JUBA, March 14, 2012 – The newly-independent country of South Sudan received its first World Bank grant today to help increase employment and provide access to finance for entrepreneurs, especially youth and women. The grant agreement of US$9 million was signed today by the National Minister of Finance and Economic Planning, Kosti Manibe Ngai, and Laura Kullenberg, Country Manager for the World Bank in South Sudan.
At the joint press conference following the signing ceremony, Minister Ngai thanked the World Bank team, noting the momentous occasion, and highlighting the importance of the private sector in South Sudan.
“We’re aware that as of now the private sector is still weak, but despite that, it has a role,” Minister Ngai said. “This is one of the projects that will strengthen the private sector to play the role we would wish them to play in the economic line of South Sudan.”
The grant will help scale up the successful components of a previous multi-donor trust funded private sector development project, and aims to improve access to finance for at least 50,000 small entrepreneurs, and generate at least 250 jobs by enterprises supported by a Business Plan Competition.
Kullenberg highlighted the urgency of developing the private sector in a country emerging from decades of conflict, and reliant on a single-sector economy.
“This grant is particularly timely as the country is focusing on the very urgent challenges of creating employment, diversifying the economy away from its dependence on oil and developing other productive sectors to drive growth,” she said.
The Minister also announced the country’s intentions to formalize its membership with the World Bank Group in Washington this year. “As most of us are aware, since July when we became independent, we have taken certain measures to join the World Bank and be part of the club of nations,” he said.
While most of the required processes are now complete, the new country still has to sign the membership agreement with both the International Monetary Fund and the Bank. Despite this, he noted that the Bank has been working closely with South Sudan as a partner in its development efforts.
“We are pleased that even before the formalities of membership have been completed, the World Bank has already been already collaborating with us,” he said. “We already feel we are members, waiting only for the formalities of membership to be finalized.”
This grant is part of a larger transitional trust fund totaling $75 million, which the Bank activated in June 2011 ahead of South Sudan’s independence, to provide support to the new nation ahead of membership.