Interview: World Bank Country Director for the Maghreb, Marie Francoise Marie-Nelly - World Bank Priorities, Strategy and Activities for the Maghreb
Financial Management Analyst
Laila MOUDEN: Marie-Francoise Marie-Nelly, congratulations on your new post as the World Bank Country Director of the Maghreb Country Department. How does it feel to join the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region?
Marie Francoise Marie-Nelly: This is an important moment to be in the MENA region and I am very excited. As you are aware, there are many issues deeply relevant to the world today which this region is at the core of, such as the crisis of refugees fleeing their homes to other fragile countries in the region and Europe, the post-Arab Spring recovery, and the renewal of the social contract in countries such as Tunisia which is still facing challenges to complete its political and economic transition. In addition, there are the increasing number of radicalized groups which bring violence and fragility, and finally the wide-spread youth unemployment issue, as well as exclusion, which could become a social implosion if unattended. At the same time, with the recent political agreement in Libya, there is hope that this country can regain some stability and that the World Bank Group (WBG), in partnership with others, can play a role in helping to rebuild key state institutions and restore physical infrastructure. Due to such an unprecedented complexity of issues, the WBG is being challenged to think of new ways in shaping its response. The new MENA strategy offers a unique opportunity to change the way we are doing business and to design innovative solutions, including in the way we interact with various stakeholders. For example, in our Maghreb countries starting with Tunisia, we are now establishing an interactive youth forum to seek young people’s inputs and shape solutions for them. So, although the region is facing a diversity of challenges, it also offers unique potential for development. Indeed, there are many opportunities for the WBG to continue to make a difference. This makes my job very rewarding.
LM: In your new post, how would you develop and advance the strategic partnerships with the Maghreb countries, while keeping in line with the World Bank Group’s MENA regional strategy?
Overall, the new MENA strategy is well aligned with the priorities of the Maghreb countries in that all countries are working to define a new relationship with their citizens. Obviously, the process varies from country to country, but helping to forge a new social contract between the government and the citizens is central to what we are doing in these countries. In Libya, where a political accord was recently reached, we are launching an initiative on economic recovery as well as prioritizing and sequencing actions toward fostering social stability. The idea is to help Libyan opinion leaders and influencers to prepare for the post-conflict period by helping to shape a consensus on a common diagnosis, priorities, and options for fast-tracking economic recovery and social stability in the aftermath of the conflict. The challenge will be to focus on the immediate post-conflict needs, while starting to develop a vision for the long term. In Tunisia, the challenge is to support the country’s effort to get back on an economic recovery path while ensuring that opportunities are created for those left behind, notably youth, women and the most vulnerable in lagging socio-economic regions. We are also deepening our partnership with Algeria, focusing on both short- to medium-term issues such as improving the business environment, revitalizing the agriculture sector and assessing social protection mechanisms. In addition, we are undertaking a long-term visioning exercise with a view to define ways to move the country away from large publicfunding to a more efficient market economy. In designing our programs, we ensure that our activities do not perpetuate the old social contract model, but rather promote a new dynamic where the citizens and local actors play an active role in shaping the solutions and holding their governments accountable. For example, in Tunisia, we are supporting a local government program, which is designed to empower communities and elected local authorities.
LM: What do you think are the key governance challenges and opportunities for the Maghreb countries given the diversity of the countries?
MFMN: Again, while there are some aspects specific to countries, there are some common challenges as well, such as: (i) how to ensure that institutions are strong and accountable; (ii) how to ensure that public resources are allocated and managed transparently with a focus on results, (iii) how to ensure that there is a level-playing field and that people can openly access economic opportunities; and (iv) how to ensure that the citizens are engaged and provide checks and balances so that services are delivered in a fair, efficient and timely manner. I am pleased that our governance team has helped us develop a comprehensive approach, which will allow our operational teams to look at both the big picture and at specific sectoral issues. Moreover, defining a clear road map will enable us to seize opportunities when they occur, while working on strengthening the institutions that underpin a strong governance system. This effort usually requires a lot of time and is therefore a long-term agenda. While the context is often perceived as challenging, there are also a number of opportunities. First of all, governments increasingly realize that they need to allow citizens to access information, and efforts are being made to review the legal framework for this to happen. For example, in Tunisia, budget information is now made available on line through the platform “Mizaniyatouna” (Our budget) with a great level of detail. The question is how can we support this development to make sure that this new transparency model is used to result in greater public accountability? Both Morocco and Tunisia have adopted access to information laws. This new environment provides greater opportunities for citizens to challenge the decisions made by their governments. Secondly, all countries are complex and understanding the quickly evolving contexts of our countries in the Maghreb is key to our effectiveness as an institution. It is imperative that we broaden the scope of our due diligence work and understand the political economy of our activities. This will help us understand who is likely to benefit, who is likely to resist reform efforts, as well as how we can support locally-owned solutions which may build on international best practice principles while tailoring them to diverse local realities. Our role in the Maghreb can help support a new social contract. An in-depth contextual knowledge is key to ensuring that we play a positive role in building local solutions aimed at achieving the WBG’s twin goals of ending poverty and promoting shared prosperity. Thirdly, and related to this, the new openness in many of our client countries means that we are now able to engage a broader array of stakeholders which will provide us with a broader basis of information and knowledge on which to build our support. We can use this opportunity to liaise candidly about the root causes of persistent problems and realistic solutions which will require the engagement of multiple actors and coalitions. So, while it is true that the challenges are considerable, new opportunities are also being presented and it is our responsibility to seize these and challenge ourselves to be problem solvers that support locally-facilitated solutions among a wide array of actors.
LM: You joined the Maghreb department after spending years in the Africa region. Do you see opportunities for cross-fertilization between the two regions, and in the Maghreb countries in particular?
MFMN: It is interesting to note that the World Bank has divided the continent into two parts; yet I see that the Maghreb and the Sub-Saharan countries have really understood the potential and the opportunities for cross-fertilization. Obviously there are countries more active than others in this regard. Morocco, for instance, has made this partnership with Sub-Saharan Africa a government priority which is already percolating at all levels. For example, the recent National Conference of Chartered Accountants in Marrakech was opened to the entire continent. This has generated very rich discussions and opportunities for greater collaboration. A number of companies from the Maghreb have also successfully invested in sub-Saharan African countries. There are win-win opportunities which can build on the respective comparative advantages of the countries. Agriculture forms the basis for any industrialization and the continent has a lot of potential. So, this is an area where the two regions can develop greater synergy and complementarity in the use of technology, such as the use of appropriate fertilizers, climate resistant seeds, and so on. At the same time, there is a need to improve the enabling environment to facilitate such cooperation. For example, connectivity needs to be improved significantly: shipping lines do not operate efficiently along the coast and air transportation connections need to be developed further.
LM: The World Bank Group deals with a wide range of issues. Is there one issue in particular that you feel strongly about?
MFMN: I feel strongly about a lot of issues as I have been fortunate enough to work in many countries which are faced with a variety of unique challenges. However, one of the issues which I have found to be common and which keeps me up at night is the youth challenge. How can we find a new approach to mobilize all actors to create opportunities, training, entrepreneurship, and participation in community work and in key public decisions? There are many organizations which are providing interesting solutions to the issue of youth unemployment. Another fundamental lever to pull would be the cross fertilization between institutions of education and institutions of work and then to scale up successful pilots. In this sense, there must be a deeper acceptance by educational institutions of the changing nature of the working world, and their curricula and structures should reflect this. The youth have a voice in this and should be listened to in shaping solutions for them.
Mrs. Marie-Françoise Marie-Nelly, the new Country Director for the Maghreb countries and Malta, was invited to join the Moroccan Professional Accounting Organization (PAO) annual event as a panelist for the session on “Growth and Competitiveness – Developing Synergies in Africa”. Key issues for discussion included doing business in Africa, opportunities for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), and the changing role of the accountant in this process, as well as using Morocco as a good sample and platform for greater cooperation and synergy between African economies. Mrs. Marie-Nelly focused on the potential and the opportunities for south-south cooperation in sectors such as agriculture industrialization, technology, and air connectivity. The outcomes of the event were broadly to enlarge the accountant role from certification of financial information to strategic information, which is of interest to investors. It will consolidate its role as the expert with essential professional reference in the service of investment and decision-making.
 The old social contract refers to the post-independence model by which the State provided jobs, free health and education, and subsidized food and fuel and expected the citizens to keep their voices low, the so called “authoritarian bargain”.
 For Morocco, the adoption of the access to information law has not yet received Parliamentary approval.