Today, the world marks the International Day for the Universal Access to Information. Fittingly, we in Sri Lanka, celebrate 7 months since the Right to Information (RTI) Bill was enacted.
The product of a slow and steady reform process, RTI is a milestone in Sri Lanka’s history.
Yet how many citizens know about its benefits?
As open access to information takes international center stage today, I’m hoping Sri Lanka’s Right to Information Bill, one of the world’s most comprehensive, will get the attention it deserves.
There is indeed much to celebrate.
Civil society organizations and private citizens are putting Sri Lanka’s RTI to the test. Diverse requests have been filed, from questions relating to how investments are made for the Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF) to how soil and sand mining permits have been allotted in districts like Gampaha.
Interestingly, people living in rural areas are more aware -- and vocal -- of their rights to know than people in urban areas.
The government is making steady progress. In the last six months, more than 3,000 information officers have been recruited. An independent RTI Commission enforces compliance and acts on those who do not follow the law. If, for example, an information officer refuses to release information pertaining to a citizen’s life, they must provide a valid reason or face legal penalties.
In the next few years, the Sri Lankan bureaucracy faces the huge task of revamping its record management, including its land registration system. This reform is an opportunity to live up to RTI’s ambitions of open governance and help citizens access land title information and records that give them a legal title to their property.
Over the summer I read a few absolutely brilliant books – hence the spate of book reviews. This week I will cover two new studies on development’s biggest recent success stories – China, but first Bangladesh.
How did Bangladesh go from being a ‘basket case’ (though ‘not necessarily our basket case’ – Henry Kissinger, 1971) to a development success story, claimed by numerous would-be fathers (aid donors, NGOs, feminists, microfinanciers, low cost solution finders)? That’s the subject of an excellent new book by Naomi Hossain.
The success is undeniable. Per capita income is up to $2780 from $890 in 1991 (PPP terms). Today, that economic progess is built on 3 pillars: garments (80% of exports, 3m largely female jobs), migration (remittances = 7-10% GDP, about 9m workers overseas, mainly men) and microfinance (which has been used by about half of all households).
But perhaps even more interesting, social progress has outstripped economic growth. Infant mortality down from 258/1,000 in 1961 to 47 in 2011; women were having 7 kids in 1961 and are now having 2. In Hossain’s words (she writes well) ‘Bangladesh is the smiling, more often than not sweetly female, face of global capitalist development. Better yet – she often wears a headscarf as she goes about enjoying her new economic and political freedoms, signalling that moderate Islam can couple with global capitalism.’ (And yes, she does acknowledge that there is still a lot of hunger and deprivation).
The ‘how’ of Bangladesh’s transformation is reasonably well known. What interests Hossain is the ‘why’. It certainly isn’t down to good governance – ‘it has never been obvious why an elite known best for corruption and violent winner-takes-all politics should have committed its country to a progressive, inclusive development pathway.’
Equality of opportunity is a popular policy objective around the world. It is deeply embodied in the American Dream and has resonated with politicians ranging from Margaret Thatcher to Nelson Mandela. It is also connected to the World Bank’s goal of shared prosperity; individuals with low opportunities should have a chance of growing and prospering in life.
For many emerging market and developing economies (EMDEs), the adverse impact is already a reality, with natural disasters becoming more frequent and severe. Unfortunately, many countries still lack the capacity to cushion these blows, and this can spur political fragility, food insecurity, water scarcity, and, in extreme cases, conflict and migration. Even in milder manifestations, these impacts can derail development and set back gains from years of investment.
This blogpost is part of a series of thematic blogs for the World Bank's Water Supply, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) Poverty Diagnostic.
Addressing gender and sex inequalities in WASH is not only recognized in Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 4 and 6, it is central to the entire ambition of the SDGs themselves. Some water, sanitation, and hygiene issues are faced only by women because of their biological sex, whereas others are more influenced by gendered societal norms. To truly leave no one behind, we need to be mindful of and work against gender and sex inequalities in all development work.
New World Bank research is a valuable contribution to doing just that. ‘Reducing Inequalities in Water Supply, Sanitation, and Hygiene in the Era of the Sustainable Development Goals’ reveals that a drastic change is required in the way countries manage resources and provide key services, starting with better targeting to ensure they reach those most in need. In many cases, this means women and girls.
Many Sri Lankans understand the potential benefits of lowering trade costs and making their country more competitive in the global economy. The majority, however, fear increased competition, the unfair advantage of the private sector from abroad and limited skills and innovation to compete.
Yet, Sri Lanka’s aspirations cannot be realized in the current status quo.
While changes in trade policies and regulations will undeniably improve the lives of most citizens, I’m mindful that some are likely to lose. However, many potential gainers of the reforms who are currently opposed to them are unaware of their benefits.
Implementing smart reforms means that government funds will be used more effectively for the people, improve access to better healthcare, education, basic infrastructure and provide Sri Lankans with opportunities to get more and better jobs. Let me focus on a few reforms that I believe are critical for the country. First, Sri Lanka needs to seek growth opportunities and foreign investment beyond its borders.
First, Sri Lanka needs to seek growth opportunities and foreign investment beyond its borders.
Experience shows that no country in the world today has been able to create opportunities for its population entirely within its own geographic boundaries. To succeed in this open environment, Sri Lanka will need to improve its skills base, better understand supply and demand chains as well as produce higher quality goods and services
Experience shows that no country in the world today has been able to create opportunities for its population entirely within its own geographic boundaries. To succeed in this open environment, Sri Lanka will need to improve its skills base, better understand supply and demand chains as well as produce higher quality goods and services.
- Urban Development
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- Private Sector Development
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- Information and Communication Technologies
- Global Economy
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- South Asia
- Sri Lanka
We know that fiscal policy can be harnessed to reduce inequality in low- and middle-income countries, but until now, we knew less about its ability to reduce poverty. Our recent volume looks at the revenue and spending of governments across eight low and middle income countries (Armenia, Ethiopia, Georgia, Indonesia, Jordan, Russia, South Africa and Sri Lanka), and it reveals that fiscal systems, while nearly always reducing inequality, can often worsen poverty.
The world is urbanizing fast—200,000 people are moving to cities every day in search of homes, jobs, as well as education and healthcare services for their families. Supporting this influx with proper infrastructure and services for water, sanitation, transport, and green spaces will require an estimated $1 trillion each year.
Given the difficulties of further increasing the tax burden or the level of public debt,
Not willing to wait for their national governments to bless them with scarce infrastructure funds, innovative mayors have figured out .
It was inspiring to see so many committed water practitioners at World Water Week in Stockholm the last week of August, coming together to share experiences and advance global action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal of safe and accessible water and sanitation for all (SDG6) by 2030. As we know, access to water and sanitation is key to thriving communities. It determines whether poor girls are educated, whether cities are healthy places to live, whether industries grow, and whether framers can withstand the impacts of floods and droughts.
Without it, we are limiting our full potential. In fact, today we face a “silent emergency”, with stunted grown affecting more than a third of all children under five in countries such as Bangladesh, Indonesia, Niger and Guatemala. This was presented in the new World Bank report WASH Poverty Diagnostics, provides new data on water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) for 18 countries and finds that we get the biggest bang for the buck when we attack childhood stunting and mortality from many angles simultaneously, in a coordinated way. While improving water and sanitation alone does improve a child’s well-being, the impacts on child height are multiplied when water, sanitation, health, and nutrition interventions are combined. The report also pinpoints the geographical areas in a country where access to services are low or missing completely, and suggests that to move the needle on improving poverty indicators, policies need to be implemented and resources have to be better targeted to reach the most vulnerable.
Why is ecological restoration so critical to the World Bank’s mission of reducing poverty and boosting shared prosperity? Quite simply, because
Some 42 percent of the world’s poorest live on land that is classified as degraded. The situation becomes worse every year, as 24 billion tons of fertile soil are eroded, and drought threatens to turn 12 million hectares of land into desert.