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Sierra Leone boosted by World Bank

Country's economy is still rebuilding after devastating civil war.

Sierra Leone's economy got a boost of more than $140 million in aid from the World Bank. Here a woman pays for goods at a main market in Sierra Leone's capital Freetown, March 12, 2008. (Katrina Manson/Reuters)

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone — The president of the World Bank swept through Sierra Leone pledging more than $140 million in aid and commending President Ernest Koroma on his efforts to curb corruption and enhance the business sector.

Robert Zoellick spent two days in Sierra Leone last week, assessing how the country is coping nearly eight years after its civil war and during a global recession.

“I see Sierra Leone as a country that has made substantial progress and wanted to show support for what president and parliament have achieved,” said Zoellick.

Sierra Leone, with a population of 6.4 million has a GDP per capita of $900, according to the CIA World Factbook. The country's economy is centered on agriculture, with almost half of its $2.1 billion GDP, 49 percent, coming from the agricultural sector.

Zoellick said Sierra Leone’s growth rate would fall between 5 and 6 percent in 2009, despite a slowdown in recent years.

“I think one of the positive stories for the country is that the rate of growth had gotten close to 10 percent a year — 8 percent,” he said. “One needs to recognize that countries such as Sierra Leone were suffering a food and fuel crisis before there was a financial crisis.”

In contrast, Sierra Leone's growth rate was 1.6 percent in 1990, according to the International Monetary Fund.

He heaped much praise on Koroma’s Anti-Corruption Commission, adding that these efforts are key in attracting local and foreign investment in the nation.

“The steps that have been taken with the anti-corruption [commission] and transparency in government are fundamental,” Zoellick said. “People will be fearful of investing if they feel its going to be lost in bribes.”

Zoellick met with members of the commission on the heels of a meeting where Koroma reprimanded cabinet ministers over allegations of corruption, such as taking bribes to provide passports to people from other African nations and the Middle East, according to local press reports.