One of the major aspirations of the World Bank is to make a real impact on the countries’ development. But when the Bank is a small player relative to the size of the country, can it be what we call transformational?
Public Sector and Governance
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
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"Gallup's self-reported household income data across 131 countries indicate that more than one in five residents (22%) live on $1.25 per day or less -- the World Bank's definition of "extreme poverty." About one in three (34%) live on no more than $2 per day. The World Bank Group recently set a new goal of reducing the worldwide rate of extreme poverty to no more than 3% by 2030, but Gallup's data suggest meeting that goal will require substantial growth and job creation in many countries. In 86 countries, more than 3% of the population lives on $1.25 per day or less." READ MORE
As many across the world entered the New Year in a celebratory mood, others are still struggling to recover from the effect of the recent economic downturn. Five years ago began the worst economic recession the world has experienced in generations. With life support by Governments and Central Banks, the global economy seems to have stabilized, but the ‘patient’ is still weak. In 2013, the global economy is estimated to have expanded at a modest 2.2 percent rate (despite a contraction in the Euro zone) and for 2014 the World Bank and IMF project a slight uptick to 3.0 percent.
But what do these numbers actually tell us about the well-being of people? Does economic growth capture what really makes a difference in peoples’ lives?
“A picture says a thousand words.” This old adage came to mind the other day when we presented poverty maps on Central and Eastern Europe to the European Commission. Technically speaking what we presented are small area poverty maps which give a more reliable estimate of poverty at county or local administrative unit level than would have been possible using national household surveys alone.
So what’s new? The World Bank has been drawing poverty maps for some years now, as have some governments. What’s new is that the European Union, which redistributes resources from richer countries to poorer ones, is in the process of finalizing its programs for the next financing period, 2014 to 2020. These programs are aimed at reducing disparities in standards of living. Being poorer on average than the rest of Europe, countries in Central and Eastern Europe will receive significant resources for investments to raise their standard of living.
Growing up in war-torn Beirut, I experienced the Lebanese Civil War from a childlike perspective. I was in middle school at the time when a power outage lingered for months on end. Reviewing textbooks and doing homework at night was no easy task. The flickers of candlelight reflecting on the glossy pages of my textbook made reading very laborious—not to mention how it compromised my safety and shrank my attention span. I was 12 years old at the time. Today, I am 34. It has been 23 years since the war ended and power shortage in Lebanon remains.
In the aftermath of the civil war, there was a national consensus to privatize and decentralize the power sector in Lebanon. Decentralization would shift control from the ministerial level to distinct municipalities across the country. Privatization in particular would help the power grid expand to meet the growing demands of population increase. Both moves would involve inflows of foreign direct investment, and open up competition, and create more jobs. However, political disagreements erupted around the intricacies of privatization policies and decrees and any further attempt to privatize or decentralize has floundered.
Today, Electricite du Liban (EDL), a state-owned enterprise run by the Ministry of Energy and Water controls 90 percent of power generators, transmission, and distribution services in the country. A surge of demand after the civil war has pushed EDL to further expand the power grid.
In a recent blog, our colleague Birgit Hansl adds her voice to the chorus of economists warning us of Russia’s coming deceleration. If she is right, this is especially bad news for Russia. If the recent past is an indicator of what may happen; this looming slump will have dramatic effects on the structure of the economy.
A slowdown in Russia means a wiping out of gains made during booms. Russia’s economy has experienced several booms and busts in the recent past. We found that young firms, even if they are efficient, were more likely to die off during a slump. Not so for incumbents. They had staying power independent of their relative efficiency. So much for the new blood that the economy needs to diversify!
Russia's economy is concentrated and dependent on the extraction of natural resources. Recent trends are not promising. Growth in Russia has been limited to a few sectors and to a few firms. Russia is much less diversified today than it was during the Soviet Era, both within and across sectors. The bottom quartile of the manufacturing sector, ranked by operating revenue, contributes 0.6 percent of total manufacturing output while the top quartile contributes 80 percent. In addition, the average share of output for the bottom quartile of firms (in terms of operating revenue) in a manufacturing sector is 0.06 percent while the share of the top quartile is 94.7 percent.
Did you know that funding Moldova’s Parliament costs each citizen on average $2 per year - the country spends double the share of its public budget for the cost of its Legislature when compared to Finland, Lithuania or Ireland. Or that the cost of passing a law in Moldova in 2012 was twice what it cost in 2011? These are just some of the many interesting facts I recently learned about my country through an Open Data initiative.
Budget Stories is an Open Data initiative which originated as a grassroots idea among the “think-tank” community in Moldova and has quickly developed into a popular and useful online tool for citizens, primarily by digesting raw budget execution numbers and presenting them as visually-engaging infographics.
The Arab transition countries, Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, and Libya, are grappling with complex issues relating to personal values, the extent of freedom of speech, individual rights, family matters, that all orbit around deep issues of identity and the respective roles of the individual, the state and society. These social conversations are constructive in that they reflect a rich pluralism of views in societies where conformity was the rule under dictatorship. But unfortunately, these dialogues are polarizing society, leading to violence and threatening chaos and a possible return to authoritarianism. In fact, the current social polarization to a large extent reflects attempts by political entrepreneurs to use existing social fault lines, and even exacerbate them, in ways that mobilize passions among possible supporters, driven to over-reach by the political vacuum created by the departure of the historical autocrats. The dynamics in Morocco, Jordan, Algeria, and Lebanon are slightly different, but here too, the intense and exclusive focus on identity is crowding out more important and immediate social and economic challenges.
About a year back the Economist had an editorial piece titled "Out of the basket" and subtitled “Lessons from the achievements – yes, really, achievements – of Bangladesh.” The more in-depth piece that followed appeared somewhat bemused at how a country once labeled a ‘test case for development’ could have made such striking gains in development outcomes over the past two decades (see table 1). These gains were hard to reconcile amidst Bangladesh’s natural and Rana Plaza-type disasters, volatile politics and unfavorable rankings on governance indicators – themes which the Economist has often covered before, and after, this “achievements” piece.
This past week the Lancet has come out with a special issue on Bangladesh which the journal editors say is in order to “investigate one of the great mysteries of global health.” Specifically the published papers are meant to explore how “Bangladesh has made enormous health advances and now has the longest life expectancy, lowest fertility rate and lowest infant and under-5 mortality rates in South Asia despite spending less on health care than several neighbouring countries.” Both these publications help explain the various ‘Bangladesh paradoxes’ but they also overlook, or underplay, a few critical factors.
Settlements in cases of foreign bribery cases are big news and growing. More and more countries are allowing these procedures, and their law enforcement agencies are using them forcefully in their efforts to combat foreign bribery. The FCPA, which came into law in the US over thirty five years ago, has paved the way for many other countries to adopt similar legislations, in line with far reaching international agreements such as the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention. These are very welcome developments, which should continue unabated.
The 2003 UN Convention Against Corruption – to which almost 170 countries have become party to - has created an environment for a radical and universal change in the international landscape of anti-bribery legislation. Actual enforcement is making a difference, as illustrated by the rapid growth in settlements by companies and individuals who have contravened the law and have to face the consequences - without going to a full trial. The figures are telling: over the past decade a total of US$ 6.9 billion has been imposed in monetary sanctions through settlements - which is clearly good news in the fight against corruption.
But in the midst of this positive development, there are a number of troubling concerns (from the perspective of the countries affected by corruption). Research by the UNODC/World Bank Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative in our new report ‘Left Out of the Bargain’ has revealed that those countries whose officials have been bribed are most often unaware of the settlements, and receive very little of the moneys involved. Of the US$ 6.9 billion, nearly US$ 5.8 billion came about when the countries where the settlement took place – mostly major financial centers - were different from those of the allegedly bribed foreign public official.
StAR’s analysis of 395 cases reveals that only about US$197 million, or 3%, was returned to the countries whose officials allegedly received bribes.