Liberia's incoming finance minister worked for the World Bank for 17 years before being tapped by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf to be only the second female finance minister in Liberia, after the president herself. As she prepared to depart the World Bank for her new position, Antoinette Sayeh said combating corruption and winning international confidence will be among her priorities.
World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz praised Antoinette Sayeh at a farewell gathering in Washington. He said, although Liberia faces many challenges, the country was in good hands with the selection of Sayeh as finance minister.
"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," he said.
Wolfowitz described the work facing Sayeh as challenging, but said the World Bank would encourage governments and other institutions to give her a chance to succeed.
For her part, Liberia's incoming finance minister described the challenges facing Liberia as monumental, and she praised Liberia's new president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.
"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," she said. "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 knows 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."
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.
Sayeh says 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 says Liberia would need the support of the international community.