More Effective Use of Resources, Key to Development in Central African Republic Says World Bank Vice President for Africa

BANGUI, December 10, 2009-Not only more investments, but a more strategic and effective use of resources, including revenue from the rich mining and forestry sectors, as well as from agriculture, are required to accelerate the development of the Central African Republic (CAR).

This was one of the answers from Obiageli Ezekwesili, World Bank Vice President for the Africa Region, in response to a wave of requests from CAR government officials that the World Bank provide the country with additional support.

Ms. Ezekwesili arrived in CAR at dawn Thursday to a warm welcome at the Bangui M'Poko International Airport. She is on an official visit to the country; the first by a World Bank Vice President.

During her visit, CAR's State Minister for Planning, Economy and International Cooperation as well as its Minister Delegate for Finance and Budget expressed satisfaction with the rapid expansion of the Bank's portfolio in the country, pointing out that more resources would be needed if its enormous development challenges are to be met in a context of limited state resources.

The Bank provided US$82 million in developing policy financing upon re-engaging with the country in 2006. Today the Bank's portfolio here is worth a total US$196.7 million.

Representatives of civil society organizations based mostly in the capital, Bangui, who met Ms. Ezekwesili as night fell Thursday, complained that citizens' groups such as theirs had either very limited or no involvement in the management of the country's natural resources sector. They hinted that resources provided without stronger demands for transparency and accountability were likely to be invested in ways that have limited impact on ordinary people's lives.

During his meeting with Ms. Ezekwesili, CAR's Minister of Planning, Mr. Sylvain Maliko, praised the Bank for mobilizing and providing funding on an emergency basis to help the country resolve the energy and flash flooding crises into which it was plunged earlier this year, pointing out that Bank financing had made it possible to significantly expand access to safe drinking water and sanitation for victims of natural disasters.

The night before Ezekwesili's arrival, state television - the country's lone TV network which broadcasts only a few hours a day - aired feature reports in its newscast, highlighting some of the achievements of Bank-funded projects in Bangui. It argued that all segments of the Central African population were able to participate in and benefit from such programs.

The Vice President, who visited an urban infrastructure project rehabilitated thanks to World Bank funding, praised Bangui for taking advantage of the fiscal space created by debt cancellation under HIPC (the Heavily-Indebted Poor Countries Initiative) to invest in such pro-poor programs and encouraged the government to stay the course.

She also acknowledged the government's efforts to improve public finance management and to foster institutional reforms that go beyond the tabling, adoption or passing of bills and/or signing of bills into law.

Reforms are important, she said. It is, however, one thing to have laws and codes on the books, and quite another to enforce them.

Civil society representatives echoes Ms. Ezekwesili's remarks and urged her to help pave the way for capacity-building targeting citizens' groups to help them monitor activities in sectors as complex and opaque as mining and forestry, but also to ensure that they can effectively monitor the enforcement of mining and forestry codes.

A working session over lunch with the Special Representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations, Mrs. Sahle-Work Zewde, and the Belgian Ambassador to the United Nations, Mr. Jan Grauls, offered an opportunity for Ms. Ezekwesili to discuss peace consolidation and the establishment of a politically inclusive dialogue in a country emerging from years of simmering conflict.

Meeting participants also discussed state-building and security sector reform in light of the pending demobilization, disarmament and reintegration of rebel militias, which most observers hope would intervene ahead of presidential elections scheduled for next June.