New project to help reform telecoms sector and improve connectivity for 53,000 people
WASHINGTON, March 19, 2013 -- The World Bank launched its first Country Partnership Strategy with the Government of the Marshall Islands, beginning its support to strengthen the Pacific Island nation’s economy and reduce poverty. The Bank’s Board of Directors discussed the strategy today and approved its first project, a $3 million plan to help reform the telecommunications sector and boost access to mobile phones and internet for the country's 53,000 people.
The Marshall Islands is one of the world’s least “connected” countries, and telecommunications access is low. Just two percent of people subscribe to internet services, and only about one-quarter have a mobile phone. This hinders development efforts. It imposes a heavy toll on communities, including the country’s many overseas workers, government and local businesses. Communities in the outer islands are particularly disadvantaged.
The project aims to help the country attract new investment in telecommunications and bring down service costs, including through increased competition. In the Pacific region and Papua New Guinea, such reforms have given over two million more people access to mobile phones, with much cheaper calls.
“We welcome our renewed partnership with the World Bank, and look forward to working together on an ambitious agenda,” said the Honorable Dennis Momotaro, Minister of Finance. “The telecommunications project is an ideal starting point – improving telecommunications will make it easier for families and friends to keep in touch, promote business opportunities, and link communities to essential services.”
The strategy was developed in consultation with the government and other stakeholders, and marks a deepening of the engagement between the Marshall Islands and the World Bank. In addition to the initial focus on telecommunications, the four-year strategy outlines other potential assistance to help improve the management of revenues and fisheries – a key source of income for the country and its people. Other proposed areas of engagement could include support to strengthen the role of women, and measures to improve the sustainability of the energy sector and reduce high fuel costs.
“Together with the government and our partners, this is a plan to build a more vibrant economy,” said Franz Drees-Gross, Country Director for the Pacific Islands at the World Bank. “It is the start of a critically important Partnership that will strive to better connect the country, and to get a better deal and lasting benefits from its resources.”
The Marshall Islands will receive assistance through grants from the International Development Association. A US$3 million grant is being provided for the ICT Sector Development Operation, the first of a series of three operations to address telecommunications reform which will be implemented by the Marshall Islands’ Ministry of Finance.