Tunis, May 4, 2011 – World Bank Group President Robert B. Zoellick today concluded a two-day visit to Tunisia to learn first-hand the progress and aspirations of the Tunisian people during this time of historic change, and to support the country’s interim reform agenda which is focused on jobs, accountability and transparency.
“It all started here. So I wanted to listen and learn about what’s happening in Tunisia and how the World Bank Group can help. Tunisians want a break from the past: more accountability, transparency, equity, attention to disadvantaged regions, and broad societal participation. They want jobs, business opportunities, and better public services. The World Bank can support Tunisia in all these areas,” said Zoellick. “Good governance for all Tunisians and that offers fair opportunity can attract investment and development while building a stronger, more inclusive society.”
Zoellick met with the interim authorities, including: Dr. Yadh Ben Achour, head of the High Council for Political Reforms and Achievement of the Revolution’s Goals; Mr. Beji Caid Essebsi, Prime Minister; Mr. H.E. Fouad Mebazza, President of Tunisia; Mr. Jalloul Ayed, Minister of Finance; Mr. Abdelhamid Triki, Minister of Planning and International Cooperation; and, Mr. Mustapha Nabli, Central Bank Governor. Zoellick said the discussions indicated a clear desire to break with the past and implement a reform agenda and good economic governance.
Zoellick reported that the World Bank is working on a $500 million program in budgetary support to provide a boost for the transitional government’s efforts in freedom of association; access to information; transparency in public procurement; beneficiary participation in service delivery; and retraining of unemployed workers. He noted that this support was part of a multi-donor effort and that the African Development Bank, the European Union and other donors were also supporting these strong reforms with an additional $700 million.
Zoellick said the World Bank is moving to fast track the implementation of two recently approved community development projects for approximately $125 million to create jobs and provide support to poorer regions. In addition, he said the Bank was working on a $50 million program for micro, small and medium enterprises (SMSEs) with the African Development Bank as part of the World Bank’s Arab World Initiative (AWI) by mid-year.
“The infrastructure and agricultural progress that I saw in Beja which the World Bank has supported, can provide a foundation for future progress when coupled with the community’s participation,” said Zoellick.
Zoellick visited agricultural communities in Beja in the northwest of the country. These are among the poorest areas in Tunisia and an example of sharp regional disparities. Within Tunisia, Beja has high unemployment and poverty. World Bank projects there from 2003-2009 supported olive and almond tree plantings and pasture improvements to promote soil and water conservation, along with important road improvements. In addition, a World Bank project supported small-scale irrigation in mountainous areas. In Beja, Zoellick met with local Development Committee members to hear of their plans for future development and their perspectives on the change sweeping across Tunisia. Public works programs are envisaged for low-skilled workers in these remote regions, and Zoellick said the Bank was exploring how it could be more helpful in accelerating a correction between areas of privilege and want.
In Tunis, Zoellick participated in a roundtable with members of civil society organizations to gain their perspectives. In an early April policy address before the World Bank’s Spring Meetings, “The Middle East and North Africa: A New Social Contract for Development,” Zoellick said the Bank would support both institutional reforms and support for civil society as a way of building social accountability and improving delivery of service.
Also in Tunis, Zoellick met with Donald Kaberuka, President of the African Development Bank to discuss areas of cooperation across North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa.
The World Bank’s private sector arm, the International Finance Corporation, has a committed portfolio of $256 million in 6 companies, mostly in the financial sector and infrastructure. IFC aims to help restore confidence by helping both foreign and local investors create sustainable jobs, including in the poorer regions. Moving forward, IFC will focus on helping under-served segments of society like micro, small and medium-sized business owners get access to finance, and supporting infrastructure projects.