Tweah Catalogues WB Official’s Strides -Says Dr. Nthara’s Was Passionate about Liberia’s Development 

MONROVIA – At times, some international experts tasked to work in conflict regions or fragile territories take their assignments for mere professional and expatriate duty, and make themselves managers of the regular templates. But there are those who grab such tasks firmly with two hands, seeing and treating it as a matter of humane obligation, for which they go extra miles. Amongst the latter group is Dr. Khwima Nthara, who got international assignment in Liberia at a time the postwar country was teetering on the brink of macroeconomic paralysis. His commitment to duty, after three years and seven months as World Bank Country Director, is widely celebrated in Liberia’s fiscal and monetary sectors by frontline leaders, including Finance Minister Samuel D. Tweah, Jr., who has been cataloguing the outgoing Dr. Nthara’s redemptive strides. The Analyst reports.        

The Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Samuel D. Tweah, Jr., has been paying fond tribute to Dr. Khwima Nthara, outgoing Country Director of the World Bank, for his outstanding stewardship to Liberia during three-year-seven-mouth term.

In the words of Mr. Tweah, “No country manager of the World Bank has left an imprint as outsized, as large and as indelible as those of Dr. Nthara”, also fondly called Khwima by his admirers.

He called him a Cambridge trained economist, who “supplants his neo-classical theoretical economic grounding for a more practical and pragmatic development approach, using this approach to embed flexibility and adaptability in his over-arching governing philosophy of raising country context as a priority.”

Minister Tweah said Dr. Kwhima, upon his arrival in the country, “understood the fragility of Liberia’s transition from an UNMIL supported economy, dependent on inflows unlinked to domestic possibilities, toward the foundations of what Dr. George MANNEH Weah described in his 2023 state of the nation address as ‘macroeconomic fundamentalism’”.

According to him, the World Bank official “fully understood that development partners had to seriously accompany the Government on this transition, fraught with political sensitivities, but a transition that had to occur if Liberia were to turn a transformative corner”.

Tweah said an air of reticence and quietude belies the transformative force of nature that underpins the numerous successes of Dr. Nthara.

“It was this particular understanding that endeared him to the policies and programs of the Pro Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development and to availing the full panoply of world bank expertise, resources and capabilities to enable Liberia navigate this difficult transition, especially amid the onset of COVID-19,” Tweah said further, adding: “So today we honor more than a country manager of the World Bank.

“We honor an individual who has shared in the philosophy of our development, who has empathized with the unique contexts of our fragility and vulnerability but more importantly who sees the light at the end of the tunnel provided the right policy  frameworks are established, the right actions are taken and the desired coordination among partners is forged.”

Cataloguing Nthara’s Achievements in Liberia

Reflecting on the many achievements of the World Bank official, Minister Weah said: “We honor you today because during your tenure, we have seen the World Bank’s financial support to Liberia increase significantly. While Liberia’s annual IDA allocation is small, Dr Nthara was so committed to Liberia that he took advantage of every opportunity available within the Bank to mobilize additional resources for Liberia. As a result, between 2019 and 2023, the Bank’s net commitment to Liberia almost doubled and now stands at $1.4 billion.

“Second, during his tenure, we have seen a significant shift in the World Bank’s portfolio towards addressing Liberia’s critical needs. For example, when other development partners stopped providing direct budgetary support, the Bank doubled its annual direct budgetary support from $20 million to $40 million. Last year, we actually received $55 million in direct budgetary support from the Bank, with an additional $15 million coming from a window that no other country in the world has so far utilized for budgetary support.”

Similarly, he said, the Bank’s support to key sectors increase significantly under Dr. Nthara’s tenure.

He recalled: “For example, when he arrived, the Bank had a $25 million IDA funded project in agriculture, the STAR-P. However, after President Weah indicated that agriculture was now a priority sector for Liberia, the Bank’s total commitment to the sector was tripled and now stands at $80 million through the provision of additional financing under the Rural Economic Transformation Project (RETRAP). The Bank has also helped us mobilize a total of $52 million from the International Fund for Agriculture and Development (IFAD).”

Another key sector that has benefitted immensely from the Bank during his tenure is the fisheries sector, Mr. Tweah said. “When he arrived, we were already discussing with the Bank a financing facility for this key sector, in the amount of $20 million. However, this too was doubled to $40 and recently, the Bank helped mobilize an additional $20 million from the OPEC fund.”

Under Dr Nthara’s tenure, Minister Tweah further narrated, “We have also seen the Bank break new grounds by supporting us in areas where the Bank was never previously involved. For example, given the critical role that the private sector plays in economic growth and job creation, the Bank worked with us to prepare the Liberia Investment, Finance, and Trade Project, LIFT, in the amount of $40 million.

“This project was officially launched on Tuesday, March 7th. It is the first time that such a serious amount of resources has been made available to support reforms that will make it easy for the private sector to do business in Liberia.”

 According to Minister Tweah, for the first time in the history of Liberia, the World Bank Board approved a total package of $44.6 million for the empowerment of women.

“No longer is the support to women an appendage to Bank-funded projects in Liberia. Under Dr Nthara’s tenure, the Bank made the support to women and girls center stage,” he said. “During COVID-19, the Bank, under Dr Nthara’s leadership, moved swiftly to re-allocate resources from existing projects to help us in our health response to COVID-19.

Within a short period of time, the Bank had mobilized $16 million that was used to support operations at quarantine and treatment centers, contact tracing, and the purchase of 20 ventilators, up from just 4 that the country had. Later, the Bank mobilized an additional $24.5 million for the procurement and roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines.”

The further noted that the Bank also provided $10 million to help informal businesses cope with the impact of COVID-19 and $5 million for the nationwide food distribution program.

Through financing under the crisis response window, Finance Minister Tweah also indicated that the Bank has recently approved a financing package in the amount of $20 million that will be used to finance a cash transfer program to help poor and vulnerable households cope with the rise in food prices due to the impact of the Russia/Ukraine war.”

In health more broadly, the Bank’s support has also been ramped up, the Finance Minister asserted. “In 2020, the Bank approved a total package of $59 million to support the completion and operationalization of the new Redemption Hospital as well as continue with the implementation of the performance-based financing that has been very instrumental in improving the quality of health care services in our health facilities.”

This package of support was recently supplemented by an additional $31 million, which brings the Bank’s total financing to health to $114.5 million, including the funding for COVID-19.

In education, Tweah said the focus has been to implement the existing $65 million spread across three Bank-financed projects, noting however that Dr Nthara has already started laying the basis for a future financing package of not less than $60 million to succeed the existing projects in education.

Another sector where the Bank has had a transformational impact is in the Energy, whereby in 2021, under Dr Nthara’s leadership, the Bank Board approved a financing package in the amount of $64 million towards accelerating electricity access in Liberia.

“This package was approved in the context of what is known as a Multi-phase approach. In particular, it means the Bank committed to providing support to the energy sector in Liberia for the next 10 years. When the first financing package is exhausted, we do not need to start from scratch in preparing a proposal for new support. Liberia was the first country across the whole World Bank to benefit from such an approach in the energy sector.”

Under Dr Nthara’s leadership, Mr. Tweah further said, the Bank was instrumental in supporting the smooth transition from Management Service Contract (MSC) of the Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC) to local management.

“When financing for the MSC under the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) came to an end, the Bank stepped up to finance the remaining 2 years of the contract and supported an independent recruitment firm that managed the recruitment of the new professional local management.”

Continuing his reflections on Dr. Nthara’s tenure in Liberia, Minister Tweah said that on January 30th, 2023, “we signed a Financing Agreement for an additional $96 million to add two more units at Mt Coffee and a solar plant. This financing will result in an additional 62 MW of power being added to the existing 88 MW at Mt Coffee. Preparations have already started to mobilize an additional $550 million for the development of St Paul 2 Hydro power station that will add another 148 MW to Liberia’s national grid.”

In the road sector, he said, “we faced some challenges raising resources for the road from Ganta to Zwedru. Dr Nthara was again instrumental in finding innovative solutions towards the mobilization of resources for the road corridor, including making a case for a road component under an agriculture project that will finance the 40km stretch from Tappita to Toetown and filling the financing gap for the 85km stretch from Toetown to Zwedru.

“The Bank is also in the process of helping us develop a national road master plan that will become the basis for mobilizing additional resources in the road sector.”

More recently, Dr Nthara was also there as a true partner for Liberia by helping find solutions to the financing of the Census. Not only was the Bank a major financier to the census, but when the census faced a financing gap, the Bank came forward to partner with the Government of Liberia  in helping fill the financing gap.

Mr. Tweah said: “I could carry on and on and on tonight but the point has more than amply been made.  Dr. Nthara, these successes would not have occurred were it not for the overwhelming support you received from my dear friend and brother Pierre Laporte who is the World Bank’s Country Director for Liberia, Ghana and Sierra Leone. Standing ovation please for the great Pierre Laporte.”

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