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Liberia honors outgoing World Bank Country Manager

The Liberian government has honored outgoing World Bank Country Manager Dr. Khwima Nthara, saying the Bank’s support to key sectors increased significantly under his tenure.

The grand honoring ceremony was held Thursday, 9 March 2023 at the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Ministerial Complex in Congo Town.

During the program, Dr. Nthara said while he was the one receiving the honor, all the achievements highlighted during his time in Liberia had been due to collaboration and teamwork involving World Bank colleagues, government officials, and other development partners.

“Mr President (referring to President George Manneh Weah), today is indeed my last day in Liberia, after 3 years and 7 months. It has been such a rewarding experience, and it was a great pleasure and honor to have been of service to this very special country,” said Dr. Nthara.

The World Bank envoy explained that while many people were envious of him that he was coming to such a unique country, many more were feeling sorry because the macroeconomic situation at the time was in bad shape.

“I recall some even saying I had fallen for a poison chalice, a basket case. But I have to say, as soon as [I] arrived and had my first interaction with you, Mr. President, the Minister of Finance, Hon. Samuel D. Tweah Jr, and other key members of your administration, I was so energized and inspired,” said Dr. Nthara.

He said he was encouraged by the clarity of the government’s vision and the commitment shown to turning things around.

Indeed, before long, he said, the government lived up to its word and presided over a retreat between the World Bank and the Cabinet, on Sunday, 15 December 2019, under the theme “Maximizing World Bank Group Support to Liberia.”

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“That retreat, your excellency set the stage for what has been a truly rewarding and productive partnership between the World Bank and Liberia.”

According to him, the results of that partnership are there for all to see, adding that the government turned the macro situation around that saw inflation decline from around 37% in 2019 to a single digit.

The outgoing World Bank Country Manager recalled when he arrived in Liberia, the exchange rate was around 200 Liberian Dollars to 1 US dollar. But he said the Liberian dollar has gained strength and is now at around 154 Liberian Dollars to 1 US dollar.

“All these achievements were possible because your government followed through your commitment to do the right things and turn the situation around,” he said.

Some of the steps he said the government took, such as wage harmonization, were not popular, but it did not waiver.

“Indeed, it was because of your government’s determination to do the right thing that we were also able to make a case with our Senior Management and our Board to double budgetary support to Liberia from $20 million per year to $40 million.”

Just last year, he said, the amount was even increased to $55 million, noting that this is because the government implemented some key reforms that attracted additional resources from one of the special windows.

“Liberia was the first country … in the whole World Bank to receive budgetary resources under that window.”

Beyond stabilizing the macroeconomic situation, he said they have over the past four years broken many new records in their partnership. He detailed that the Bank’s net commitments to national projects doubled from around $500 million to $1 billion.

“Today, the World Bank’s portfolio in Liberia stands at $1.4 billion. Within this portfolio, we have seen World Bank financing to agriculture triple from $25 million in 2018 to $80 million today.”

Together, he said they also put together significant amounts of financing in areas where the Bank was never involved before, such as in supporting the private sector through the Liberia Investment, Finance, and Trade Project, (LIFT) that was launched here.

For the first time in the history of Liberia, Dr. Nthara said the World Bank Board approved a total package of $44.6 million for the empowerment of women.

Similarly, in energy, he said for the first time in the whole World Bank, its Board committed to a long-term financing program under what is known as the Multi-Phase Approach.

Liberia’s Finance Minister Samuel D. Tweah, Jr., said Dr. Nthara exudes an air of reticence and quietude that belies the transformative force of nature that underpins the numerous successes for which the celebrate and honor were held for him.

“No country manager of the World Bank has left an imprint as outsized, as large and as indelible as those of Khwima, as we affectionately call him,” said Minister Tweah.

He added that the Cambridge-trained economist, 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 upon his arrival, Dr. Kwhima understood the fragility of Liberia’s transition from an UNMIL supported economy, dependent on inflows unlinked to domestic possibilities, toward the foundations of what President Weah described in his 2023 state of the nation address as ‘macroeconomic fundamentalism.’

He said Dr. Khwima 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.

“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,” said Minister Tweah.

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