How can we best promote the use of Internet by private companies – particularly small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) – in Africa? This question is of growing significance on a continent where most of the population is under 20 years of age and – compared to the previous generation – increasingly accessing information through digital channels as a result of the rapid expansion of mobile broadband services.
This question is also crucial in terms of growth and competitiveness in the context of the growing economic globalization, where customers and business partners use information and communication technologies in a much more intensive manner.
Last week, we invited Jennifer Bussell from UC Berkeley to present her fascinating study on corruption, politics and public service reforms in the digital age. The study is based in India and draws on a wealth of qualitative and quantitative data collected in 2009 from 20 subnational states, investigating how pre-existing institutional conditions influence e-Governance reforms.
Public service reforms in the digital age constitute a new era of relations between the citizen and the state. However, scholars have argued that much of the discourse on e-Government has been normative, with fairly optimistic predictions, and wanting deeper moorings in public management theory (Coursey & Norris, 2008; Heeks & Bailur, 2007; Yildiz, 2007).
The recent rapid expansion of multi-stakeholders initiatives (MSI) promoting improved governance raises critical questions about the role of these mechanisms in addressing problems of government transparency, responsiveness, and accountability, specifically whether and how they generate on-the-ground impact.
HOW DO WE THINK MSIs CONTRIBUTE TO CHANGE? MSIs, like other efforts to promote change, are built around a theory of change (TOC) about how they will contribute to the achievement of their goals. These proposed causal pathways may be explicitly stated or implicit. How do MSIs in the governance sphere articulate their role in contributing to change? Do they base their theories of change on questionable assumptions, or lack a change hypothesis altogether? TOCs also reflect a specific understanding of the challenge they seek to address. It should not be surprising that a technical framing of governance problems would lead to a technocratic approach to a solution. For example, the framing in OGP of ‘open’ government, with little explicit emphasis on democratic governance, may contribute to an emphasis on open data, e-government, and other technical aspects of governance, which are unlikely to address the core political dynamics that underlie governance deficits.
Over the last few years, social media has revolutionized the way people and institutions communicate and interact. Today, the big question for governments around the world is how to use innovative IT tools to engage diasporas in an ongoing, sustainable, result-oriented and cost-effective dialogue. Here are a few ways that social media helps facilitate that dialogue.
And that is precisely one of the main topics that we discussed at the International Transport Forum in Leipzig during a session on Integrating Transport Networks for Sustainable Growth and Development. The panel also included Morocco’s Vice-Minister of Transport; the Head of Transport from the Latin America Development Bank (CAF), and the CEO and Chairman of the Management Board of Deutsche Bahn AG.
The first unexpected development happened when the moderator showed up with a fifteen-minute delay, having been trapped… in a Deutsche Bahn train stopped on the tracks between Berlin and Leipzig following an unfortunate encounter between a bulldozer and a catenary cable. To be fair, the incident had little to do with the quality of the railway service and was quickly resolved. That is what resilient transport is about.
Would you be more willing to pay taxes if you didn’t have to spend hours doing it, or if you see that money being used in the right way? Well, you are not alone.
Armenians, like people around the world, feel the same. According to the recently conducted Tax Perception Survey in the country, easier tax compliance and more visible link between taxes paid and public services received was found to be particularly important.
Between 66 percent and 75 percent of respondents said they would be more willing to pay more taxes if the procedures were easy and less time-consuming, if they saw more useful social and other public services, or if they saw less corruption.
Over 95 percent of respondents felt the tax burden is heavy or very heavy, while almost 50 percent reported that evading tax payments was not justified under any circumstances.
About 57 percent noted that high taxes or desperate financial situations were the main reasons for avoiding or evading tax payments.
The data unveiled by the latest Tax Perception Survey, carried out with USAID support and World Bank Group technical assistance covered around 1,500 households and 400 business taxpayers. The analysis strengthened the need to modernize the tax system, which has remained a major challenge for Armenia. Despite Armenia’s ranking as 37th in Doing Business, the taxation system, at 103rd on the list, still requires a lot of work.
To be sure, there have been some improvements to the system in the past few years. They include the introduction of electronic filing of tax returns, e-government applications, risk-based audit principles, and taxpayer service centers and appeal system. These achievements contributed to increasing the tax to GDP ratio from 19.5 percent in 2010 to 22.8 percent in 2013.
But much remains to be done to further streamline and simplify tax procedures, modernize the tax administration, and enact a tax code.
Participating in a multi-stakeholder initiative (MSI) sometimes feels rather more like duty than pleasure. As my eye travels around the room, it takes in the occasional snoozing civil society representative, the conspicuously empty chairs, and the combative government official languidly tapping on his blackberry. The meeting began an hour late after a straggler finally brought us to the necessary minimum number for a quorum. I find myself pondering, “Is this really working?” “Is this room of disparate stakeholders, with varying commitment and sundry objectives really going to solve one of Zambia’s most complex development challenges?”
Charles Kindleberger (h/t Gerry Helleiner) asserted that all reviewers can be counted on to say three things about a book: “It isn’t new. It isn’t true. And I would have said it differently.” Notwithstanding their internal contradictions, these statements summarize my thoughts on Bill Easterly’s latest book, The Tyranny of Experts.
It isn’t new. The main point of the book is that the rights of the poor have been systematically undermined, directly by governments, especially authoritarian ones; and indirectly by “experts”, who either prescribe technical solutions that ignore poor people’s ability to come up with their own solutions, or provide legitimacy to these autocratic regimes so that they continue to suppress the poor. Bill illustrates this point with three historical examples—China between the world wars, Africa at independence, and Colombia in the 1950s—where a combination of western (in some cases, colonial) interests and local elites conspired to keep the large majority of poor people poor for a long time. The analytical backdrop to these three case studies is the “debate”—a debate that never took place—between two Nobel-prize-winning economists: Gunnar Myrdal, who advocated government intervention to improve the lot of the poor; and Friedrich Hayek, who believed in protecting the individual rights of the poor as a means of their escaping poverty.