Dear media representatives,
I would like to warmly welcome you in our office. I hope to see you again, on a more regular basis, as we would like to establish a more systematic exchange of news and views. Today, I would like to share with you several updates on World Bank activities, covering the period from the beginning of this year. This will be followed by presenting you with our approaches to analyzing trends in poverty.
- Last week, the Government of Albania and the World Bank successfully negotiated a Development Policy Loan for the amount of US$ 25 million. This is our first new loan since 2008. It supports policies that improve social assistance and health services. Two major legislations passed the parliament in the past several weeks - Amendment to the Law of Social Assistance and Services approved on March 17, 2011, and the Law on Mandatory Insurance for Healthcare approved on February 24, 2011. The changes to the Ndihma Ekonomike under the amended social assistance law will improve the selection of beneficiaries and administration of the funds. For the first time, the focus will be not only on helping families to overcome the hardship they face today but also on supporting future opportunities for their children. Additional assistance to poor families will be linked to enrolling children in school and ensuring they are attending classes. The new law also provides for the establishment of a unified registry of beneficiaries of social assistance programs. This will increase efficiency, transparency, accountability and coherency in administering these programs. The landmark law on health insurance will extend mandatory insurance coverage to all the beneficiaries of the Ndihma Ekonomike, with the help of the unified registry. In addition, the fiscal rules for financing health services will be strengthened, as will be monitoring of performance of service providers. In the US, the health care reform by the Obama administration was occupying media headlines for two years. So I was hoping more attention from media would have been dedicated to this important issue here. The next challenge will be effective implementation of these new policies, which will require strong collaboration among central and local governments, as well as engagement from civil society. We plan to support the implementation through another project next year.
- The World Bank program of support to Albania for 2011-2014 has increased to some US$300 million, from the earlier envelope of US$275 million. This increase of up to US$25 million was made in response to 2010 floods and will be used for financing improvements in safety and operation of hydro dams, topping up the original commitment of US$35.3 million. Our funds will be used increasing the storage capacity of the Komani hydropower plant, rehabilitating spill gateways of all three major dams in the Drin river cascade, and optimizing the operation of the cascade.
- The World Bank has also made available about US$ 14 million from the on-going projects and other sources to help with flood response in the Shkodra area. The funding of US12.4 million will be used for rehabilitation of pumping stations, improving drainage and storm water collection, and drinking water quality testing. By the time the funding was finalized last week, the Ministry of Agriculture had already prepared the needed specifications and bidding documents, so these funds can be put to immediate use. The World Bank-financed Disaster Management and Adaptation project provided expedited support to the General Directorate of Civil Emergencies to equip the emergency response units with 50 swift rescue motor boats and other equipment for emergency assessment teams. The US$ 1 million grant for technical assistance to repair and rehabilitee damaged flood protection structures and develop a comprehensive flood risk assessment and management plan was provided by the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery. The grant was approved in February, and I am very pleased to report that the work has already started, thanks to excellent collaboration between the World Bank and government teams.
- I am very pleased that Albania’s e-Procurement system will be the first in the Europe & Central Asia Region to be used in projects funded by the World Bank. It will be piloted under the Secondary and Local Roads Project which is managed by the Albanian Development Fund. The e-Procurement system has demonstrated increased efficiency and transparency of public procurement in Albania over the last two years. The World Bank promotes the use of electronic procurement as part of the procurement reform agenda in countries throughout the world. In the context of the procurement harmonization among several Multilateral Development Banks, a set of minimum e-Procurement requirements was developed and a recent assessment against these requirements found Albania’s e-Procurement system acceptable for the use in projects funded by the World Bank. Together with the Government of Albania, in particular the Public Procurement Agency, the World Bank will continue to promote the use of the e-Procurement system of Albania which received the 2010 UNITED NATIONS PUBLIC SERVICE AWARD. The tender under the first pilot will involve the construction of a new bridge and some river training works. It will also prevent traffic from passing through the XVII century bridge, which is part of the Albania Cultural Heritage; protect the ancient bridge foundations from river erosion; and protect the Berat - Mbrezhdan road section, which passes through Velabisht village.
- Albania played an important role in making possible the broadest ever global coalition that came together to contribute to the main global fund for poor countries, IDA. IDA stands for the International Development Association, the soft and grant financing part of the World Bank for development projects in low income countries. It is replenished every three years through donor contributions. The latest, 16th round of replenishment (IDA16) was successfully completed in December 2010 with a record size of US$49.3 billion, starting from July 2011. Albania was a recipient of IDA assistance for 17 years. This time, Albania, together with six other eligible IDA graduates, agreed to accelerated repayment of IDA credits. Eligibility was based on income per capita and macro-economic performance, which Albania met. The accelerated repayment schedule will start from January 2014. The constructive engagement of the Albania government conveyed a commendable signal of solidarity with the global fight against poverty that helped to preserve and increase contributions from IDA donors in a difficult post-crisis time. As a development professional who has spent many years working in poor countries, I am very proud of Albania’s model role in this IDA16 process and invite all of you and all Albanians to share this pride for your country.
- The World Bank has undertaken a comprehensive analysis of property rights issues in Albania, and the paper will be disseminated soon. A consultation with key stakeholders on the way forward took place in Tirana on March 7, and we will look forward to expanding our support to reforms and institutional strengthening in this critical area.
- On March 24, the World Bank and the British Council announced 10 winners of the competition among civil society organizations and academic institutions. The topic was Better Governance in Albania through Innovative Ideas. I was very impressed by the level of civil society response - 144 groups submitted proposals. I also admired the quality, diversity and creativity of the winning proposals. The full information is on our website and I hope you will help disseminate these ideas and encourage others to follow. We at the World Bank remain committed to supporting civil society in Albania. I am pleased to conclude by announcing that we will soon issue a new call for civil society proposals that will be focused on gender issues.
I look forward to further interactions with you. We will be also happy to receive your feedback and suggestions on how we can make our future meetings most productive and useful.