The idea that economic growth needs good governance and good governance needs economic growth takes us to a perennial chicken-and-egg debate: Which comes first in development—good governance OR economic growth? For decades, positions have been sharply divided between those who advocate “fix governance first” and others who say “stimulate growth first.”
Public Sector and Governance
I first met Saman in the early 1990s in Delhi. Over the years, our paths diverged. When I re-engaged on South Asia, I ran into Saman again. We re-connected instantly, despite the long intervening period. This was easy to do with Saman—soft-spoken, affable, a gentleman to the core. He bore his considerable knowledge lightly.
Despite his premature passing away in June 2017, he left a rich and varied legacy behind him. I will confine myself to discussing his insights on regional cooperation in South Asia, based on his public writings and my interactions with him.
Saman was a champion of deeper economic linkages within South Asia. He was also pragmatic.
Along with a few other regional champions, Saman, as the head of the Institute of Policy Studies in Colombo, helped to kick-start the “South Asian Economic Summit”, or SAES, in Colombo in 2008, to provide a high-profile forum for dialogue on topical issues, especially South Asian regional integration. It is remarkable that the SAES has endured, without any gap. The fact that the policy and academic fraternity meet with unfailing regularity, despite on-and-off political tensions in the region, is testimony to its value.
Saman repeatedly stressed that Sri Lanka has been able to reap benefits from the India-Sri Lanka FTA (ISFTA), contrary to the general belief. His arguments were powerful: the import-export ratio for Sri Lanka improved from 10.3 in 2000 (the start of the ISFTA) to 6.6 in 2015; about 70 percent of Sri Lanka’s exports to India get duty-free access under the FTA, but less than 10 percent of Sri Lanka’s imports from India come under the FTA (since India provided “special and differential treatment” to Sri Lanka).
Vietnam spends an estimated US$25 billion in goods and services each year. Recognizing that an efficient public procurement system is essential to delivering quality public services in a timely manner, the Government has set a mandate to professionalize the public procurement function.
The program of events at the just concluded 2017 World Bank-IMF Annual Meetings was rich, and covered a range of topics instrumental to the World Bank Group’s work.
However, the event closest to my heart was on the role national development banks (NDBs) can play to close the staggering financing gap needed to reach the Sustainable Development Goals, nicknamed going “from billions to trillions” of dollars.
Since the SDGs were announced, the international development community has been looking at ways to tap into new funding venues, attract the private sector and build relevant private-public sector partnerships.
It is easy enough to find data on flows of foreign direct investment (FDI). There are also plenty of anecdotes out there that purportedly encapsulate what businesses worldwide are thinking. It is far more difficult, however, to establish rigorous connections between global investment trends and individual investment decisions by international companies. In the World Bank Group’s newly published Global Investment Competitiveness Report 2017–2018, our team does just this, combining new survey data, rigorous econometric analysis, and extensive literature reviews to reveal what is going on behind the headline numbers.
Here are some of the key takeaways:
About 17 years ago, I began preparations for applying to colleges in America. One of the prerequisites to qualify for an undergraduate program was the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), administered at testing centers around the world. I vividly remember calling the number given to see how I faired in the test, standing at an international call center booth on a sunny afternoon in Islamabad, Pakistan, my heart beating fast with anticipation. The call cost Rs.100/minute at the time ($1.05/min at the current rate). But despite the expensive price tag, the service delivered information I desperately needed.
Fast forward to the age of Google Voice, WhatsApp, Viber… You’ll agree that technology has not only advanced but services have become cheaper as well. Technology is entrenched in our everyday tasks—from communication to financial transactions, from expanding education to building resilience to natural disasters, and from informing transport planning to expanding energy to the unserved.
So, ask yourself: am I—a student, teacher, business owner, or a local government representative—reaping the full benefits of the greatest information and communication revolution in human history? With more than 40% of the world’s population with access to the internet and new users coming online every day, how can I help turn digital technologies into a development game changer? And how can the world close the global digital divide to make sure technology leaves no one behind?
Delivering pension or disability services may sound mundane, but if you have seen the recent award-winning movie, I, Daniel Blake, it is anything but. As the film poignantly demonstrates, treating citizens with respect and approaching them as humans rather than case numbers is not just good practice -- it can mean life or death. In the film, Mr. Blake, an elderly tradesman with a heart condition, attempts to apply for a disability pension. In the process, he navigates a Kafkaesque maze of dozens of office visits, automated phone calls, and dysfunctional online forms. All of this is confusing and often dehumanizing.
October 17, 2017 – Today marks the 25th anniversary of the United National declaration of the International Day to End Extreme Poverty. Compared to many other countries in the world, Sri Lanka has done well in ending extreme poverty. Between 2002 and 2012, extreme poverty in Sri Lanka decreased from 8.3% to 1.9% while the national poverty level fell from 22% to 6.7% during the same period. Read the latest poverty brief and the two-part series on understanding poverty in Sri Lanka to learn more.
The big picture of poverty in Sri Lanka may be different when we zoom in on individuals and communities. In order to understand individual perspectives and opinions, this year we have opened up an opportunity for Sri Lankans to share their views on Sri Lanka’s Vision to End Poverty. We welcome your views in the form of a short blog post on why you believe #itspossible to end poverty in Sri Lanka. Below are some questions to get you thinking. You need not capture all of them, or be restricted to answering just these questions, but we are interested in hearing from you on these themes.
- Do you feel that you have more opportunities than your parents did at your age? Why or why not?
- How could more openings be created for you and your peers?
- Do you believe that the future will provide more prospects than the present?
- What are you most excited about and most discouraged by in terms of available opportunities in Sri Lanka?
- Do you think it is possible to end poverty in Sri Lanka? As individuals, can we contribute to making this goal a reality?
- How do you think the reforms listed in Vision 2025 can contribute to ending poverty in Sri Lanka?
- All participants must be registered with us through the online form available here. Follow the submission instructions detailed there.
- You will be requested to provide a short biography and profile picture which will become your profile, and accessible from the article(s) you write if selected by the panel of editors.
Did you know that Bangladesh is the 2nd largest non-EU exporter of bicycles to the EU and the 8th largest exporter overall?
Bicycles are the largest export of Bangladesh’s engineering sector, contributing about 12 percent of engineering exports.
This performance is in large part due to the high anti-dumping duty imposed by the EU against China.
Recently, the EU Parliament and the Council agreed on EU Commission’s proposal on a new methodology for calculating anti-dumping on imports from countries with significant market distortions or pervasive state influence on the economy.
This decision could mean that the 48.5 percent anti-dumping duty for Chinese bicycles may not end in 2018 as originally intended. China is disputing the EU’s dumping rules at the World Trade Organization.
As the global bicycle market is expected to grow to $34.9 billion by 2022, Bangladesh has an opportunity to diversify its exports beyond readymade garments. Presently, Bangladesh is the 2nd largest non-EU exporter of bicycles to the EU and the 8th largest exporter overall.
However, if the EU anti-dumping duty against China is reduced or lifted after 2018, Bangladesh’s price edge might be eroded.
Bangladeshi bicycle exporters estimate that without anti-dumping duties, Chinese bicycles could cost at least 10-20 percent less than Bangladeshi bicycles on European markets. And Chinese exporters can ship bicycles to the EU market with 35-50 percent shorter lead times.
So, how can Bangladeshi bicycles survive and grow?
Sri Lanka experienced strong growth at the end of its 26-year conflict. This was to be expected as post-war reconstruction tends to bring new hope and energy to a country.
And Sri Lanka has done well—5 percent growth is nothing to scoff at.
However, Sri Lanka needs to create an environment that fosters private-sector growth and creates more and better jobs. To that end, the country should address these 6 pressing challenges:
1. The easy economic wins are almost exhausted
For a long time, the public-sector has been pouring funds into everything from infrastructure to healthcare. Unfortunately, Sri Lanka’s public sector is facing serious budget constraints. The island’s tax to growth domestic product (GDP) ratio is one of the lowest in the world, falling from 24.2% in 1978 to 10.1% in 2014. Sri Lanka should look for more sustainable sources of growth. As in many other countries, the answer lies with the private sector.
2. Sri Lanka has isolated itself from global and regional value chains
Over the past decades, Sri Lanka has lost its trade competitiveness. As illustrated in the graph below, Sri Lanka outperformed Vietnam in the early 1990s on how much of its trade contributed to its growth domestic product. Vietnam has now overtaken Sri Lanka where trade has been harmed by high tariffs and para-tariffs and trade interventions on agriculture.
Sri Lanka dropped down by 14 notches to the 85th position out of 137 in the recent Global Competitiveness Index.
3. The system inhibits private sector growth
Sri Lanka’s private sector is ailing. Sri Lankan companies are entrepreneurial and the country’s young people are smart, inquisitive, and dynamic. Yet, this does not translate into a vibrant private sector. Instead, public enterprises are the ones carrying the whole weight of development in this country.
The question is, why is the private sector not shouldering its burden of growth?
From the chart above, you can see how difficult it is to set up and operate a business in Sri Lanka. From paying taxes to enforcing contracts to registering property, entrepreneurs have the deck stacked against them.
Trading across borders is particularly challenging for Sri Lankan businesses. Trade facilitation is inadequate to the point of stunting growth and linkages to regional value chains. The chart explains just why Sri Lanka is considered one of the hardest countries in the world to run a trading business. Compare it to Singapore–you could even import a live tiger there without a problem.