Decisive action is needed to combat corruption, improve the investment climate, enhance the rule of law, and consolidate peace if Burundi is to become a more attractive destination for domestic and foreign private capital flows.
These are some of the reforms authorities in Burundi agreed to initiate, deepen or vigorously pursue to accelerate economic growth, boost job creation, and enhance transparency as the country rebuilds after years of economic isolation, political instability, and armed conflict.
The announcement was made at the conclusion of a three-day visit by Obiageli Ezekwesili, the World Bank’s Vice President for the Africa Region.
“Private capital does not go to environments that are too bureaucratic, are not open or lack transparency,” Ms. Ezekwesili told reporters at a press conference Sunday. She said corruption was a “tax on the poor,” adding that while the World Bank is concerned about graft in Burundi, she was satisfied that projects funded by the Bank in the country, representing US$251 million over the last three years, remain corruption-free. “So far, so good,” Ms. Ezekwesili said after conducting field trips to three projects, all of which have achieved tangible results.
Ms. Ezekwesili announced that the World Bank has set aside US$43 million in additional grant financing for the second phase of the Agro-Pastoral Productivity and Markets Development Project, which aims to enhance food security, boost agricultural productivity and increase the incomes of Burundian farmers. She said the additional funding will help focus attention on post-harvest, conservation and marketing aspects of the project.
Ms. Ezekwesili also cited a Bank-funded public works project for, among other advantages, creating 3,500 jobs (17 percent of them for women). The project has also helped pave 55 kilometers of road, lay 335 kilometers of pipes for safe water, and build six health centers and 230 schools.
On Saturday President Pierre Nkurunziza recommitted to ‘zero tolerance’ for corruption in Burundi. The head of state promised during an audience with Ms. Ezekwesili to send a strong signal in that regard by seeing to it that well-known cases of alleged corruption that are pending will be prosecuted.
Ms. Ezekwesili urged Burundian authorities to apply principles of sound governance, transparency and accountability reforms to ensure that the country’s budget devotes resources to fund crucial social and economic development projects that benefit the poorest and the most vulnerable, including women, youth, as well as the rural and urban poor.
She urged authorities to draw lessons from results achieved by Bank-funded projects in the country. The World Bank, she explained, hopes to reach a results-based financing option for the health sector in Burundi, where so far such programs have been initiated only in the education and agriculture sectors.
More investments, she said, are also needed in priority areas such as energy, transport, and agriculture, which offer Burundi a comparative advantage and could be fueled by special access to financing programs.
Ms. Ezekwesili’s visit to Burundi is part of a four-nation, 12-day trip that started in Rwanda and is expected to close with two more stops in Botswana and Lesotho. It is aimed at re-focusing attention on the investment opportunities that Africa’s fragile, conflict-affected and land-locked countries offer.
In Burundi, Ms. Ezekwesili encouraged coastal African countries to adopt transit and trade policies, as well as cross-border infrastructure investments that can transform erstwhile “land-locked” countries into “land-linked” ones.
Ms. Ezekwesili’s visit comes as Burundi is evaluating progress achieved under its first Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRSP) and on the eve of consultations to design PRSP-II.
During the press conference Sunday, she urged the government to ensure that PRSP-II will be private sector-focused, and that it is designed after consultation with citizens, local communities, civil society and media.