Jan. 4, 2015


Ferid Belhaj

Lebanon

Ferid Belhaj

Director for the MENA Region, World Bank

BIO

Prior to assuming his current post in late 2012, Ferid Belhaj served as World Bank Director for the Pacific Region (2009-2012), Country Manager for Morocco (2002-2007), and as the World Bank’s Special Representative to the UN, New York. When Belhaj first joined the Bank in 1996, he worked for four years as Senior Legal Counsel, as well as serving as Bank lawyer for various countries. Prior to joining the Bank, Belhaj was Deputy Chief of Mission at the Tunisian Embassy in the US. He holds a Master’s Degree in Constitutional Law and Political Science, and a Master’s Degree in International Law, both from the Faculté de Droit de Paris II. He authored a third Master’s thesis on Arab-African development cooperation, and is a graduate of the Harvard Business School New Leadership Management Program.

How significant will the consequences of the World Bank's restructuring be on the Lebanon operation?

The World Bank's engagement in Lebanon is strong, deeply rooted in history, and multifaceted. We have channeled our assistance programs over the past years to help this country weather the immediate and constraining difficulties that burden its economic and social wellbeing, notably the impact of the Syrian crisis and the influx of refugees. However, we are also looking long term and working with the Lebanese government and people to build the pillars for structured and more sustainable economic development. The World Bank has put together a broad reform package to bring the best services to its member countries, clients, and partners. We have developed a new structure to help bridge some of the gaps we had in channeling the right and most relevant solutions to our partners. In the case of Lebanon, that new structure will help us deliver the services in real time. The changes will also allow us, as staff and management, to draw from all the Bank's resources, experience, and knowledge to provide a wide array of proven solutions to our Lebanese counterparts in all relevant sectors of their economy.

You currently have 21 active projects in energy, water, and sanitation. How are these progressing?

These ongoing projects in various areas and sectors are in response to particular needs at a particular juncture in Lebanon's relationship with the Bank. The needs have evolved and changed somewhat over the past couple of years. The Syrian crisis and ensuing refugee influx has had a dramatic impact on the country, exacerbating already delicate economic and social conditions. We are working hard to bring about solutions that will help Lebanon manage this present crisis whilst working on ambitious, structurally transformational projects which will help solve some of Lebanon's long lasting problems. Water is one sector that requires immediate attention, and needs a sustained effort. For example, we will be engaging in an ambitious water project in Lebanon, which will possibly be the largest project we have ever financed in the country. It involves water augmentation, mainly targeting the Beirut and Mt. Lebanon regions, where most of the population lives. It will bring water from the Awali River to the Bisri Dam. We are building a dam and a conveyor to bring potable water to Beirut. This project will secure fresh water for the majority of the Lebanese people. We would also like to be engaged in modernizing the management of the electricity sector. This is a long overdue reform that would help provide less costly and more secure energy to households and businesses, thus encouraging investment in the country, and giving a welcome boost to the economy.

Do you do anything to nurture the development of public-private partnership (PPP) schemes in Lebanon or is that out of your realm?

Engaging the private sector in vital sectors of Lebanon's economy is not just a matter for the World Bank or for international donors. The government itself feels that there is a crucial need for building stronger partnerships between the public and the private sectors through building the right legal framework. We are working with the Lebanese government on a number of projects that could trigger PPPs. For example, we are looking at a partial risk guarantee for electricity that is basically going to open the door for private sector engagement.

How successful do you feel you have been in your goal to strengthen fiscal and public management in Lebanon?

This is a country that hasn't had an approved budget since 2005. This year, a special effort is being made by the Minister of Finance to move beyond the difficulty of approving a formal budget, and we are encouraged by that. It is with the perspective of having a finance law adopted that we have been working over the last few years on strengthening the financial management capacity of the Ministry of Finance and its capacity to execute its budget and to rationalize its ways of financing government expenditures in a strategic and structurally sound manner.

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