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JARAMILLO: After managing coronavirus, Kenya should trim debts

by biasharadigest

Carlos F Jaramillo, World Bank country director for Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia and Uganda, leaves for new role in Latin America. He spoke with Julians Amboko about his tenure.

What is your greatest accomplishment as World Bank country director for Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia and Uganda?

If I have to choose one, it has to be the Covid-19 response over the past three months. This has been a surprising and significant shock and I am proud of how quickly we were able to assemble a team from our health side to assist in the response and put together resources to ensure that the financing response across the region is not a challenge. In a country like Kenya, the $1 billion loan is the largest debt facility that the World Bank has ever extended to the government.

 

What is your biggest regret?

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The most disappointing thing is having to leave in the middle of this Covid-19 setback. So many people are being adversely affected and I would have preferred to see the region through this crisis. That said, I leave with complete confidence that the World Bank is committed to see the region through this crisis.

 

What issues do you think should inform the region’s policy priorities going forward?

Each country has its own unique broad agenda. I think, however, that what will be most needed in the next year or two as economies recover is the issue of strengthening SMEs and securing jobs, particularly as more young people enter the labour market.

The second thing is on the pandemic has shown the importance of digital solutions, which are now allowing many to work remotely, children to learn through electronic platforms and patients to access healthcare through tele-medicine. This shows the importance of addressing the digital divide, which is seeing many left behind.

 

Under your leadership the World Bank has maintained that Kenya’s debt level is stable, even as the International Monetary Fund downgraded the country’s debt distress risk profile. What is your take on the issue of debt?

Kenya, like many other African economies, came into the Covid-19 pandemic with high levels of debt. I am very glad that the National Treasury has announced a policy where going forward it will be relying mainly on concessional financing.

In the short-run Kenya should focus on managing the Covid-19 crisis but as soon as the recovery is underway then it should resume focus on the debt reduction plan. The good thing is that Kenya still has access to concessional financing.

From the International Development Association window, Kenya has an allocation of about $1 billion per annum for the next three years and this is fully concessional funding.

 

What is your legacy as far as pushing for greater transparency and accountability in use of funds across the region?

We’ve pushed hard during my tenure to help strengthen transparency and internal control systems such as audits to prevent the misuse of funding.

I am proud that with some of our help over the past year, the Kenya government has put together a website where it is now publishing contracts with all information about which firm was awarded a specific tender, who are the owners of that company, who in the government awarded that tender and who were the members of that award panel.

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