Let me begin by congratulating Minister Khalil. Your appointment as Minister of Finance comes at a crucial moment in Lebanon’s history. The World Bank Group will work with you to support the critical reforms needed to address Lebanon’s challenges. Thank you for mentioning Hela in your opening. She’s the new IFC Vice President for the region, and I want you all to know the high priority we place on private sector advancement in the region. All parts of the World Bank Group are making that a high priority.
Dear Governors and distinguished guests, it is a pleasure to be with you again to discuss the challenges and opportunities in your region. Thank you for your recent annual letter outlining the key and urgent development challenges of the region. Let me also thank our Dean Dr Merza Hassan for helping to convene this meeting and for his unwavering support to the MENA region.
We meet today against a backdrop of uncertainty. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to reversals in development gains in many regions, threatening jobs, social stability – and lives.
MENA was hit particularly hard by Covid 19. Even before the pandemic, growth had stalled, poverty was on the rise, and the social contract between citizens and the state was strained. Climate change adds a further burden to the development challenge.
During my recent visits to the region, to Sudan, Jordan and the Palestinian territories, I saw firsthand the impact of this multi-pronged crisis. I was concerned by low investment levels, high unemployment rates, and low female labor participation rates.
I also saw potential via regional integration, pro-growth investment, and improvements in the enabling environment for business. The recovery in global growth provides opportunities to make positive changes, and I was encouraged by my discussions with officials and businesses.
As you know, MENA is the least economically integrated region in the world. We have expressed our support for any initiative aimed at developing economic ties between countries in the region, and we are thus looking at ways to support the gas and electricity potential connection between Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon.
While we are not in a position to engage in Syria, we nevertheless are concerned about the Syrian people’s economic woes due to the degradation of the situation in the country. Our position has always been to look after the people, and we are doing so for Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan.
In the year leading up to the next annual meetings in Marrakesh, my message will remain focused on the importance of improving access to vaccines; recovering from Covid; overcoming conflict; mitigating and adapting to climate change; containing debt; and creating strong sustainable jobs for the youth of this region.
Morocco has made progress on all of these, and I want to thank you for graciously hosting us in 2022.
As a region, MENA will need to generate 300 million new jobs by 2050. These will be created largely by the private – not public – sector. Reaching this critical goal of sustainable job creation needs governance and transparency, rule of law, and an attractive business environment.
As we move toward Marrakesh in 2022 and Cop27 in Egypt, how can the Bank Group assist in making these events a launching pad for more sustained and comprehensive development in MENA?
Thank you again for inviting me and let’s now open our discussion.