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.
To respond to client demand at this crucial moment for economic development, the World Bank Group is generating knowledge to better understand the links among competition, growth and shared prosperity, and to develop policies that promote competition. Last week, at a Bank Group event, held jointly with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), experts and practitioners discussed the growing body of empirical evidence on these matters. Representatives from the WBG’s client countries, in turn, shared how WBG competition policy tools are leveraging their development impact.
Competition in the marketplace matters for economic growth and household welfare for two reasons:
- First, it fosters more productive firms and industries, allowing domestic firms to become more competitive abroad and to export more. A WBG study shows that substantially increasing competition in Tunisia would boost labor productivity growth by 5 percent.
- Second, it protects poorer households from paying too much for consumer goods, and from missing out on the benefits of trade liberalization. In Mexico, lack of competition costs the poorest households 20 percent more than richest households. In Kenya, poverty could fall by 2 percent if competition was more intense in the maize and sugar markets.
Competition is restricted by businesses practices that undermine competitive dynamics. When firms agree to fix prices, empirical evidence reveals that consumers pay on average 49 percent more, and 80 percent more when cartels are strongest. Developing economies are still frequently marked by regulations that restrict the number of firms or limit private investment; rules that increase business risks and facilitate agreements among competitors; and rules that discriminate against certain competitors or affect competitive neutrality. When new retail firms are allowed to enter the market, real household income increases by 6.2 percent.
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
Does talking about corruption make it seem worse?
What do most people immediately think of when you ask them why poor countries are poor? We’re pretty confident that it will be corruption. Whether you ask thousands of people in a nationally representative survey, or small focus groups, corruption tops people’s explanations for the persistence of poverty. Indeed, 10 years of research into public perceptions of poverty suggests that corruption “is the only topic related to global poverty which the mass public seem happy to talk about”. Which is odd, because it’s the absolute last thing that people actually working in development want to talk about.
Africa’s moment to lead on climate
Climate change is the greatest threat facing humanity today. To avoid catastrophe, we must dramatically reduce the carbon intensity of our modern energy systems, which have set us on a collision course with our planetary boundaries. This is the challenge leading up to three key international events this year: a July summit on financing for new global development goals, another in September to settle on those goals and — crucially — a global meeting in December to frame an agreement, and set meaningful targets, on climate change. But focusing on ambitious global climate goals can mask the existence of real impacts on the ground. Nowhere is this truer than in sub-Saharan Africa. No region has done less to cause climate change, yet sub-Saharan Africa is experiencing some of the earliest, most severe and most damaging effects. As a result, Africa’s leaders have every reason to support international efforts to address climate change. But these leaders also have to deal urgently with the disturbing reality behind Africa’s tiny carbon footprint: a crushing lack of modern energy.
Celebration in front of the White House on
Friday, June 26.
This past Friday, June 26, 2015, the US Supreme Court issued an historic decision in favor of equality – recognizing the rights of same-sex couples to get married across the entire United States. This is a moment of personal joy for thousands of families but also a momentous declaration of what equal protection of the law means. As a global development institution, the World Bank has an international workforce that reflects the diversity of its member countries. We welcome this decision of the US Supreme Court - not only for the justice it brings to LGBT staff, but also because it exemplifies principles that are fundamental to inclusive and sustainable development.
Along with the recent referendum in Ireland, same-sex marriages are now performed or recognized in 24 countries across every region of the globe, except for most countries in Asia – from South Africa to Mexico; Argentina to New Zealand.
Why is marriage important? In the words of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy who wrote for the majority in the historic decision of the US Supreme Court, “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. ” And through the institution of marriage, LGBT families become visible to the state, and thus entitled to receive the benefits and protections that come with such recognition.
However, the decision on Friday is bittersweet.
Progress in the US and elsewhere comes against a backdrop of continuing – and in some cases worsening – discrimination in many parts of the world. 81 countries criminalize some aspect of being LGBT. ‘Anti-gay propaganda’ laws have rekindled ignorance, fear and prejudice in too many countries, and in 10 countries you can legally be killed simply for being who you are.
I recently spent three days in Hargeisa, Somaliland. An eye-opening experience, as much as one that strengthens my conviction that World Bank Group is doing the right thing by engaging in this fragile country.
Somaliland is business unusual. Imagine among others, sitting in a mandatory security brief and specifying your blood type straight off the plane, going to meetings in armored cars, wearing the hijab – a veil worn by Muslim women in the presence of adult males – scheduling meetings around prayers and the time of Iftar, the evening meal when Muslims end their daily fast during Ramadan.
The business environment in Somaliland is characterized by a fragile state, poor public service delivery, a weak legal and regulatory regime, inefficient and costly trade logistics, and a fragmented private sector with limited structured engagement with the government. Although the private sector accounts for more than 90 percent of GDP (an anomaly in Africa), it has poor access to finance and lacks an organized voice.
Meeting with the President of the Republic of Somaliland.
During my mission, I met with key Ministers, entrepreneurs and development partners and discussed the challenges and opportunities linked to the ongoing economic development agenda, notably the development of infrastructure and the energy sector. The exchanges highlighted how the World Bank Group's program in Somaliland is laying a foundation to create job opportunities and to accelerate the pace of economic development by fostering business reforms and SME engagement. In this light, the set-up of a high-level taskforce – reporting directly to the President – to implement Doing Business reforms compiled in a Doing Business memo, is a milestone and a strong sign of client buy-in. That is always crucial for the World Bank Group's programs to reach their objectives.
Last, I participated in the presentation of the pilot Reform Champion Program, which aims to develop the capacity of government officials and some representatives of the private sector to implement key reforms that will address constraints to economic growth and development. The project is expected to help trained reform champions implement at least five reforms to improve government-to-business services by July 2016.
Sub-Saharan Africa’s (SSA) impressive growth over the past decade or so has been matched by its equally impressive showing on the World Bank Group's "Doing Business" index. In 2012, one-third of the world’s top reformers on the index were from the continent, and every year its countries feature in the top 10 most active reformers. In 2014, five of the top 10 were from SSA.
Doing Business tracks progress in reforms that support a firm through its life-cycle, from start-up, through to raising capital, to potential closure. Through a mix of wide geographic coverage and rankings that generate a lot of public attention (not all of it wholly positive), the report has been a powerful motivator of investment climate reform, with the data serving as a useful means to measure progress made.
Doing Business as a start
While a large appeal of Doing Business as a measure of a country’s business environment is that it focuses on tangible business activities to which the private sector and policymakers can directly relate, its indicators are limited in scope. They are therefore intended to be used mainly as a litmus test of the state of a country’s investment climate. Therefore, while Doing Business's accessibility and global profile can be very useful in generating momentum for private sector reform, it ought to mainly serve as a starting point for a country to then engage in both broader reaching and deeper investment climate change. (This approach to the use of Doing Business has largely underpinned investment climate reform efforts in SSA by the Bank Group’s Trade and Competitiveness Global Practice.)
So, if Doing Business is a starting point and is used as such, is there evidence to support the assumption that it triggers wider and deeper private sector reform? Or is movement on Doing Businesses a starting point and, unintentionally, an ending point too?
Linkages to wider competitiveness reform data
One of the most comprehensive measures of the state of different countries’ business environments is the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Competitiveness Index (GCI), a data set of over 110 variables that looks at the current state of, and tracks changes in, competitiveness across the world. The data set is structured under 12 pillars that cover measures from institutional development to technology and innovation.
Using GCI as a good measure of competitiveness, and interpreting changes in it as a reflection of a country’s effectiveness in engaging in wider competitiveness reform, we can look at the relationship between GCI and Doing Business and, significantly, the extent of movement on the two indices.
A high-level review of the relationship between changes in GCI and Doing Business for different regions between 2007 and 2013 shows SSA to have performed comparatively well on both indices, performing similarly to countries of Eastern and Central Europe and surpassing the world average. However, looking beyond averages to GCI’s specific pillars, SSA’s performance has been variable, advancing as a region in some areas more than others. Figure 1, below, shows GCI pillars where SSA has improved the most and the least, highlighting the top and bottom three.
Figure 1: Variations within competitiveness
(SSA score on GCI, total and select pillars)
Of particular interest is Pillar 6, Goods Market Efficiency, because many of the areas that this pillar tracks are also areas where the Bank Group has focused its investment climate reform interventions, from business entry and competition, to taxes, trade and investment. (Two of the 16 indicators in this pillar actually comprise Doing Business data – the number of procedures and days required to start a business.)
Pillar 6 is one of the top three GCI pillars that have the greatest upward pull on SSA’s overall performance on GCI, countering the areas where SSA has slipped in its scores.
Wasting billions of dollars, time and time again, to stage self-indulgent sports spectacles is no way for any society to build shared prosperity for the long term. But just try explaining that common-sense economic logic to the sports-crazed cities that keep lining up to purchase a moment of fleeting fame – and that end up squandering vast sums, by building use-once-throw-away “white elephants” for one-off events like the Olympic Games or the World Cup soccer tournament.
The sports-industrial complex continues to beguile the gullible and the grandiose, even though scholars have long warned of the futility of sports-event-driven spending. Beijing spent about $40 billion to host the 2008 Summer Games, and Sochi spent upwards of $50 billion to stage the 2014 Winter Games – while Brazil spent $20 billion to host (and heartbreakingly lose) the final rounds of 2014 World Cup soccer. Not to be outdone for extravagance and excess, Qatar reportedly plans to spend as much as $200 billion for the 2022 festivities.
Like the deluded leaders of declining Rome – who distracted their once-industrious city into passivity by pacifying the populace with what the poet Juvenal derided as panem et circenses: "bread and circuses" – modern-day civic leaders are allowing their obsession with media-moment athletic fame to trample economic logic. The scale of their civic hubris – and the malign self-interest of the construction firms, financiers, flacks and fixers who goad credulous Olympic-wannabe cities into wanton overspending – is insightfully dissected in a valuable new book, “Circus Maximus: The Economic Gamble Behind Hosting the Olympics and the World Cup,” by Andrew Zimbalist, a professor of economics at Smith College.
In recent remarks at the World Bank, Zimbalist deplored the reckless rush that stampedes many cities into bleeding their civic coffers in the quest for Olympic notoriety. The saddest example may be the city of Montreal, whose debt from the 1976 Summer Games burdened the sorry city for 30 years.
Yet the suckers keep taking the bait. Boston, said Zimbalist, recently put forth an extravagant multibillion-dollar bid for the 2024 Summer Games – and only later, after the initial headlines and hoopla had abated, did more complete statistics reveal the likely scale of Boston’s folly. And, of course, the Olympic organizers would again stick the long-suffering taxpayers with the bill for any revenue shortfall.
Zimbalist’s logic is a wake-up call for those who somehow imagine that “this time is different” – that one-shot wonders might somehow produce long-term economic benefits. Some occasional exceptions suggest how very rare it is that optimists are rewarded: London, for example, may have gained a much-needed morale boost after its successful 2012 Summer Games, and two (but only two) Olympic festivals actually turned a profit – both of them in Los Angeles, which shrewdly re-used some of its 1936 Olympic facilities when it again played host to the Summer Games in 1984. But for most cities – Montreal in 1976, Sarajevo in 1984, Athens in 2004 and many more – the money spent on soon-to-crumble stadia, ski jumps and swimming pools was a diversion from urgent human needs and productive investment.
Zimbalist makes a compelling case – yet beyond the diagnosis of the malady, one seeks a prescription to cure it. Can such Olympic megalomania be tamed? Are there other ways to build, and pay for, worthy sports facilities that honor the spirit of the Olympic Games while avoiding the overspending that bleeds their hosts dry?
A potential solution arose amid Zimbalist’s recent World Bank discussion. Rather than build one-shot Olympic facilities that are destined to be discarded as soon as each extravaganza is finished, why not build just one enduring set of permanent Olympic facilities that can be refurbished and re-used, year after year? Build it right, and build it only once: That way, the cost of building and maintaining an Olympic complex could be spread over generations.
Pursuing that solution seems especially timely right now, and here's why. Where is the historically logical place to locate such a permanent Olympic site? Why, in Greece, of course, where the Olympics originated in 776 B.C. and continued until 393 A.D. There could be no more authentic place to have today’s marathoners run than in Marathon itself – no more meaningful place to have skiers schuss than on Mount Olympus, or to have boaters ply the very waters that warmed Odysseus’ odyssey.
Let’s say on a dark, cold day, electricity supply to your house is suddenly interrupted. With no heat and light, you furiously walk to the nearby government energy administration office to file a complaint.
As you file your complaint, an official also asks for your mobile number and tells you that within the next 24 hours, you will receive help. A day later, you get a text message or robocall asking you whether you have been helped and how the service was.
This process—when government proactively seeks feedback directly from citizens about the quality of its services and makes it mandatory for service providers to use smartphones and creates dashboards for citizens to view real-time information on service delivery—is called proactive governance.
Proactive governance was first introduced in 2011 in Punjab, the most populous province of Pakistan.
When terms like “criminal conspiracy” and “felony” appear in confessions and plea bargains, the criminal-justice system sits up and takes notice. And when the confessed felons are some of the world’s largest corporations, the private sector ought to be jolted into action, too.
The continuing shame of confessed corporate misconduct – in this case, lawbreaking conducted with such a degree of guile that the U.S. Attorney General called it “breathtaking flagrancy” and that the FBI labeled it criminality “on a massive scale” – reached a new intensity this month: Four of the world’s largest banks confessed to taking part in a five-year-long conspiracy to manipulate the world’s foreign-exchange markets.
This latest in a series of stern legal judgments has damaged the corporate reputations of some of the world’s most pivotal financial institutions – with guilty pleas, to felony charges no less, entered by Citicorp, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Barclays PLC and The Royal Bank of Scotland PLC. A separate guilty plea by UBS – along with earlier fines against Bank of America and HSBC in separate settlements in related cases – has brought the total of fines against those once-trusted, now-tarnished firms to about $6 billion.
The corporate confessions of deliberate lawbreaking, pursued with systematic and sinister stealth – at the very center of the international financial system – vividly validate the recent exhortation of Christine Lagarde of the International Monetary Fund: that corporate governance must be strengthened and that a higher standard of individual ethics must prevail, especially in the financial sector.
Lagarde wisely linked skewed incentives and a short-term profit-maximization mindset to the risk of financial instability, in an eloquent recent address to the Institute for New Economic Thinking’s conference on “Finance and Society”: “There is still work to be done to address distorted incentives in the financial system. Indeed, actions that precipitated the [global financial] crisis were – mostly – not so much fraudulent as driven by short-term profit motivation. This suggests to me that we need to build a financial system that is both more ethical and oriented more to the needs of the real economy – a financial system that serves society, and not the other way round.”
Those who champion the creative potential of the private sector (including, I imagine, the regular readers of this blog) have a particular reason – one might even say, a special responsibility – to voice their anger about the foreign-exchange-rigging scandal and other acts of lawlessness.
Idealists who esteem the private sector’s ingenuity in delivering growth and jobs sans frontières know that business' creativity will be indispensable in achieving the vital development goals of eliminating extreme poverty and promoting shared prosperity. Society thus rightly expects that the full measure of corporate energies should be focused on companies’ central mission of generating wealth that benefits all of society. Whenever any of those energies are diverted – especially toward criminal schemes that put short-term personal plunder ahead of long-term economic growth – the lawbreakers undermine public confidence (or what little remains of it, in the wake of the global financial crisis) in the fairness of the economic system.
Moreover, lawbreakers provide ammunition to critics who allege that today’s economic system is irredeemably corrupt, through-and-through – thus making it even more difficult for law-abiding companies, holding true to the values of honest business behavior, to make the case for policies that liberate private-sector dynamism.
Digital entrepreneurs have the potential to connect to global markets like never before. Whether selling physical goods on internet platforms, or providing digital goods and services that can be downloaded and streamed, an entirely new ecosystem of innovative micro and small businesses has emerged in the developing world.
The World Bank Group hosted some of the pioneers in this space for a full-day conference on Harnessing Digital Trade for Competitiveness and Development on May 19. Here, we heard entrepreneurial success stories—an online platform for jewelry in Kenya, a provider of software solutions in Nepal, an online platform for livestock trade in Serbia—and dove into the constraints and challenges of running a digital business in an emerging economy.
The scope of these challenges made these success stories, and the broader potential they represent, even more inspiring. From internet connectivity to logistics, from financial payments to trade regulations, from bankruptcy laws to entrepreneurial and consumer digital literacy-- clearly, more needs to be done to fully harness the potential of digital trade for competitiveness and development and to foster an enabling environment to digital trade.