Updated: March 3, 2021
The exchange starts from minute 4.
MR. THEIS: Great. I’m going to go front row right here please, with the white shirt. If you can wait for the microphone to get to you.
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MR. ATEBA: My name is Simon Ateba from Today News Africa here in Washington, D.C. I just finished speaking with some African leaders and activists and they seem to repeat the same things that there are three issues that Africa is really concerned about.
The first thing is climate change and how it’s, you know, bringing so many Africans below poverty level. And the second one is digital economy and how it can lift so many Africans, millions of Africans out of poverty. And the last one is capital flow especially from China.
Mr. President, I know you are on your third day at work but under your leadership, how do you think at the World Bank will partner with African counties to tackle the first two issues? Climate change and the digital economy?
And how concerned are you about capital flows from China especially because the loans are given to unaccountable corrupt government and they will take forever and ever and ever to repay. Thank you.
MR. MALPASS: Thank you very much. Well, these are huge challenges, ones that the World Bank is grappling with and that I want to take on.
As we think about climate change, one thing to take note of is that it has its biggest effect often on the poorest people, so that adds to the challenge. As you know, the Bank has goals under the climate change action plan—ones that I think are achievable in terms of addressing some of the effects of climate change. And that follows from mitigation types of lending and also adaptation types of lending. Other innovative products that the Bank can be involved in.
As far as the digital economy, these are critically important for people to move fast — to move forward quickly in terms of their economic development.
So as in my opening remarks I was talking about poverty. This is a major part of the World Bank’s vision and mission is poverty reduction. It can be addressed, a big chunk of it, with markets that actually operate.
So in the digital economy, the World Bank has programs that are trying to take some of the knowledge learned in East Africa to the West Africa side and other countries. So one of the things that I think can be done is look at successful stories and see if you can make them work elsewhere.
To your third point, as far as China, and as far as the buildup of debt, let me take a second – a few moments on that. Debt is something that helps economies grow, but if it’s not done in a transparent way, with good outcome from the build-up of debt, then you end up having it be a drag on economies. And history is full of those situations where too much debt dragged down economies. So what we are trying to do — and the World Bank is a key part of the Debt Transparency Project and the collection of data that has been encouraged by the G20 — and so this is a project that we are working hard on.
I’ll be reporting to the G20 on the progress during our meetings coming up this week, and the keys are to have transparent disclosure of the debt as it is being created, and also then have the focus be on good outcomes in terms of quality projects. This is critical for poor countries as they try to move forward to have the projects associated with good quality programs and full disclosure of the debt.
So I think this is an area that bilateral donors can do much better on and it is something that the world can press on and say, look, this is the way to help countries get ahead in terms of their growth. So it is something the World Bank will be working hard on and it is very important to those countries, to many countries. I’ve got a statistic here: 17 African countries are already at high risk of debt distress, and that number is just growing as the new contracts come in and aren’t sufficiently transparent.