Lusaka, Monday, September 24, 2018: A World Bank team led by the Country Manager for Zambia and Special Representative to COMESA, Ms. Ina-Marlene Ruthenberg was in COMESA Monday, September 24, 2018 to discuss the status of ongoing and upcoming World Bank funded regional integration programmes.

Secretary General of COMESA, Chileshe Kapwepwe received the WB team that included Senior Operation Officers Mr. Deo Ndikumana and Ms. Hellen Mbao.

During the discussions on the ongoing programmes, it emerged that quite a number of projects were experiencing implementation challenges which have slowed down progress. As a result, the absorption of funds provided by the Bank to the COMESA Member States is currently low. This has compelled the Bank to classify some of the programmes as “under-performing projects”.

Specifically, lengthy procurements for infrastructure projects and policy reforms were cited as the main problems experienced in the implementation of World Bank funded projects.

“Not more that 15% of a $10 billion portfolio for Africa region available under the World Bank International Development Assistance, has been disbursed,” Senior Operations Officer Mr. Deo Ndikumana informed the meeting.

Joint Solution

The COMESA Secretary General assured the WB that COMESA will work with the WB Special representative to discuss the matter further, in consultation with the affected Member States and come up with a joint solution. Among the key highlights in the discussions was the need to consider establishing Special Purpose Vehicles to assist Member States that face capacity challenges in implementing large projects such as those on infrastructure.

Noting that the WB strategy on regional integration was country driven, the parties observed the need for COMESA to engage its Member States at the national level through the ministries of finance. This is to ensure that regional programmes are integrated in their World Bank Country/National Strategy Papers/Plans for such programmes to benefit from the Banks support.

In this regard, COMESA will engage Ministers of Finance in a bid to ensure the national planning process incorporates regional integration programmes.

The Tripartite

On the COMESA - EAC and SADC Tripartite Free Trade Area negotiations, which the World Bank supports, the meeting acknowledged the existence of overlaps in the activities of each organization. The Secretary General, who is the current Chair of the Tripartite Task Force, said she will engage with her counterparts to ensure harmonization and complementarity in project implementation. A meeting of the three CEOs has already been planned and this matter will be discussed, and solution communicated to the WB.

On regular interaction and information, the SG stressed the importance of information sharing between stakeholders involved in regional integration programmes especially in raising the red flag where things were not going well in order to make timely interventions. The parties agreed to hold quarterly consultative meetings where key issues could be discussed, and joint solutions agreed on.

They reaffirmed their commitment to continue working together and strengthening the current partnerships. To this effect, the two are jointly preparing to host the Regional Forum on Climate Risks and Food Security Resilience, next month in Lusaka, Zambia. The Forum will bring together high-level policy makers and technocrats in the fields of climate change, agriculture, food security and resilience building.

The Bank will use the Forum to disseminate the results of work it has been doing in Member States. To COMESA, it is an opportunity to define new agriculture development programme in response to the pressing needs and challenges faced by Member States individually and collectively.