Monrovia – The World Bank Country Director to Liberia Khwima Nthara has hailed the signing of the US$40 million International Development Association (IDA) Financing Agreement for the implementation of the Liberia Investment Finance and Trade (LIFT) project.
The project aims to improve the investment climate, expand sustainable access to finance, and increase the efficiency of trade in Liberia. Importantly, the project incorporates features that seek to address the identified gaps between men and women with respect to their participation in economic activities in the country, especially around differential constraints, and performance between women-owned and men-owned firms.
The LIFT project that was signed by Liberia and the World Bank on Monday amounts to US$40 million. US$20 million is an IDA grant and the other US$ 20 million is a concessional IDA credit. The financing was approved by the World Bank on February 9, 2022.
Speaking at the signing ceremony, the World Bank Country Director said the event marked another important milestone in the development of the partnership between the World Bank and Liberia.
“This is the first time the World Bank is providing such a significant amount of financing to support programs for improving the investment climate for the private sector,” he said.
Mr. Nthara added: “As you can see, the LIFT project will be a game-changer for Liberia. It sends a loud and clear message that Liberia is open for business and that it will be the investors’ destination of choice.”
The World Bank Country Director furthers that the LIFT project is in recognition of the significant progress that the Weah-led government has made in stabilizing the macro-economy of the country over the past three years.
This, he sais, has resulted in Liberia being removed from the World Bank list of countries categorized as fragile and conflict-affected situations after an improvement in the country’s overall rating under the World Bank’s Country Policy and Institutional Assessment (CPIA).
Despite the improvement in the macroeconomics, the World Bank Country Director said the improvement should translate into tangible benefits for the Liberian people by improving their living standards.
He said, providing jobs is the most sustainable pathway to improving people’s living standards. He added that better jobs are best provided by the private sector.
“The role of the government, therefore, is to create a conducive investment climate for the private sector, whether domestic or foreign, large or small,” he said.
Mr. Nthara added that establishing a conducive investment climate requires the government to focus on stabilizing the macroeconomic environment where inflation is under control and the exchange rate is stable adding that the private sector does not like what he terms as a volatile environment.
Another requirement he said is investing in critical infrastructures such as road and energy infrastructure. According to him, without good infrastructure, it becomes too expensive to produce anything or to access markets.
Also, the World Bank Country Director stressed that creating a conducive climate for the private sector entails the improvement of government systems and processes that make it easier for investors to start and operate a business including facilitating access to finance and markets.
“This project we are signing today finds its premise through the LIFT project, the government will create a non-stop-shop for business registration and licensing and automate the process so that it becomes easy to start a business in Liberia, through the LIFT project,” he said.
Mr. Nthara added: “The government will simplify and automate the process of exporting and importing goods by creating a National Single Window for Trade, through the LIFT project, the government will establish a new National Electronic payments switch system that will connect and improve the efficiency of various elements of the financial system, including banks, micro-finance banks, mobile money agents through the LIFT project.”
Through the LIFT project, he added that the government will provide a line of credit for small and medium enterprise (SMEs), as well as build their capacity to access markets over the next five years.
“The project will directly support over 750 SMEs by providing a customized suite of services, including coaching, training, market linkages, investment facilitation and finance through the LIFT project,” Mr. Nthara said.
The World Bank Has Listened to the Government
The Minister of Finance Samuel Tweah said the LIFT project from the World Bank come after a discussion with the government and officials of the World Bank.
“What it means is that the World Bank has listened to the government,” Minister Tweah said.
The Minister of Finance also disclosed that in one of the meetings held with the President and the World Bank Country Director and the Regional Manager in the President’s office by then at Foreign Affairs -the President stressed told the bank representatives that whether in agriculture, in trade, whatever the project the bank is doing, the government wants to move faster.
“In response to the meeting, we have seen the exemplary extraordinary movement of the bank in the whole host areas that are including today. And so, let’s thank the President for pushing the bank, for realizing many of the things we are seeing coming from the bank today,” he said.
Adding up, the Minister of Commerce Mawime Diggs said the signing ceremony of the LIFT project is a plus for not only the government but the Liberian people especially people who are involved in the SMEs.
She praised the World Bank Country Director and his team for the corporation and support to Liberia and looked forward to enhancing their partnership as the country takes a step forward to the next stage of the LIFT project.
“When we took over the Ministry of Commerce, we stressed and made a commitment of ensuring that the President vision as laid out in the PAPD –and so, today we have gone beyond not just that commitment to taking a potential step in making the lives of our people better following a disruption of the trade as a result of the COVID-19,” Madam Diggs said.
She added: “We look forward to fulfilling the commitment of the LIFT project and other projects that the ministry is planning to rollout.”