$50m for Fiji infrastructure: World Bank
World Bank and ADB re-engage Fiji with $50 million US dollar infrastructure grant.
Fiji stands to receive 50 million US dollars to improve infrastructure in the country as part of its re-engagement with international donor partners.
The World Bank working in partnership with the Asian Development Bank will be prioritising the funding for 2015 after meetings last week with Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama and Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum.
World Bank Country Director, Franz-Drees Gross told Koroi Hawkins that this comes after a year of technical re-engagement with Fiji to get a sense of government's direction.
FRANZ-DREES GROSS: They seem to have three broad areas of priority. The first is poverty alleviation in a very general sense. So if you look at the overall picture in Fiji, they're currently assessing the latest poverty assessment from 2013, but the basic trend between 2003 and 2009 was that urban poverty declined and rural poverty remained very stubborn and high. So poverty increasingly has a rural face in Fiji, the government knows that and they're interested in a couple of ways we can help that. One is in agriculture, as you know, the sugar industry has been in a state of decline for some time, so the question arises: are there opportunities to develop alternative livelihoods? Y'know, are there value chains you could develop outside the sugar industry, and maybe even in the sugar industry are there parts of the sector that we could help put on a more sustainable footing. Another one might be disaster resilience, as you know, it's often the poor that are hit hardest by natural disasters; how can we increase Fiji's resilience to natural disasters? An area we've also been working in for a couple of years which is, Fiji's one of the few countries in the Pacific which actually has social protection programmes. So basically financial transfers to poorer households; can we help them target them better to make sure that the benefit level is right, that the right people are getting the right level of support? Another area of priority, very clearly, was infrastructure. So we'll be providing a loan of 50 million dollars we'll be financing together with the Asian Development Bank and try to basically help the government address the backlog in road maintenance that's basically been accumulated over the last five or six years when Fiji had less resources. Another big priority area for the government is the energy sector, a lot of the energy generation is from fossil fuels which comes at a high price for Fiji. So any kind of renewable energy investments that you can mobilise that bring down the generation costs are very important. So we'll be looking at the energy sector very closely together with our private sector arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC). And the third broad area the government was interested in was building the architecture for a modern state. So we know the government is looking very hard at how to make the civil service more responsive to citizens and they've asked us for advice on how to do that -- how to build a more meritocratic civil service and one that has very clear outputs that generates benefits that the taxpayers and consumers can see. The government is also very interested in reforming state-owned enterprises. We're still trying to define what role there may be for us alongside others in that area in ports, or airports, or the electricity authority. But those are the three broad areas that the government has mentioned to us as priorities.
KOROI HAWKINS: And how does Fiji compare on the World Bank's -- you have a variety of reports on the region -- how does it compare in terms of exposition compared to other Pacific Island countries in addressing these sort of issues?
FG: You know, Fiji is richer than the average in the Pacific and it also tends to be quite a sophisticated government that is actually one of the few countries in the Pacific at all that has any poverty targetted transfer programmes, for example. It has relatively high levels of coverage for basic public services and also relatively high levels of coverage for education and health services, so all that's for the good. I think where they need help is sort of improving the quality of the education results and the health results, and further improving the quality of infrastructure so they can grow their tourism sector. But it's already, certainly by Pacific standards and comparisons, quite a sophisticated economy and quite diversified.
KH: You're going into Fiji, is this signifying anything new? Are there other Pacific islands that you are going to engage more directly with?
FG: Actually we've had quite a scale up in the Pacific over the last five years, so just to give you an idea; just since 2009 we've basically doubled our level of commitments to the region, that's everywhere. As you know there are 12 Pacific Island states that are members of the World Bank Group and if you go back 5 or 6 years we were essentially working mostly in Samoa, Tonga, PNG and Timor-Leste, but very little in the smaller island states. So now we work in all Pacific island countries that are member states. We do a lot of work on telecoms -- we've just connected Tonga to Fiji in fact with the fibre-optic marine cable, and we're thinking of doing the same thing between Palau, FSM and Guam. We also do a lot of investment in airports and terrestrial transport, we're now working on fisheries to try to get the Pacific Island countries, specifically the nine members of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement a better share of the fisheries catch in the region, we're also working on disaster preparedness, both to increase the resilience of infrastructure in the Pacific, but also to rebuild once disaster has struck, so I think we're the single largest financier of Tonga's reconstruction from the Ha'apai cyclone. So those are the broad areas, we work pretty much everywhere in the Pacific and as I said, we've doubled our programme in the last five years. But Fiji has been something of a doughnut hole for us in the regional programme. I think we look forward to a very productive partnership with Fiji, I think there's a lot of eagerness from the government to re-engage with us, we're certainly eager to provide them with good service and I think they're a sophisticated country and I think we can do a lot of very good things.
Fiji has not accessed funding from the World Bank Group since the 1990's, Mr Gross said this was for a variety of reasons but would not elaborate.
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