As the price of oil falls, the discussion is heating up on what the impact will be for countries in the Arab World – especially online through the popular Arabic hashtag النفط_دون_50_دولار # translating to “oil below US$50 . The World Bank’s Chief Economist for the Middle East and North Africa, Shanta Devarajan, weighs in on the conversation.
This Sunday, Tunisians will go vote for the third time this year. The first vote, the Parliamentary election on October 26, saw the secular-leaning political party Nidaa Tounes gain the majority of votes in the country’s fist free and fair election since the new constitution. As no candidate received more than the required 50% of all votes, a runoff between the two leading candidates is scheduled for Sunday.
There is a remarkable connection between the public and private sectors in Tunisia, an intersection that I prefer to call “the Golden Boys”. It seems that Tunisia has not learned from its past mistakes; in fact, it risks going back to the old days when an elite benefited from state resources and got rich at other peoples’ expense. Everything points to the fact that Tunisia is once again providing fertile ground for corruption.
On International Anti-corruption Day 2014, one of the issues we at the Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative want to illustrate - is how recovering stolen assets helps fight corruption and end impunity.
On International Anti-Corruption Day, those involved in this effort, gather to express a shared commitment to take action, and to pledge - in the words of this year’s Twitter hashtag – to #breakthechain, against all forms of corruption - from petty bribes to grand corruption.
Here at the World Bank, we are hosting the ‘International Corruption Hunters Alliance’. The Duke of Cambridge, Prince William, spoke out strongly, highlighting the malignant effects of corruption as, ‘an abuse of power; the pursuit of money or influence at the expense of society as a whole’.
Unleashing the Employment Potential of the Middle East and North Africa
The majority of working-age people in MENA face a choice: they can be unemployed; or they can work in low-productivity, subsistence activities often in the informal economy. In particular, only 19% of the working age people in MENA have formal jobs.
The main reason is that the private sector does not create enough jobs. Between 42% and 72% of all jobs are in micro firms in MENA, but these micro firms do not grow. In Tunisia, the probability that a micro firm grows beyond 10 employees five years later is 3%.
Why has private sector job creation been so weak?
Governments in the Arab world have long subsidized the price of energy. This gives citizens throughout the region access to cheap petrol and diesel, and electricity supplied at below-market rates. But what has been the real impact of subsidies, and do they justify the huge financial burden they place on national budgets? This is a critical question in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), as the region represents a disproportionate share of the world’s energy subsidies.
Last week, I had the honor of receiving one of the World Bank's FY15 Big Data Innovation Challenge awards for a proposal developed with a team of researchers from within and outside of the Bank. To give you a snapshot of the project, let me recount a familiar story which you may not have thought about for a while. On December 17th, 2010, a Tunisian fruit vendor named Mohammed Bouazizi took a can of gasoline and set himself on fire in front of the local governor's office. Bouazizi’s actions resulted from having his fruit cart confiscated by local police and his frustration at not obtaining an audience with the local governor; his death sparked what we now know as the "Arab Spring." With no other means of voicing discontent and lack of trust, citizens can embrace extreme forms of protest against institutions and governments that quickly escalate.
If you think the summers in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region are hot—think again. Summers are likely to become much warmer. Global temperatures are rising; the question now is by how much and what the impact of them will be. People in the region already face very high summer temperatures—and these could get worse. Compared to the rest of the world, the MENA region will suffer disproportionally from extreme heat.
As Tunisia approaches the country’s Presidential elections on November 23, the ‘Arab Spring’ birthplace has a lot to be proud of, having safely wrapped up its first Parliamentary elections since the new constitution was ratified. However, election observers indicate that, as expected, the youth, the revolution’s driving force, remain reluctant to cast their vote.
Hopes are high for Tunisia’s economy to improve after Tunisians voted for a new parliament in October. Pre-election polls consistently highlighted that the economy was the foremost preoccupation of Tunisians. Yet, political debates in the run up to the elections largely ignored longstanding economic problems.
Absurdly complex regulations divide the Tunisian economy between a protected “onshore” sector that sells to Tunisian consumers and a competitive “offshore” sector that exports, mostly to Europe. "It's pointless trying to understand the logic of it - there is no logic," says Belhassen Gherab, head of Aramys, one of Tunisia's largest textile and clothing groups. He gives an example: "Suppose I have a machine that breaks down because one small circuit board needs replacing. If I'm an offshore company, I call up DHL and have it delivered within 24 hours. If I'm an onshore business, I'll have to bring it in through customs. I may be waiting 30 days, with my entire production halted, just for that one circuit board."