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4 key challenges for reforming state-owned enterprises: Lessons from Latin America

Fanny Weiner's picture
Man fixing railroad tracks. Mexico. Photo - Curt Carnemark / World Bank

Efficiency. Competitiveness. Innovation. Integrity.

Do these words come to mind when you think of State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs)?

From June 2-3, 2015 in Santiago, Chile, over 100 representatives of governments, SOEs, and academia from 13 countries came together to discuss how to advance these ideals, at the fourth Annual Meeting of the Latin American Network on Corporate Governance of State-Owned Enterprises, co-organized by the World Bank, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and the Latin American Development Bank (CAF). 

SOEs are commercial enterprises owned by governments, in full or in part. Across Latin America, SOEs still represent a significant portion of GDPs, national expenditures, employment, and government revenues. Many SOEs provide essential public goods and services like water, electricity, and transportation.

Toward more accountable public finance: budget transparency, participation, and oversight

Anjali Garg's picture
Photo by GotCredit -

These are exciting times for those of us who believe in the potential of greater budget accountability to help tackle some of the world’s most pressing problems. The upcoming release of the Open Budget Survey promises to shed some light on three pillars of accountable budgets: transparency, participation, and oversight.
The importance of budget transparency is now well established. Recent years, however, have seen growing recognition that, along with access to information, it is critical that the public is provided with formal opportunities to engage in how budgets are managed.

​Public participation is becoming an increasingly well-established pillar for ensuring accountability.

To meet the jobs challenge, maximize the impact of SMEs

Klaus Tilmes's picture

The urgent challenge of generating jobs and incomes – as the world’s working-age population is poised to soar – will require making the most of all the job-creating energies of the private sector and the strategy-setting skill of the public sector. Today in Ankara, Turkey, the World Bank Group renewed its commitment to strengthen the global economy’s most promising and inclusive source of job creation: small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

At a signing ceremony at the B20 conference of global business leaders – coinciding with the G20 forum of government leaders from the world’s largest economies – the Bank Group joined in a partnership with a new organization promoted by the B20: the World SME Forum (WSF), which is to become the global platform to coordinate practical assistance and policy support for SMEs.

Based in İstanbul, WSF has been founded through a partnership between the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey (TOBB), the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), and ICC’s World Chambers Federation.

World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim – in Ankara, Turkey, on September 4, 2015 – signs a Memorandum of Understanding to confirm the Bank Group's partnership with the World SME Forum. Also signing the document, along with President Kim, is Rifat Hisarciklioglu, the Chairman of B20 Turkey and the President of TOBB (the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey).

SMEs are a vital engine of innovation and entrepreneurship, and the success of the SME sector is central to every country’s prospects for job creation and economic growth. Providing support for SMEs is a fundamental priority for the World Bank Group, as we pursue our global goals of eradicating extreme poverty by the year 2030 and boosting shared prosperity.

SMEs are crucial to every economy: They provide as much as two-thirds of all employment, according to a recent survey of 104 countries – and, in the 85 countries that showed positive net job creation, the smallest-size enterprises accounted for more than half of total net new jobs.

One question, eight experts, part six: William Dachs

William Dachs's picture

To gain a better understanding of how innovation in public-private partnerships (PPPs) builds on genuine learning, we reached out to PPP infrastructure experts around the world, posing the same question to each. Their honest answers redefine what works — and provide new insights into the PPP process. This is the question we posed: How can mistakes be absorbed into the learning process, and when can failure function as a step toward a PPP’s long-term success?

Our sixth response in this eight-part series comes from William Dachs, Chief Operating Officer of the Gautrain Management Agency in South Africa. 

South Africa's Gautrain.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The ability of a national PPP program to apply lessons learned from one project to the next is dependent on factors such as the documentation of case studies and the use of a central repository of information in a PPP unit at the national level, where such lessons can be distilled and applied to the next project in that jurisdiction.

There are plenty of good examples of such programs that learn from and apply lessons. But how are individual PPP projects able to absorb mistakes and still meet the original objectives of value for money for the users of the services and the taxpayers who may ultimately bear the risk of the project failing?

It is impossible to predict the range of possible risks and to allocate these with precision over 20 to 25 years in a complex and changing environment. As such, the key to achieving long-term value from a PPP does not only lie in the quality of the feasibility and procurement phases, but also in how the balance of risk and rewards is established and applied in the PPP contract so as to be able to survive significant changes over a long period of time.

Lessons from the taxi industry to improve Romania’s governance

Ismail Radwan's picture
taxi in Romania
Photo: Daniel Kozak, World Bank

The first time I came to Bucharest in 2013 the Bank office offered to arrange a pick up from the airport. Being a seasoned traveler, I declined the offer. I reasoned that I had lived and worked in so many countries I could manage the transfer to the hotel without assistance. I was wrong.
I picked up my luggage to find a local cab outside the airport. A taxi driver offered me a ride. I didn’t negotiate the price upfront seeing that he had a meter in the car.
Twenty minutes later we reached the hotel. The meter read Lei 200 - at the that time about $60. That was over twice the going rate but there was little else I could do. I felt cheated as so many tourists do.
I learned from the experience, accepted offers of help from colleagues and paid more attention to rates going forward.
About a year later I returned to Bucharest to find a new system in place.  An electronic kiosk had been installed at the airport.  Arriving visitors could now press a button to get an estimated wait time to hail a taxi. I took my ticket. It was a smooth ride.
What made the difference? 
The new taxi ordering system is now available on mobile phones mirroring, in many ways, the service provided by Uber. Passengers can rate drivers and increase accountability.  
Bucharest has gone from being a difficult place to find an honest cab driver to one of the most convenient. 
The change has been driven by incentives and improved technology. 

 What are the implications for governance reform? 

The future of government is open

Stephen Davenport's picture

Also available in: Français | العربية

The World Bank Group sees the pillars of a more open and citizen centric government--transparency, citizen participation, and collaboration--as strategic priorities in its work on governance because they suggest concrete ways to promote shared prosperity. Having made significant strides to increasing openness in the Bank's own work, we seek to build on this progress to support client governments in their own efforts to make the development process more inclusive. 

What are we talking about when we talk about “subnational” governments?

Arturo Herrera Gutierrez's picture
Municipality of Guatapé in Colombia. Photo - Adrienne Hathaway / World Bank
Municipality of Guatapé in Colombia. Photo - Adrienne Hathaway / World Bank

Over the last 25 years, the relevance of local governments (states, provinces, municipalities, etc.) in Latin America has been constantly increasing.

The process started with a wave of decentralization, particularly in the education and health sectors, followed by the increasing of other responsibilities of local governments (with the accompanying budget!), and most recently topped off by the allocation of additional investment resources fueled by the commodities boom of the mid-2000s. Currently, in some countries, half of the national budget is now allocated to lower levels of governments.

The World Bank has a long history supporting countries in the region as they transition political, administrative, and fiscal responsibilities to subnational levels, as part of national strategies for strengthening democracy, transparency, and efficient service delivery. 

Preventing renegotiation, fostering efficiency

Rui Monteiro's picture
Lawyers usually say that “the best contract is the one you never have to pull out of the drawer” — a view that focuses on trust, common understanding and mutual advantages. And then they will add that public-private partnership (PPP) contracts, even with the best government–business relationship, are a bit more complex. That’s because they are based on incentive mechanisms that require not only regular monitoring, but also some degree of cooperation and a modicum of strategic management — the three components of PPP contract management.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
The ultimate success of a PPP contract depends on effective service delivery under conditions of sustained efficiency. The efficiency comes from linking private operator rewards to performance over the long-term (output focus), and from providing credible commitment by the private partner through private finance (or, as it’s known in some circles, “hostage capital”).
There are many cases, as seen in previous issues of Handshake, of PPPs providing high-quality reliable service to users at a reasonable cost for users and taxpayers. But there is also recognition that, over the long-term, PPP efficiency may be jeopardized by contract renegotiation — by necessity renegotiation under no competitive pressure, with asymmetrical information.

This sort of renegotiation creates a risk of breaking the initial commitment, changing rewards and risk allocation. Though theoretical economists would say 
that “in the long-term” renegotiation of incomplete contracts is unavoidable, PPP practitioners should do their best in order to avoid the need for renegotiation, while simultaneously preparing for renegotiation when it is the best solution in terms of public interest.

Creating good jobs in Africa: demand- and supply-side policies

Stephen Golub's picture
In Africa people do have jobs: they are simply too poor not to work.  Instead, the problem is underemployment; typically 90% (or more) of the labor force is in the informal sector such as subsistence agriculture and urban self-employment in petty services.  African labor markets remain marked by large disparities in incomes between a small number of formal public and private employees, and the vast informal sector. These informal sector workers have no job security, minimal benefits, very low pay, and often face hazardous working conditions.  So the challenge is to create better jobs, as well as more jobs.