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For Open Governments, Does Virtue Merely Attract Punishment?

Sina Odugbemi's picture

A while back, a friend and colleague here at the World Bank told me of an experience that bothered him. He had been talking to a minister in an African country where the government had been making strenuous efforts to become more open and transparent. It had passed a Freedom of Information law, made quantities of government information available, liberalized the media sector, thus creating a vibrant, even raucous public sphere…all the things people like me urge developing country governments to do. In a couple of neighboring countries, said the minister, the governments had gone in the opposite direction. They had restricted access to official information, clamped down on the press, and were generally thuggish towards the media, civil society activists and so on.

 What the minister asked my colleague is roughly this:
 

‘Can you guess which government is being painted as corrupt and incompetent by local and international NGOs and the local and international media? Ours!’

When do Transparency and Accountability Initiatives have impact?

Duncan Green's picture

So having berated ODI about opening up access to its recent issue of the Development Policy Review on Transparency and Accountability Initiatives (TAIs), I really ought to review the overview piece by John Gaventa and Rosemary McGee, which they’ve made freely available until December.

The essay is well worth reading. It unpicks the fuzzy concept of TAIs and then looks at the evidence for what works and when. First a useful typology of TAIs:

‘Service delivery is perhaps the field in which TAIs have been longest applied, including Expenditure Tracking Surveys, citizen report cards, score cards, community monitoring and social audits.

By the late 1990s, moves to improve public finance management the world over led to the development of budget accountability and transparency as a sector in its own right…. An array of citizen-led budget TAIs has developed, including participatory budgeting; sector-specific budget monitoring (for example, gender budgeting, children’s budgets); public-expenditure monitoring through social audits, participatory audits and tracking surveys; and advocacy for budget transparency (for example, the International Budget Partnership (IBP)’s Open Budget Index). Many of these initiatives focus ‘downstream’ on how public funds are spent; less work focuses on T and A in revenue-generation, although this is growing with recent work on tax justice.

Ups and Downs in the Struggle for Accountability – Four New Real Time Studies

Duncan Green's picture

OK, we’ve had real time evaluations, we’ve done transparency and accountability initiatives, so why not combine the two? The thoroughly brilliant International Budget Partnership is doing just that, teaming up with academic researchers to follow in real time the ups and downs of four TAIs in Mexico, Brazil, South Africa and Tanzania. Read the case study summaries (only four pages each, with full versions if you want to go deeper), if you can, but below I’ll copy most of the overview blog by IBP research manager Albert van Zyl.

By following the work rather than tidying it all up with a neat but deceitful retrospective evaluation, they record the true messiness of building social contracts between citizens and states: the ups and downs, the almost-giving-up-and-then-winning, the crucial roles of individuals, the importance of scandals and serendipity.

Tussling with Masters of the Game

Sina Odugbemi's picture

In several developing countries, military generals remain a big factor in politics. They may rule directly. They may rule thinly disguised as civilians. Or they may constitute the class of players --sometimes known as the Deep State -- able to affect what passes for democratic politics in the specific country should a vital interest of theirs be threatened. In such political communities, while the international community may want ‘free and fair’ elections (right now!), and good, accountable governance, structural factors impose their own realities; those factors define the jagged boundaries of the possible.

Because military generals control the ultimate instruments of coercive violence in a political community, it is tempting, and all too common, to think about them as rough beasts invading our perfumed salons. What we often forget is that in societies seeking to transition to modernity, and attempting the grounding of liberal constitutional democracy, the process often boils down to a tussle for power between civilian politicians and politicians in military uniform. In addition, it is wrong, in my view, to believe that military generals only ever want direct military or authoritarian rule. Sometimes, as happened in my own country, Nigeria, they can decide as a class that constitutional democracy is in their broad interest, but they want it to happen on their terms, in ways that protect their liberties, their fortunes and those of their friends, families and partners.

What's the Link between Feminist Movements and Violence Against Women?

Duncan Green's picture

There’s a fascinating, brilliant and I think, very significant, piece on the role of feminism in driving action on violence against women in the latest issue of Gender and Development (ungated versions on Oxfam policy and practice website, please note).

Authors Laurel Weldon and Mala Htun have painstakingly constructed the mother of all databases, covering 70 countries over four decades (1975 to 2005). It includes various kinds of state action (legal and administrative reforms, protection and prevention, training for officials), and a number of other relevant factors, such as the presence of women legislators, GDP per capita, the nature of the political regime etc.

This allows them both to chart steady improvements in VaW policy (see maps at bottom of this piece) and to use stats techniques to try and identify those factors most closely correlated with state action. Here’s what they find:

“Countries with the strongest feminist movements tend, other things being equal, to have more comprehensive policies on violence against women than those with weaker or non-existent movements. This plays a more important role than left-wing parties, numbers of women legislators, or even national wealth.

Quote of the Week: Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva

Sina Odugbemi's picture

“When talking with young leaders in Brazil and elsewhere, I like to tell them this: Even when you are discouraged with everything and everyone, don’t give up on politics. Participate! If you do not find in others the politician you seek, you may find him or her in yourself.”

- Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. A Brazilian politican who served as president of Brazil from 2003 to 2011.
 

Campaigning on Hot v Cold Issues – What’s the Difference?

Duncan Green's picture

I recently began an interesting conversation with our new campaigns and policy czar, Ben Phillips, who then asked me to pick the FP2P collective brain-hive for further ideas. Here goes.

The issue is ‘cold’ v ‘hot’ campaigning. Over the next couple of years, we will be doing a lot of campaigning on climate change and inequality. Inequality is flavour of the month, with an avalanche of policy papers, shifting institutional positions at the IMF etc highlighting its negative impacts on growth, wellbeing, poverty reduction, and just about everything else. That makes for a ‘hot campaign’, pushing on (slightly more) open doors on tax, social protection etc.

In contrast, climate change is (paradoxically) a pretty cold campaign. Emissions continue to rise, as do global temperatures and the unpredictability of the weather, but you wouldn’t think so in terms of political agendas or press coverage (see graph). The UN process, focus of huge attention over the last 15 years, is becalmed. Politicians make occasional reference to ‘green growth’, but that is becoming as vacuous as its predecessor ‘sustainable development.’

The distinction is not so clear cut, of course. Hot campaigns can suddenly go cold and vice versa (politicians and officials are able to go from saying ‘no, don’t be ridiculous’ to ‘we’ve always supported this’ with bewildering ease, when the moment is right). You could argue that the Arms Trade Treaty campaign was one of those. But a campaign needs to get seriously hot if it involves a major redistribution of power and influence (like taxation/inequality or climate change, but not, I would argue, the Arms Trade Treaty).

So the essay question is: do you campaign differently on hot v cold campaigns, and if so, how? Here are some initial thoughts:

Looking for Silver Linings in a Cloud of Corruption

Anupama Dokeniya's picture

There is much to be discouraged by in Transparency International’s recently-released 2013 Global Corruption Barometer, the biennial global survey that gauges popular perceptions about the extent of corruption in public life. More than half of 114,000 people in 107 countries polled for the 2013 survey believe that corruption has increased over the last couple of years. And 27 per cent of the respondents reported having paid a bribe when accessing public services and institutions, an increase from the 10 per cent that reported similar incidents in the 2009, 2007, and 2005 surveys.
 
The intransigence of the challenge might not be news to international agencies, but it is certainly a cause for introspection. For a few decades now, aid agencies (including the Bank following the 1997 Cancer of Corruption speech by then President Wolfensohn), have aimed to help stem corruption through regulatory tools such as codes of conduct, access to information laws, standards for procurement and public financial management, conflict of interest and asset disclosure regulations, and by establishing oversight institutions such as anti-corruption agencies, audit institutions, and parliamentary oversight committees. More recently, in response to a recognition that such technical fixes are only half a solution, the “demand side” of governance has received much attention, and there are several examples of successful programs, as chronicled, for instance, by retired Bank staffer, Pierre Landell-Mills, in a recent compendium.


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