The release of the joint statement “From Billions to Trillions: Transforming Development Finance” at the World Bank-IMF Spring Meetings is one of the most satisfying moments during my two-year tenure as Managing Director and World Bank Group CFO.
My one regret is that the title should have been Billions for Trillions.
Over the last 20 years, economic growth has helped to lift almost a billion people out of extreme poverty. But 1 billion people are still extremely poor. 1.1 billion live without electricity and 2.5 billion people without access to sanitation. For them, growth has not been inclusive enough.
In addition, growth has come at the expense of the environment. While environmental degradation affects everyone, the poor are more vulnerable to violent weather, floods, and a changing climate.
Development experts, policymakers, and institutions like the World Bank have learned a major lesson: If we want to succeed in ending poverty, growth needs to be inclusive and sustainable.
Lesson 1: Facilitate trade in goods and services
Despite falling tariffs, there is still a large gap between the price of the exported good and the price paid by the importer, largely arising from high costs of moving goods, especially in South and Central Asia. On a percentage basis, the potential gains to trade facilitation in South and Central Asia, at 8 percent of GDP, are almost twice as large as the global average. High trade costs have contributed to South Asia being the least integrated region in the world.
FIGURE 1: Intra-regional trade share (percent of total trade), 2012
In the ASEAN region, most countries have established either Trade Information Portals or Single Windows that have enhanced trade facilitation, reduced trade costs and enhanced intra-regional trade. A Trade Information Portal allows traders to electronically access all the documents they need to obtain approvals from the government. A Single Window (a system that enables international traders to submit regulatory documents at a single location and/or single entity) allows for the electronic submission of such documents. These single windows, using international open communication standards, facilitate trade both within the region and with other countries using similar standards.
In services, one barrier to trade involves the movement of skilled workers, accountants, engineers and consultants who may move from one country to another on a temporary basis. The Southern Common Market (Mercosur)’s Residence Agreement allows workers to reside and work for up to two years in a host country. This residence permit can be made permanent if the worker proves that they can support themselves and their family.
Turkey has radically transformed its land title registration system, and decreased the turnaround time for recording property transactions to just two hours.
I remember my first visit to the agency in 2007. The agency is heavily staffed (15,000), has more than 100 branches and its main headquarters had once almost fallen apart. In my first visit, the head of the agency gave me a nice surprise: he showed me a land book that dated back to the 18th century, and included a record of my great-great-grandfather’s land title in Palestine.
The head of the agency had great plans to transform the agency by improving land records, introducing computerization and integrating the system into the overall e-government program, and setting a time limit of one day to register land transactions. Based on that an ambitious reform agenda, we worked together over a few months’ ‘time to prepare the cadastre modernization project. The Bank partly financed this reform through a $100 million loan, while the Turkish government funded the rest of the program. The project started in 2007, and I moved on to other positions later that year.
This time I had a second surprise. The institution is completely transformed. The main office has been completely and beautifully renovated. It now resembles any other government office in the US or Europe. The agency presented its achievements. It was amazing to see what had been accomplished in 8 years. The government is about to complete the renovation of the cadastre and the computerization of all land records, including historical records from Ottoman times. Service delivery has improved dramatically, with property transactions now being registered within 2 hours. They also integrated cadastre registration into the overall e-government program, which allows any Turkish citizen to access the record of their land/property online. Above all, customer satisfaction has reached 97% — something unheard of for land agencies, often known to be among the most corrupt agencies in many countries.
Reflecting negative policy rates in several central banks in Europe, nominal yields on some bonds of highly-rated European governments have also dropped below zero. Explanations for the phenomenon of negative yields include very low inflation, further “flight to safety” toward fixed income assets in Europe’s core, and—perhaps the main proximate cause—the increased scarcity of highly-rated sovereign bonds eligible for the European Central Bank’s asset purchase program.
Gold prices fell for a six consecutive day on Monday as the U.S. dollar hit a 3-month high against a basket of major currencies amid prospect for higher U.S. interest rates. The price of the bullion dropped as much as 5.5 percent to a 5-year low of $1,072.35 an ounce in early trading, but is currently trading at $1,105 an ounce, down 2.5 percent.
There is a growing consensus that a new approach is needed to meet the financial needs of developing countries to ensure sustainable, inclusive and resilient growth paths. We all know that Official Development Assistance (ODA) finance is limited and cannot address the massive investment needs of countries. In addition to increased domestic resource mobilization, the more effective engagement of a variety of players, especially from private sector, NGOs, and philanthropic organizations, will be key to close the finance gap.
Recently I was invited to speak at Public Investment Management (PIM): Best Practices Workshop hosted in Amman, Jordan by the World Bank Group’s regional Governance team, led by Emmanuel Cuvillier. My job there was to show the linkages between public investment planning (PIP) and PPPs. As I prepped for my speaking engagement, I realized how little progress we, the global PPP community, have made in developing an integrated approach for undertaking investment projects.
One obvious reason for this is that PIMs are not fully integrated in the planning functions by most governments. And PPP projects that follow privatization programs have adopted many of the habits of the privatization programs — for example, only work on a list of selected entities, and establish an ad-hoc commission/committee tasked to undertake evaluation and tendering — with the ultimate aim of obtaining private investment.
But there’s an important difference in the case of PPPs. We are not selling assets, we are creating assets. The project does not end when the public and private parties sign the contract, as is the case in privatization; in fact; the project begins at that point, and has to be monitored over many years for performance and delivery. Typically, the project reverts back to the public sector at the end of the PPP agreement term. And finally, unlike the case with privatization, the public sector almost always commits to various kinds of fiscal commitments (real or contingent) in PPPs.
If you’ve ever seen a map of Africa’s undersea cables, chances are it was made by Steve Song. He just released the July 2015 update of the map and I love this GIF of the map’s history since 2000. Bonus question: do you know which of the cables was supported by the World Bank? This is literally the “physics of the internet”