World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz said even though he was sad that Antoinette Sayeh was leaving the Bank after 17 years of good work, he described the occasion as a celebration for Liberia for electing Africa’s first female president. Mr. Wolfowitz talked about the many challenges facing Liberia, but said the country was in good hands with the selection of Ms. Sayeh as finance minister whom he described as a gutsy lady.
"Liberia is blessed, as some other countries are blessed, to have an extraordinary World Bank staffer who is prepared to give up all the comforts of Washington life – all the great restaurants, all the great colleagues and offices, all the good athletic facilities, lights, running water, to go and serve her country."
Wolfowitz described the work facing Ms. Sayeh as challenging but said the World Bank is committed and would encourage governments and other institutions to give her a chance to succeed.
For her part, Liberia’s in-coming finance minister said she was humbled by the gesture, which she said was Wolfowitz’s further commitment to Africa. Ms. Sayeh described the challenges facing Liberia as monumental.
"It’s a broken country. It’s broken in all sorts of ways. The infrastructure is just the physical destruction, but values, what people aspire to, what young kids grow wanting to be, all of that has changed for the worse. And those are the harder things to fix. But we have an occasion in a very strong leader who herself has gone through all sorts of experiences; has been prosecuted and know what it is to suffer. And so she very much wants to do the right things for Liberia, and I’m honored that she’s asked me to join her team to help."
Ms. Sayeh is among several other former World Bank officials who have chosen to serve their respective countries, including Nigeria’s finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Afghanistan’s Ashraf Ghani. They all are credited for turning their countries’ economies around. Ms. Sayeh said her priorities are getting Liberia’s financial house in order, restoring the country’s credibility with the international community, and fighting corruption head on, which she noted has become a way of life in Liberia. She said Liberia would need the support of the international community.