TIRANA, January 11, 2011― World Bank Managing Director Ms. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala today completed her three-day visit to Albania, as part of her first trip to some Western Balkans countries. The aim of the visit was to emphasize the importance of Albania’s new Growth Agenda as well as reiterate the Bank’s support to the Government under the new Country Partnership Strategy. In addition, Ms. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala expressed the Bank’s solidarity with people affected by the recent massive floods in Shkodra area, and discussed possibilities for additional support to mitigate the risks of future floods.
Ms. Okonjo-Iweala met with the Prime Minister Sali Berisha, key members of the Government, the Governor of the Bank of Albania Mr. Ardian Fullani, leader of the opposition Mr. Edi Rama, and representatives of civil society, and private sector. The discussions during these meetings were centered on the progress in the implementation of the new Country Partnership Strategy (CPS) and the challenges that Albania faces to resume high rates of growth in the post-crisis world.
Over the past decade, Albania has had one of the highest GDP growth rates in Europe. As a result, Albania now belongs to the group of upper middle income countries. The efforts of consecutive governments have led to a dramatic decline in poverty. The percentage of the population in absolute poverty fell from 25 percent in 2002 to 12 percent in 2008. Behind these numbers are 200,000 people that have a better chance to realize their hopes and opportunities.
Albania has also weathered relatively well the impact of the global economic and financial crisis, achieving an estimated growth rate of around 3 percent in 2010 while many of its neighbors remained in recession. However, over the next few years, global growth is likely to be slow and the availability and terms of international capital will be harder. Therefore, it is important for Albania to continue the prudent fiscal policies of the past and ensure fiscal sustainability. This means sticking to a medium-term budget framework that keeps deficits and public sector debt on a downward trend.
In these meetings it was also discussed how to further improve safety nets and health financing reforms for protecting the poorest families under a tight government budget.
“To stay ahead in an increasingly integrated world,” said the World Bank Managing Director Ms. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, “Albania will require a more sophisticated strategy to create the foundation for long-term competitiveness and sustainability. Some key elements of this strategy would be further reforms in education, skills creation, information and communications technologies, and the energy sector. It is also important to improve the enabling environment for businesses, including secure land property rights and the effective implementation and transparent enforcement of existing laws and regulations.”
In her address to the academia and students of Tirana University and non-public universities, Ms. Okonjo-Iweala focused mainly on the challenges and opportunities that Albania and the Western Balkans face in responding to the crisis.
In the last day of her visit, Ms. Okonjo-Iweala visited the Porto Romano site, near Durres, where environmental and health hazards from a former chemical plant are remediated with the assistance of the World Bank and the Dutch Government under the Integrated Coastal Zone Management and Cleanup Project. To date, 65 percent of the remediation works have been carried out and the cleanup of all sites is expected to be completed by May 2011.
In the Udenisht commune of the Pogradec district, she visited a forested plot and fruit tree plantation, and met with beneficiaries of the Natural Resources Development Project, financed by the World Bank, the Global Environmental Facility (GEF), and the Swedish Government. The investments in this commune account for 63 percent improvement of forestry and pastures and for 37 percent improvement of agricultural lands. As a result, 204 persons were employed in forestry improvement works, and 200 families have benefited so far.
“The World Bank is very proud to team up with the Government and local communities for the implementation of these impressive projects, which in one place clean up and improve people’s living conditions, and in another area generate employment at the local level,” said Ms. Okonjo-Iweala.
The new World Bank Country Partnership Strategy, approved in July 2010, includes financing of up to $275 million from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) and up to $120-150 million from the International Finance Corporation (IFC) over a four-year period.
Albania became a member of the World Bank in 1991. Since then, 68 projects totaling US$1.4 billion have been supported by the International Development Association (IDA) and IBRD, and 10 projects totaling US$185 million by the IFC. Currently in Albania there are 15 active projects in the social sector, health, education, natural resources, water and energy, municipal infrastructure, and public sector management that are helping Albania to achieve sustainable economic and social development and pave the way for European integration.