World Bank releases $239 million for development projects

The World Bank Board has approved US $239 million in soft loans to help Madagascar reach its development goals, fight HIV/AIDS and stimulate economic growth.

Jocelyn Rafidinarivo, the World Bank spokesman in Madagascar, told PlusNews the Bank was happy with the country's progress since the political crisis in 2002.

"So far, we are pleased with Madagascar's progress and we will try to put into Malagasy minds also the importance of transparency and good governance," Rafidinarivo commented.

The country's economic performance since 2002, when it recorded negative economic growth of -12 percent, has "been good, so far".

"In 2003 growth was 9.4 percent, last year it was 6.3 percent, and we expect something around 6 percent this year," Rafidinarivo said.

The Bank's approval on Tuesday of a total of $239 million to support three projects was evidence of its commitment to assisting the country, he noted.

The largest disbursement - $129.8 million - was released for the Integrated Growth Poles programme, which aims to foster broad-based economic growth in three export-processing zones.

Tourism, manufacturing, agribusiness and mining will benefit from the rehabilitation and construction of critical infrastructure essential for sustained economic activity in these sectors.

"The proposed project is a central element of the Bank's strategy in Madagascar. It provides a platform for hard and soft infrastructure delivery in a coordinated and integrated manner, and supports the government's decentralisation initiative," said Ivan Rossignol, the World Bank task team leader of the project.

The first component aims to strengthen the business environment by providing proactive support to the medium-, small-scale and micro-enterprises sector, and also provide capacity building in tourism.

"The second component, supporting export-led growth in the Antananarivo-Antsirabe zone, will help develop ... an information communication technologies business park in Antananarivo [the capital] and provide technical assistance for industrial and agribusiness zones in Antananarivo and [neighbouring] Antsirabe," the Bank said.

Development in the tourism sector will include the creation of infrastructure to support about 2,000 international-level hotel rooms by 2010 in the northwest town of Nosy Be.

The Bank also released $80 million for the implementation of Madagascar's Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP), which aims to deepen reform and improve public expenditure management and fight corruption by aligning the national budget more closely with the goals of the PRSP.

The government's education for all programme is to be boosted by the "elimination of school fees and provision of learning materials to all primary students".

"It will also help expand access to safe drinking water, improve health outcomes and provide protection from shocks," the Bank added.

Benu Bidani, Bank task team leader on the $80 million PRSP project, said it would "contribute to Madagascar reaching its development goals: the reforms will strengthen the institutional infrastructure needed to improve the public sector's capacity to carry out its role more effectively".

"Improved delivery of public services is essential if the government is to reach its goals for poverty reduction and improve the quality of life in Madagascar," Bidani observed.

The Bank said Madagascar had maintained its focus on implementing the poverty reduction strategy with good results, "evident particularly in the implementation of the education for all and nutrition programmes, and improving the institutional environment for anticorruption".

A further $30 million was released for continuing support of the government's efforts to contain the spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and improve the quality of life of people living with HIV/AIDS.

"The Second Multisectoral STI/HIV/AIDS Prevention Project (MSPPII) will assist in Madagascar's response to the HIV/AIDS crisis by supporting health sector activities and the training of health sector workers; funding STI/HIV/AIDS prevention and caretaking sub-projects by civil society groups; supporting project management and monitoring and evaluation; and by supporting the harmonisation and coordination of donor activities," the Bank said.