportation including airport, railroads, sea transport, and river transport.

We will look at how that could be linked with the main agriculture production regions to facilitate agriculture production, which is one of those absolutely essential developments that need to take place. The study is ongoing, and it should be ready at the end of this calendar year.

FrontPageAfrica: Talking about strengthening institutions, we know the World Bank has been providing lots of support for example to the GAC and the LACC and other institutions. There is one thing to provide the support with capacity building, equipment, vehicles and other things; another thing is seeing that the work of these institutions make impact.

So, how do you see when the GAC releases up to one hundred audit reports and there is this legislative committee working to review these reports, making recommendations which is just the end. We do not see institutions implementing these reports, and we do not see these recommendations implemented.

Outgoing Country Manager Dobraja:  Look, whenever you face a situation when something that is agreed upon is not implemented, you do not feel good. You have an agreement, you make recommendations to implement something, and you expect that they will be implemented. 

You are correct. We have been providing support to those institutions, not only vehicles and computers, but more importantly, assistance to set up processes and procedures, creating a system to channel financial resources or other accountability processes. I think it is one of the most important things and it is very difficult. I would not say that building roads is not difficult, it is costly but it is easier and faster with right technical expertise.

Building systems might be less costly but it is difficult and time consuming. There was a World Bank report in 2011 about working in fragile and post conflict countries, and Liberia is one of those countries.

After studying many countries and their development paths, one of the conclusions was that building institutions takes about a generation, which is over 20 years. Therefore, it takes persistent work to build the system that will work and will be sustainable. I think Liberia is only at the beginning of putting these systems in place.

For example during the Ebola outbreak, we came in with significant resources to provide hazard pay to medical workers. It will be very easy to take money to the hospital, to pay out, but the importance of having a payroll with identifiable people, with existing signed contracts and with opened bank accounts cannot be overestimated. That is what I mean with having a good system in place and it takes time to develop one.

Yes, it took some time to see that everybody who is on the payroll has valid contract and has bank account so that you can see how the money is flowing and that it can reach to the people that it should reach instead of somebody else or to people who are working in two institutions.

That is essential, if we want those significant resources both government resources and donor resources to be transparently used with full accountability, those systems have to be in place.

FrontPageAfrica:  The issue of World Bank intervention during the Ebola outbreak providing hazard pay, an audit was conducted by the GAC on the hazard payments where it listed a number of payments to people who did not have contracts and could not be traced and other excesses, how do you look at these things?

Outgoing Country Manager Dobraja: We take these things seriously. There is no question about that. The Bank cares greatly about the achievement of results under the Ebola Emergency Response Project (EERP), as well as the use of Bank provided funds for their intended purpose. Yes there was a GAC report identifying issues related to health workers’ payments.

This is good news. It shows that the accountability mechanism is working as intended picking up things that need to be followed up. Because the GAC was not able to visit all 15 counties and obtain underlying supporting documents, it is being followed up by the Internal Audit Agency.

The results should be available this month. When we see the results of the additional follow-up audit, the Bank will review them to determine the eligibility. In case there are expenses that cannot be justified, there is a formal process in place on how these resources will have to be recovered. In addition, we will suggest strengthening internal controls, as needed.

FrontPageAfrica:  What is your impression about the current state of the Liberian economy?

Outgoing Country Manager Dobraja:  I wish I could say that I find the Liberian economy in a better shape than when I came four years ago. Unfortunately, as I mentioned earlier, the two shocks that hit the economy badly, the Ebola outbreak and low commodities prices, affected growth prospects.  Unfortunately, it will take time to recover because of still lingering Ebola impact and uncertainties about commodity prices outside Liberia.

There appears to have been no economic expansion in 2015. Going forward, the economic outlook is set to remain challenging. The IMF recently released its projections and for 2016 the real GDP growth could recover to 2.5 percent, buoyed by increased gold production and a rebound in services and construction sectors.

However, downside risks are high, particularly in light of the possible deeper-than-estimated second-round effects of the commodity price shock. Over the medium term, economic growth is projected to stabilize at around 6 percent. This is markedly lower than the 8 percent projected before.

There will be other structural reforms that will have to be continued in Liberia to boost growth and   maintaining sound macroeconomic policies will be of utmost importance.

FrontPageAfrica:  How do you look at our economic policies, our financial policies in terms of looking at the economy on a bigger picture? Looking at decline in commodity prices, these occurrences that can easily be predicted that prices will not continue to be high, they will fall and therefore putting in place policies to manage the situation in case of decline in prices. Do you think we have that kind of policies to mitigate against these shocks?

Outgoing Country manager Dobraja:  I would not talk much about having policies in place because you can have the best policies but when they are not followed and implemented, you will not have the desired results. I would rather talk about actions that could be done, for example, diversifying the economy.

Liberia has huge potential for agriculture; so there are number of things that need to be addressed like finding the way for farmers to bring their goods to the market. Like helping with quality seeds for higher yields and harvesting several times a year instead are just one; like providing extension services and advice to farmers; like having warehouses in place where farmers can store their rice when they have produced more. When Liberia is self-sufficient in rice, it could save US$200 million annually. That is significant, very significant.

FrontPageAfrica:  What is the World Bank’s intervention in agriculture, because some of the places you intervened like infrastructure we can see the results-roads, bridges? What is your intervention in the agriculture sector?

Outgoing Country Manager Dobraja:  At the moment, we have two projects in agriculture, one where Liberia is part of the regional West Africa Agriculture Productivity Project working to building the capacity of CARI. This is what I talked about, getting better rice seeds, cassava seedlings so that farmers can produce more than they actually produce. What we have seen is that productivity of Liberia’s agriculture is low.

Therefore, what we need to find a way to increase productivity, and one way is to have better seeds. The second thing that needs to be done is once you have better seeds, adequate extension services, we have to look at the whole value chain in the agriculture sector and how value could be added to the farm products.

Then, how do you get things to the market?  The Smallholder Tree Crop Project supports coffee, cocoa, rubber, oil palm farmers helping them to find a way of working together more effectively.  A group of farmers coming together, farming larger plot of land, using new machinery can produce more and better quality agriculture products. Then, follow the agribusiness and getting products to markets. Again these are very difficult things; they are easier said than done, but they could and should happen. I have seen things happening within the last four and a half years.

 

Let me take a look at a cocoa farmer in Ganta, a lady who was doing single farming and is part of the program, her yield from an acre was 100 kilograms of cocoa. Three years later, after project interventions,  she knows how to take care of the crops, she has better seedlings, better fertilizer and better knowledge, and the cocoa yield has increased. She is getting 660 kilograms, huge difference, those are the things I like to see written up.

 

There is another example in the same place in Ganta where a private company with operations in Ghana and in Ivory Coast has invested to bring cocoa farmers together and is reaching similar results. These are both good examples of diversifying the agriculture sector.  We have to find ways of gradually moving away from the economy that is largely concessions based. And we saw the impact once something happens in the world markets like with commodity prices. It hugely affects the economy, which is why diversifying agriculture is so important.

FrontPageAfrica:  Talking about agriculture, in the past we had LPMC which was working local farmers, providing storage facilities and helping to make farmers increase their produce. Now that entity is no more. So let’s look at our structure to do these things?

Outgoing Country Manager Dobraja: I think this is one aspect that our agriculture team will look in more detail.  We might have not properly assessed the institutional aspects of the sector and it needs to be done. I understand that before the conflict there were institutions that shared knowledge, helped with inputs and also financing. This is something worth looking at.

For example, when we talk about financing for agriculture, the reality today is that banks are very reluctant to lend to agriculture, and this does not happen only in Liberia. Lending to agriculture is risky. It is long term and many farmers in Liberia do not have collateral so banks prefer less risky lending.  Therefore, we need to assess whether some of those mechanisms that existed before could be worth revamping.

FrontPageAfrica:  You have been in Liberia for four and a half years now, at both the good time and bad time. You said you came when things were better, good growth and Ebola came everything went down, what would you say were some of the challenging and best periods during the last four years?

Outgoing Country manager Dobraja: I will say that with all the challenges, these were very gratifying and good four and a half years. Sometimes, when you go through very difficult periods like the Ebola outbreak, you also find something very special about that time. It is very rewarding when you see that your organization’s contribution is so important and you are able to come right when it is needed the most and with exactly what is needed the most and you can help. 

This is how I felt when Ebola hit Liberia and its neighbors, and I was very proud to represent the institution that was able to mobilize significant resources, more than US$160 million in grant funding for Liberia, within a very short period to address the immediate needs of the country.

It was rewarding to see everyone coming together, having only one goal to defeat Ebola and working closely together to reach that goal. I have become very fond of Liberia. It has been really great working in Liberia, not only because you become part of the development of the country, but also because Liberia is very special and it will always remain special for me.

It is special because I have seen the change and I have been part of the change; it is special because I have met many people who love and care for their country, people who have extended to me their friendship and support, also because Liberia welcomed me with its special handshake. And many, many other reasons. Liberia will always hold a special place in my heart.

FrontPageAfrica:  From Liberia, where next?

Outgoing Country manager Dobraja: I am going to Cambodia.

FrontPageAfrica:  Are there other things you would like to talk about that we did not touch?

Outgoing Country manager Dobraja: I think we have taken a lot about infrastructure but there are other aspects of development that I find are absolutely essential for Liberia. Education systems, building skills for young people, many young Liberians. Liberia is a young country with around 45% of people below 15 years.

That is a significant human capital. However, a lot of people have not been to school but they have families and they have to provide for their families.

Therefore, prioritizing education and skill building is important. Education is one sector where change is very difficult, not only in Liberia but in many other countries as well. But it needs to happen because educated and skilled people will determine Liberia’s future.

You need more people who could work as engineers building roads and power plants, teachers in schools and doctors in hospitals. Liberia also needs people who are willing and prepared to establish and successfully run their own businesses. 

Providing good quality health services is important. There have been a lot of investments in the health sector and a lot is being done. This will need to be sustained. We all witnessed what happened when Ebola hit and the system was not able to respond, it simply collapsed. Good health system should be able to prevent similar situation from occurring.

I also believe that Liberia should continue building a system that will take care of those that are most vulnerable in the society and who either temporarily or permanently are not able to provide for their families. It is also very important for social cohesion in Liberia and also more inclusive and sustainable future development.  

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