The World Bank Group has decided to re-commit itself to work towards reducing the non-financial costs of doing business with it.

In reiterating this commitment, the Bank has also stated its readiness to increase its menu of products and services so as to better serve middle-income countries (MICs) in Africa.

In a statement released in Washington last week, the World Bank Managing Director, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was quoted as saying, “We have taken your feedback and tasked an institutional Working Group to come up with new innovative ways of serving MICs and are finalizing an Action Plan to guide our engagement with MICs in Africa.”

The Africa MIC Action Plan proposes a three-year pilot of a different way of doing business in MICs – anchored in part on two pilot projects to combat the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Botswana and Swaziland.

This decision was reached after a high-level consultation in Washington, DC, on the sidelines of the Spring Meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. The consultation was a follow-up to two earlier consultations that were held in Tunis, Tunisia in March 2006 and in Cairo, Egypt in March of 2008.

According to the World Bank Vice President for the Africa Region, Obiageli Ezekwesili, “The key objective of the Africa MIC Action Plan stresses the need for the Bank to provide services better, faster and cheaper; moving rapidly from development lending to a development partnership in MIC.”

The statement said the Bank has recognized the value of MICs, and therefore, as a provider of cutting edge knowledge services as well as financing, the Bank is re-positioning its self to better serve MICs to focus on four key areas, and these are: (i) improving client responsiveness; (ii) expanding the range and utilization of financial products; (iii) enhancing the Bank’s knowledge services; and (iv) strengthening synergies between different parts of the Bank Group.

Explaining the agenda, Juan Jose Daboub, World Bank Managing Director said, “Important progress has been made on this agenda. As a result of recent reforms, the World Bank Group has drastically cut back on the costs and time needed to prepare projects; extended lending to MICs in local currency; and provided lending to sub-sovereign entities.”

And according to Daniela Gressani the World Bank Vice President for the Middle East and North Africa Region, “We are seeking innovation in the way we traditionally do business.” And he said this in specific reference to the agenda in relation to ongoing pilots for the use of country systems in procurement in Morocco and in environmental safeguards in Egypt and Tunisia.

Meanwhile, Finance ministers of member countries have lauded the Bank Group for the successful implementation of reforms since the Tunis consultation, notably the reduction in loan pricing; improvements in the response time and the speed of loan processing; and efforts to increase the use of country systems and to delegate more authority to field-based staff.

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

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