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Mongolia: Crisis increases demand for corporate governance

David Lawrence's picture

The President of Mongolia, Elbegdorj Tsakhia, sat at the table behind a Greek salad. We were at a lunch hosted by the Corporate Governance Development Center, an NGO which brings international best practices in corporate governance to Mongolia. Also present were the Minister of Education, the Director of the Financial Regulatory Commission (FRC), the Deputy Chief of Party of the USAID-funded Economic Policy Reform and Competitiveness Project (EPRC), which helped to establish the Center with the Institute of Finance and Economics, and CEOs of leading Mongolian firms. Several International Finanace Corporation (IFC) clients were among them.

The salad looked delicious, but it would have to wait. President Elbegdorj was speaking about the role of corporate governance in Mongolia. "Corporate governance is important for Mongolia's competitiveness," he said. I was delighted. I've been waiting a long time for this moment.

Indonesia: Here be (Komodo) dragons

Tony Whitten's picture

I thought that seeing zoo animals would have prepared me for seeing these unfettered beasts at close quarters, but I was completely wrong. They are HUGE.

I’d seen the video, read the book, heard the David Attenborough podcast, written the box, gone to the zoos, got the T-shirt. So I thought I knew Komodo Dragons pretty well, even if I hadn’t seen them in the wild.  I’d seen many other types of monitor lizards in forests and along rivers all over Asia and Australia, and didn’t think that seeing a larger one would be an especially great way to use up a precious day of vacation.

So when we landed in Flores in the dry Lesser Sunda islands of southern Indonesia, we were in two minds whether to bother to go to Komodo National Park which for nearly 20 years has been a World Heritage Site. There are certainly other things to do in western Flores such as trekking the Mbeliling forests, visiting the remarkable highland village of Waerebo, snorkelling/diving, and vegging out in some interesting hotels such as the EcoLodge.  Eventually, on the grounds that it would be faintly ridiculous to be so close to such a famous site and not to take a day to go, we rented a boat for the two-hour trip to the park’s Tourist Zone. (Mind you, I believe I’m one of the very few people ever to have gone to Agra and not seen the Taj Mahal.)

Mongolia's growing shantytowns: the cold and toxic ger districts

David Lawrence's picture

 

Children breathe thick, toxic smog from thousands of stoves in Ulaanbaatar's ger districts, which are home to 60 percent of the city's population.
There’s no capital city anywhere in the world with a housing problem like Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Imagine a city of one million people. Then imagine 60 percent of them living in settlements without water, sanitation or basic infrastructure, often in traditional Mongolian felt tents, known as gers. Then imagine these people relying on wood- or coal-burning stoves for cooking and heating, with fuel costs eating up 40 percent of their income. Then imagine the discomfort of having to get up in the middle of the night when it’s -35 degrees Celsius to go to the bathroom – outdoors.

Worst of all, imagine you and your children breathing the thick, toxic smog from thousands of stoves 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Unfortunately, this is not imagination, this is the real situation for over a half million people living in the ger districts of the capital. Not a pretty picture.

Mongolian government takes action to support small businesses (or Inspections Gone Wild)

David Lawrence's picture

 

Restaurants in Mongolia can face fines for not having the right number of forks.
Mongolia's done a good job in reforming its business environment since the collapse of communism in the early 1990s. In Doing Business 2009, the country ranked 58th out of 181 economies and outperformed its neighbors, Russia and China, by significant margins. Well done. But that doesn't mean that things are easy for small businesses here. The overall business environment is a serious drag on Mongolia's development prospects, and the situation keeps getting worse as the financial crisis sinks its claws into the economy.

One area fully in Government control is business inspections. This is an important function: inspections protect the health and safety of the general public. But when inspections run wild, they can become a major burden to businesses, especially small ones. Inspections can impose large costs on businesses in terms of time and money, encourage firms to bribe their way out of violations, and even encourage entrepreneurs to operate in the shadows. That means less tax revenue and potentially dangerous products and services being offered to the public.

Is this a problem in Mongolia? Absolutely.

Leaving an imprint: Rebuilding the shrimp sector in Aceh, Indonesia

David Lawrence's picture

 

In my 12 years at the International Finance Corporation (IFC), I've been involved with a lot of different projects. Many of them were successful, some were not. But none of them were as satisfying as the Aceh Shrimp Project, which closed last month. If you've ever hit a bull's eye when playing darts, imagine that feeling multiplied by 100. That's what this project felt like.

Aceh is an autonomous province on the northern tip of Sumatra, in Indonesia, with a population of 4.2 million. It has a colorful history of resistance: they gave the Dutch colonists major headaches, and fought against the Indonesian government for three decades. In December 2004 the Tsunami struck, leaving 165,000 people dead or missing in the space of 30 minutes. This led to the biggest reconstruction effort in history, including IFC's work to build up the private sector, funded by AusAID (pdf) through its Australia-Indonesia Partnership for Reconstruction and Development (AIPRD).

Shrimp is a key sector in Aceh, a livelihood for 100,000 people. In the 1990s, Aceh's shrimp sector was slammed by white spot disease, which devastated shrimp harvests.{C}