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Audio Press Call with Luigi Giovine, Country Manager, Liberia, World Bank

[Luigi Giovine, Country Manager, Liberia,World Bank; John Donaldson, Snr. External Affairs Counsellor, World Bank Africa Region]


Luigi Giovine:             …..Since the elections of late 2005, the Liberian government has undertaken significant actions so far in this early period of the administration. The President has confirmed her commitment to the principals of the governance and economics management assistance program, GEMAP; the forestry concessions have been canceled almost 8 months ago now and are about to be re-bid competitively as sanctions have been lifted on forestry in response to government actions. The IMF staff monitored program is progressing with the conditions being met one by one, month after month, so an overall positive trend from my vantage point on the ground and I’m pleased that the Bank has been able to support Liberia over the past 3 years through a combination of trust funds and IDA grants providing an adequate level of support in many areas, financial and procurement reform, forestry reform, public sector civil service reform, general legal reform, critically emergency infrastructure in multiple sectors, roads, water, power, supply and now recently the urban sector, technical assistance to ministry in various areas, and community empowerment through a community development project. We hope that IDA will continue to play this key role in supporting Ellen Johnson’s reforms as these progress and possibly even increase in intensity.


            By any account this is a critical juncture for Liberia. We say this almost every time we speak of the country.  However, one year into the administration and with the positive trend towards reform, continued donor commitment and general partner commitment, and continued support by the United Nations Department of Peace Keeping Operations on the ground to provide the security protection is absolutely critical to consolidating peace and avoiding the resumption of chaos in the country. An important aspect of this process is the normalization of relations with international organizations to secure a long term flow of funds for reconstruction to the country now that we’re moving past the release phase and into what is traditionally called development phase with larger investments for the longer term.


            It is critical to say at this juncture, as the conference is about to begin, that an important part of the support to Liberia consists in dealing with the 3.7 billion that the country has accumulated in debt under various headings. This is a complex problem, there is no ambition to solve it rapidly, but certainly it is one that the international community must commit itself to solve as quickly as it can.


            My view, having been in the field now close to 3 years is that it’s time to act now on all fronts. It’s time to step up action, to increase implementation of projects   - we have to do better in Liberia collectively in departments to demonstrate that services to the population are going to rise and that unpaid promises will be met and that in general the lot of the average citizen will be improved as ex-combatants, refugees, and the general population come together in communities that are just beginning to rebuild themselves. As we look to next week’s conference and the objectives laid out by the president herself are the following -   to showcase Liberia’s progress over the past year, to outline the challenges that are embedded in the current work program of most donors and in the country poverty reduction strategy, and to find and improve [inaudible] to channel funding, improve donor harmonization and cooperation, and to move strategically in both sectors which are under funded through a combination of confirming existing commitments, and securing additional support. Let me stop there and I will take your questions. Thank you.


John Donaldson:         Okay, first question? Who has a question?


Leslie Wroughton, Reuters:     There’s a question, the first is I’m not quite aware, is this not a pledging session for Liberia, Luigi? Are donors not expected to be pledging their money for Liberia? If it’s not a pledging as I said, maybe it’s supposed to showcase Liberia’s progress, but at this stage what is needed is really funding. The other question, a follow up would be what do you think the needs are in monetary terms of Liberia right now? I don’t know if you’ve done a needs assessment, but what would you calculate the needs would be at this stage in monetary terms?


Luigi Giovine:  Yes, well the first question -   it is not a pledging session in the sense that no pledging sheet will be distributed and participation is not contingent upon having bilaterals and on having a firm number in mind. There is the hybrid objective, we expect some countries to confirm or pledge support explicitly, but we’re expecting other partners to pledge in the aftermath of the conference as a consequence of what they’ve heard from the government and what they’ve heard from the large partners that have been driving the support to Liberia -   the UN, the US, the European Commission and the World Bank will have a responsibility to show how it is possible to contribute. So the culmination of support at the conference but also the support that would come in faster as a result of what we will say and discuss at the conference at the various sessions. There is no comprehensive needs assessment, there is an expenditure projection that shows that the needs are in the hundreds of millions. I would not want to pin a precise number, so the answer is in the hundreds of millions with however, a strategic focus on the critical social service sectors, on infrastructure, and on the improvement of the public sector’s performance.


Leslie Wroughton:       Could I have a follow up, another one?


John Donaldson:         Let’s see, can anyone else join the conversation at this point?


KrishnaGuha, FT:        Krishna Guha from the FT,   I’m happy to let Leslie carry on for one more question and then I’ll come in to the conversation.


John Donaldson:          Then we also have Jean Doublet from AFP. Before you ask, Leslie, lets see if Jean has a question, otherwise you can continue.


Jean Doublet, AFP:     I have a question, but Leslie can go ahead and I can do that afterwards.


John Donaldson:         Okay, everybody is being very gentlemanly today.


Leslie Wroughton:       Yeah, I can see that. The other question is are you expecting an announcement on debt relief from the World Bank side?


Jean Doublet:              That was my question. [Laughter]


Luigi Giovine:  I’m not expecting an announcement on debt relief. However, I have others who are in a better position to answer that question.


Krishna Guha:  Krishna Guha from the FT. I wonder if Luigi Giovine, could you be a bit more specific and also if you can sort of quantify the amount of assistance that the Bank itself has been able to provide to Liberia since the new government came into power and talk a little bit to how your experience in terms of the Bank’s capacity to rapidly ramp up assistance, both financial and technical, in these sort of very fragile transition moments?


Luigi Giovine:  Yes, certainly. On the first one the Bank has provided approximately 103 million from different sources. I would say that’s a relatively exact figure 103 million since September of 2003 through a combination of the Low Income Countries Under Stress (LICUS) trust fund, a trust fund from IBRD surpluses, and IDA prearranged grants. If that answers your first question I will move to the second one.


KrishnaGuha:             Yes, please.


Luigi Giovine:  That has been the critical lesson learned from this program. I think in Liberia the Bank has adopted methodologies that have not been tried before building on some of the early experiences in Afghanistan and other countries. I will just mention two, of different nature, but equally ground breaking. I would say that the governance and economic management assistance program and the consensus building effort that went into developing a united front with ECOWAS and the various OECD countries on a program that the government accepted that would bring in experts with a control function in the economy, while at the same time supporting reform with a critical instrument during the transitional government to the needs and problems of a fully sovereign government through the election of Ellen Johnson was also an exercise that is worth taking into account when looking at the Bank’s effectiveness on the ground.


              The other experience has directly to do with the collaboration with the United Nations. Without the United Nations we would have not been able to develop from a two person outfit to a 25% outfit which is the one I manage now on the ground, but we went beyond the traditional relationship with UNDP and the agencies.  Based on the subject matter expertise of each organization, we have collaborated directly with the Department of Peace Keeping Operations with the UN Peace Keeping Force, and we found common ground, and on infrastructure, very early. The Bank was having difficulty attracting firms on its bids, traditional, competitive bids, and as the UN was mobilizing engineering battalions that had some time on their hands out of [inaudible] we found a way to channel funding to these engineering battalions through UNDP to have them contribute to the construction, to have them manage the construction of better roads in rural areas that would last not only one dry season as traditionally military supply lines are, to two or three. So this is a critical capillary collaboration that has been effective. So far two roads are under reconstruction and four more are waiting to start.


KrishnaGuha:If I may just to follow this up, in terms of your institutional capacity at the Bank, to sort of rapidly ramp up assistance in these areas, you talked about the LICUS trust fund the IDA pre arranged.  How essential has it been to have those pots of money in place and what obstacles or constraints have you run up against in terms of institutional constraints, process, procedures that you have to overcome in order to get rapid assistance through?


Luigi Giovine:  Yes, well obviously not only the LICUS funding, but above all the LICUS team at the Bank, people who have that experience in the post- conflict cases and then brought that experience back was critical in Liberia and everything was conceived of in collaboration with them and that relationship is critical today to advancing on the reconstruction front especially again in the brick and mortar sectors. That leads to the answer to the second question -   there are constraints, but precisely it’s the [inaudible] and others in collaboration with other multi lateral institutions that are looking at how to accelerate procurement. It needs to be accelerated but that has been recognized. We need to move funding faster. We’re trying to do so. We need to decide faster when to move funding ourselves and when to channel it through implementing partners, at what cost,   in what sectors, in what cases. We need to move rapidly on continuity between the team that conducts the needs assessment on the ground, and the team that will then be responsible for implementation on the ground. If it’s one and the same, the need assessment will be sharper and will be more targeted to the local realities and so on and so forth.


KrishnaGuha:             Yes, thank you.


John Donaldson:         Okay, Jean , do you have a question?


Jean Doublet:  Yeah, I have two questions. The first one is I would like to come back to that alleviation question, why is it not going to be discussed? Is it a question of [inaudible] IMF that has to be solved before we start talking about debt alleviation, and then the second question is that the IMF is saying today that the amount of donor disbursements to Liberia was about 300 million in 2006, is that the amount we’re expecting for this year and next year?


Luigi Giovine:              All right, on the first one I can only speak to the objective of the conference. The conference was conceived as a resource mobilization and showcase conference in parallel to the [inaudible] process. This is not on the conference organizations critical path but it is of course an important dimension. I cannot speak further to that from my vantage point in my position in the organization. As far as the needs of the country, I do not have the IMF figures in front of me, but certainly we need to sustain the amount of support from 2006 as a minimum in order to continue to affect the reconstruction. This is certainly a volume that is needed as we step into health, education, and expensive road sector.


Jean Doublet:              Not only for this year but for the coming years as well?


Luigi Giovine:             Yes.


John Doublet:              Thank you.


John Donaldson:         One more question?


Leslie Wroughton:       If I could have one again? Anyone else I don’t mind waiting at the back of the queue?


John Donaldson:         Go ahead Leslie.


Leslie Wroughton:       What is your sense of the security on the ground as you know that any sort of rebuilding depends on security, what are you reading at the moment on that and do you think that Johnson Sirleaf has kind of won the battle in her government as well, in parliament that are still loyal to Charles Taylor? I’m trying to figure out how stable is the country at the moment.


Luigi Giovine:  The country is much more stable than it was before Ellen Johnson’s arrival. In fact, we could say that there has been an upwards trend towards security since the peace agreement with only one dip in 2005 as the traditional government. The country is becoming increasingly secure.  That said, the level of troop presence now in Liberia, which is the same as 2 years ago is welcome because it is impossible in hindsight to know what the deterrent effect was, but we do not want to discover that as a critical dimension of security in the country. But the government has stepped up its presence in cities through the police. There is a greater sense of security in Monrovia then there was 6 months or 9 months ago.


            The big problem of petty crime by unemployed youth is being addressed, the level of support coming from the United States to the reform of the army is at the needed levels and will be sustained based on our indications. I would say that the country is becoming increasingly stable as indicated for example by the fact that every 3 months, every quarter the UN Security Management Team revisits the closing of each county and more and more counties are now declared phased in, which were earlier declared phase 4, or a few even phase 2, so there’s a trend towards greater security. Now that said, in the sub regional dimension, especially the situation in Guinea, Ivory Coast, and Sierra Leone always needs to be taken into account that reinforces the point that will reemerge probably also at the conferences as the consolidation of peace in Liberia would be one of the most significant factors to long term stability and security in that part of West Africa.


Leslie Wroughton:       There’s a lot of donor fatigue out there, you’ve got a lot going on in Africa and elsewhere with the donor fatigue. Debt relief has just been given through the MDRI and so on, are you getting a sense that Johnson’s intent to have worked a lot harder to get that support from international and maintain that support from the international community than for example, - I’m trying to think of some other country that’s recently come out of conflict? Is your feeling that she’s had to work a lot harder to prove to the international community that what she’s done is worth the support?


Luigi Giovine:  I would not speculate on a comparison also because as all absorbing as our task is on the ground I would not feel qualified to make a direct comparison between her and another head of state in her relation with the international community, but she has made a very significant effort and she’s stepping it up now. Our consultations - in my experience of 10 years now, which 8 at the Bank, no other head of state has been as accessible as she has in my experience to international donors even on specific project related matters and this comes from a combination of her background, but also her direct interest in the reconstruction agenda so certainly she engages with everyone regardless of the sector and the supports depending on the urgency. So I would say yes, she has made a considerable effort and I think that this conference and the level of participation at this conference if you look at the opening session and who will be speaking for the partners there is in part a reward for this effort and a vindication of these efforts.


John Donaldson:            Okay, I think we’re going to have to cut it off at this point. But I want to make one point of clarification just picking up on one thing that Luigi Giovine said in response about the debt. Because, while the question of arrears is not formally on the agenda, it’s certainly a subject on the side, and both the debt and the arrears issue are recognized as being important in addressing the long term needs for Liberia. I think we want to say that the shareholders, who have been extraordinarily helpful in coming up with creative solutions to this point on the assistance to Liberia, are being consulted fairly actively and continuously on the debt question. And in those consultations we hope that this process will move forward to conclusion in the very near future. Thank you very much for your participation and I think we’ll call it to a close at this point.


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