Tunis, February 12, 2012 — The World Bank expressed its strong commitment to supporting Tunisia’s democratic transition in discussions that wrapped up yesterday about the financial and technical support the institution can offer to help Tunisia’s economic recovery and its drive to strengthen governance and foster social and economic inclusion.
Inger Andersen, Vice President for the Middle East and North Africa Region at the World Bank, led the discussions accompanied by Simon Gray, Country Director for the Maghreb, and Eileen Murray, the World Bank’s Tunis-based Resident Representative. The team met numerous government officials, private sector representatives, donor partners, and civil society organizations including women’s and youth groups. An underlying theme in all of the discussions was the need to support the creation of more jobs, in particular in those regions of the country where less support was directed in the past.
The World Bank is currently preparing an Interim Strategy Note which will reflect these and other ongoing consultations and guide its program of support to Tunisia for the next two years. The Bank has conducted a series of discussions with a wide array of civil society groups throughout Tunisia. Consultations through its web site remain open for input.
Ms. Andersen’s visit was an opportunity to broaden this consultation. Based on recommendations from government and other stakeholders so far, World Bank support will be framed around:
- Renewed private sector-led growth and job creation;
- Social assistance and economic inclusion, emphasizing support (including for job creation) for the poorest regions; and
- Governance and citizen participation in a transparent national dialogue.
Andersen was received by Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali, Finance Minister Houcine Dimassi, Minister of Investments and International Cooperation Riadh Battaieb, Minister of Employment and Vocational training, Abdelwaheb Mâatar, Minister of Planning and Regional Development Jamelddine Gharbi, and Sihem Badi, Minister of Women’s and Family Affairs, as well as Central Bank Governor Mustapha Nabli and President of the Constituent Assembly Mustapha Ben Jaafar.
“It has been inspiring to visit Tunisia at this critical moment in its emergence as a democratic nation,” said Andersen. “The actions of Tunisian people have lit a flame of optimism that we must all nurture. The World Bank Group is proud to support Tunisia’s transition. We understand the enormous pressures on the authorities to deliver on the expectations of the people. The Bank is resolute in its support for Tunisia’s search for better governance, as a transparent and open economy is critical for Tunisia and for the region. I am convinced that other development partners feel the same.”
Andersen acknowledged the tough global economic environment confronting Tunisia, particularly in view of the broader global economic crisis. “This moment is too important to lose though, and we are committed to helping the economy make a quick rebound to deliver better jobs and a better life.”
From the discussions these past few days, the World Bank’s support for 2012-2013 seems well aligned with the Interim Government’s priorities that emphasize social services and particular attention to lagging regions, where the numbers of people living in poverty are the highest. Bank teams will be working closely with the government and other stakeholders in February and March to further this alignment. The Bank remains ready to provide significant financial support to Tunisia between now and the end of the year. This is likely to be a combination of budget support similar to last year’s $500m made available in the immediate aftermath of the revolution and investments projects in key areas such as vocational training and export development activities, to help create jobs.
“The immediate challenge facing Tunisia’s new authorities lies in managing a tough macroeconomic situation buffeted by external shocks and regaining the social stability that helps make the space for the much-needed investments to trigger growth and create jobs," said Gray. "Our country program can be geared to help this.”
In order to support the Government in its drive for evidence-based policy-making, the Bank has launched a series of studies with Tunisian counterparts in areas such as regional development, poverty, employment, youth inclusion, ICT, tourism, the financial sector and trade integration with neighboring countries and across the Mediterranean. One of the key demands of the revolution was access to information and transparency. Andersen emphasized that transparent and reliable data is critical for informing policy-making, and to help ensure greater public ownership of government decisions. The Bank will ensure its studies are widely available in French and Arabic, and accessible to the public through the web and other tools.
“The Bank is already working in close collaboration with the new government to find concrete ways to quickly provide support to the Tunisian population as it tackles poverty in rural areas and the pressing unemployment problem,” said Murray. “We are also committed to ensuring that women actively participate in all aspects of economic development.”
The World Bank currently supports 11 investment projects in energy, education, natural resources and community development, export development for SMEs, basic services (in water, sanitation, solid waste and waste water). The World Bank also provides technical assistance for the implementation of reforms undertaken by the government to improve governance and create economic opportunities, as well as innovative pilot projects to promote youth employment and service delivery in underserved areas.