From my house in northern Quezon City, I drive more than two hours every day to get to the office in Bonifacio Global City, which is about three cities away where I come from, and two cities away from the capital Manila. It’s a journey that should only take around half an hour under light traffic. That is a total of four hours on the road a day, if there is no road accident or bad weather. It takes me an hour longer whenever I use the public transport system. Along with hundreds of thousands of Metro Rail Transit (MRT) commuters, I have to contend with extremely long lines, slow trains, and frequent delays due to malfunctions. This has been my experience for several years. Many of us might be wondering: why have these problems persisted?
The Sakhra Comprehensive Health Center is small and slightly disheveled, with evident resource constraints. Nonetheless, it is teeming with activity and resourcefulness. A sheet on the wall is the “screen” from the previous night’s presentation on the safe use of certain medications. A blue curtain cordons off a corner in the maternal and child unit, providing privacy for nursing mothers. Staff members promptly respond to calls placed over a public address system that was proudly purchased by staff donations. Nestled in one of the poorest regions of Jordan (Ajloun Governorate), the Sakhra Comprehensive Health Center is a bustling hub.
Some Thoughts on Shanta's Anniversary Blog
I have extracted what I find to be the key points in Shanta’s blog post “It’s not the How; It’s the Why” and have commented on them:
1. “Bad policies or institutions exist and persist because politically powerful people benefit from them.”
Bad policies or institutions are bad for those who are excluded from their benefits in the short-run, but they also harm the supposed beneficiaries in the long run. Further careful analysis can corroborate this, and show the long-term harm caused by bad policies to virtually everyone in a particular country.
Hardly a week goes by without my hearing the statement, “It’s not the What; it’s the How.” On the reform of energy subsidies in the Middle East and North Africa, for instance, the discussion is focused not on whether subsidies should be reformed (everyone agrees they should be), but on how the reform should be carried out. Similar points are made about business regulations, education, agriculture, or health. I confess to having written similar things myself. And there is no shortage of such proposals on this blog.
Reforms are needed because there is a policy or institutional arrangement in place that has become counterproductive. But before suggesting how to reform it, we should ask why that policy exists at all, why it has persisted for so long, and why it hasn’t been reformed until now. For these policies didn’t come about by accident. Nor have they remained because somebody forgot to change them. And they are unlikely to be reformed just because a policymaker happens to read a book, article or blog post entitled “How to reform…”
In 2005, I had the great fortune of being in Indonesia just as its major teacher reform effort was beginning to take off. Indonesia’s parliament had passed a comprehensive law on teachers, along with its ambitious agenda. Its signature program of certification intended to dramatically improve both teacher welfare and quality. Certified teachers would receive a doubling of salary, and certification was to require that teachers hold a four-year degree and demonstrate possession of competencies necessary to provide good quality education.
The key ingredients for major change seemed in place. Good legislation, and an effort led by a dynamic champion who headed a newly established directorate in the Education Ministry, with the specific mandate of improving the quality of teachers and of educational staff.
Ha, what would life be without contradictions? In every human grouping there are taboo subjects, matters deemed better left alone, words deemed better left unsaid, issues considered better suited to the deep freezers of life. The unspoken injunction is: Don’t go there; don’t touch it. Yet, there are those who think that a group functions better if a way can be found to air taboo subjects. There are also those who believe that true courage is a willingness to discuss the undiscussable, a readiness to take on all issues, no matter how sensitive the subject.
In the sense in which I first encountered the idea, an undiscussable arises as follows. There is often a difference between the values we claim and the values that our actual conduct affirms. You do it, I do it, we all do it. But it is easier to see it in others.
The announcement comes at a time when growth is slow, unemployment is high and the economy is still suffering from already ballooning subsidies -amounting to 9 percent of GDP- that have kept Egypt’s fiscal deficit at an exceptionally high 13.7 percent of GDP. At least seven countries in the Middle East and North Africa Region —including all those in transition after the Arab Spring (such as Egypt)--are trapped in a low-growth-poor-policy loop.
Shanta Devarajan, World Bank Chief Economist for the Middle East and North Africa region, discusses the latest issue of the Quarterly Economic Brief.
King James had it right early on. “All Treasurers, if they do good service to their masters, must be generally hated”, he remarked after he couldn’t protect his own treasurer Lionel Cranfield from being thrown into the Tower of London in chains. Cranfield had made too many powerful enemies by opposing an expensive war the treasury couldn’t afford. His many successors through the ages can probably relate without too much difficulty.