The 10th South Asian Economics Students Meet (SAESM) was held in Lahore, Pakistan, bringing together 82 top economics undergraduate students from the region. The theme was the Political Economy of South Asia, with a winning paper selected for each of the six sub-themes. In this post, Rumela Ghosh presents her winning paper on the political economy of social security. Posts from the other winning authors will follow over the next few weeks.
Employment is one of the burning problems affecting South Asia. India now has a diminished growth rate below 6% per year. In recent years although the living standards of the 'middle classes' have improved, reform for underprivileged groups has not been so exciting. According to National Service Scheme (NSS) data the average per capita expenditure rose at the exceedingly low rate of 1% per year in India. There has been a sharp decline in real agricultural wages also. A quantitative assessment of the impact of various rural wage employment schemes during the last two five-year plans and the current one shows that the results in terms of employment generated have been steadily decreasing.
My paper looked at schemes to tackle unemployment in India. A Bird's Eye View into Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act firstly examines the Maharashtra Employment Guarantee Scheme (MEGS) introduced in the 1970s. It examines how at different time frames and contexts the elite managed to maintain their support base and reinforced its legitimacy by supporting a poverty alleviation program – the EGS. It also highlights the issue of gender concern and the problem of migrant workers.
Among various EGS, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) is the flagship program implemented at the national level which achieved measurable success, though with some flaws. It guarantees every rural household up to 100 days of wage employment in a year within 15 days of demand for such employment. My study highlights the significant interstate differences in the supply of employment and tries to explore the reasons why. Supply falls far short of demand, particularly in low-income states, where the organizational capacity to implement the scheme is limited.
The paper examines the conceptual design and delivery of MGNREGA to assess its effectiveness against unemployment and poverty. I discuss existing labor laws applicable to workers in the unorganized sector covering wages, contract and poverty incidence. The paper also seeks to derive the short run and long run implications of a minimum wage law. A detailed empirical analysis of the spatial dimension of implementation, problems of funding, and budgetary incidence of MGNREGA.
A comparative study of MGNREGA scheme as implemented in Tamil Nadu where it is largely fair and corruption free with respect to that in Uttar Pradesh where the implementation has some serious flaws with corrupt practices of local officials paying wage payments to non-existing laborers has been illustrated. It studies the differences in utilization, extent of targeting, magnitude of income transfers and the cost-effectiveness of food subsidies.
I designed a game-theoretic model to design a near-perfect scheme with suggestions to eliminate the loop holes. Various falsified implementation strategies by contractors like fictitious names in muster rolls, commission to the contractor for partially/not working laborers has undermined the objectives of MGNREGA. This illegal money laundering from a subsidized scheme like MGNREGA digs a deep hole in India's economic pocket when the economy is reeling under inflation and rupee value depreciation pains. The model attempts a systematic game theory based solution approach for restricting these scheme implementation faults. A graphical presentation shows that, with such a policy laborers in the long run will have an incentive to deliver under MGNREGA only.
Guest workers have played an integral role in the Gulf since the 1970s where the demographic changes accompanying these labor flows occurred at an extraordinarily rapid pace. The region’s aggregate population has increased more than tenfold in a little over half a century, but in no other region of the world do citizens comprise such a small proportion of the population. While this ‘demographic imbalance’ makes the Gulf unique, what differentiates it is not its economic and demographic expansion through migration but the degree to which the region’s governments have excluded foreign workers from being integrated into the national polity. This exclusion of foreign workers is a result of a conscious policy.
Labor migration to Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are mostly governed under a sponsorship system known as Kafala. Migrant workers require a national sponsor (called Kafeel) and are only allowed to work for the visa sponsoring firm. The workers must obtain a no-objection certificate from the sponsor to resign and have to leave the country upon termination of the usual 2 to 3 years’ contract before being allowed to commence a new contract under a new sponsor. Tied to the sponsor, the migrants become immobile within the internal labor market for the duration of the contract. Consequently the sponsors benefit from non-competitive environments where they extract substantial economic rents from migrant workers at the expense of inducing significant inefficiencies in production.
The Kafeels pay workers an income above the wage in their country of origin and obtain economic rents equal to the difference between such earnings and the net marginal return from employing the migrant worker. Migrant workers are paid the initial nominal wage throughout the entire contractual period. They are even made to accept lower wages than contracted initially. Immobilized by labor restrictions, workers cannot command a higher wage even when there is demand for their services by rival firms willing to hire them in order to avoid the cost of hiring from abroad. Kafeels have also found other ways of extracting rents in recent decades by indulging in visa trading. They allow their names to be used to sponsor foreign workers in exchange for monetary gains.
Arguably, rents per-se should not directly create adverse effects because they are essentially redistributive transfers. Earnings paid to migrants are sufficient to motivate them to migrate. The migrants do not leave. But this view is over-simplistic. The combination of short contracts, flat wages, and lack of internal mobility kills the incentives for migrant workers to exercise higher effort levels in production and engage in activities that enhance their human capital. Any productivity gain would go to the sponsor in the form of rents. The system provides incentives to entrepreneurs to concentrate on low-skills, labor-intensive activities where the extraction of economic rents is easier. Such sponsor-worker behavior explains for instance why despite the massive investments in Dubai, the economy-wide efficiency levels (average labor productivity) have not improved in the last two decades while in Hong Kong, they doubled and in Singapore quadrupled.
Learning from a Social Accountability Pilot in the Mining Sector
The Aynak copper mine in the Mohammad Agha district in Logar province is being developed as one of “resource corridors.” These corridors will connect communities with the benefits of mineral resources and infrastructure which will provide over 10,000 estimated jobs and economic growth in Afghanistan.
In facilitating community participation to make the most of the potential growth opportunity, the World Bank supported the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum (MoMP) pilot a small social accountability project in Aynak, to bridge trust between MoMP and affected communities by making a grievance redress mechanism (GRM) work. GRM is a feedback mechanism based on two-way communication, in which the government takes action or shares information based on community feedback.
The Aynak mine development directly affected 62 families in two villages who had to be relocated. The MoMP prepared a resettlement action plan (RAP), which laid out compensation for these affected families and outlined the GRM, including setting up of the district-level grievance handling committee to address resettlement related complaints. Initially, there was no representation in the committee from two communities, and they were not clear on their roles.
The social accountability pilot supported community mobilization, training on entitlements and GRM, and election of Community Development Council (CDC), following the procedure set by the National Solidary Project (NSP) implemented by the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development. These activities were facilitated by a civil society organization (CSO), the International Rescue Committee (IRC), which had a long-established presence in Mohammad Agha district and was also a NSP facilitating partner in the district.
The 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami – Triggering engagement in Disaster Risk Management (DRM)
In 2004 December, Sri Lanka faced the worst disaster in its history - the Indian Ocean Tsunami. More than 35,000 people lost their lives and around 5,000 people went missing. At the time of the Tsunami, Sri Lanka did not have a proper legal and institutional mechanism to manage disaster risk. In the aftermath of the catastrophe, the Government made very serious efforts to establish a mechanism to avoid dramatic loss of life in future disaster events.
Subsequently, the Disaster Management Act was passed and the National Council for Disaster Management, chaired by the President, was established. A Ministry of Disaster Management (MoDM) was created and charged with the disaster risk management (DRM) portfolio and the Disaster Management Centre (DMC) was established July 2005 to implement DRM programs across the country.
With these mechanisms in place, the Government began strengthening disaster preparedness, especially for tsunamis. Three pieces were put in place including: i) development of a tsunami early warning system; ii) implementation of awareness raising programs, from the grassroots to national levels; and, iii) regular evacuation drills were conducted in all coastal villages. The system has proven successful as the DMC issued Tsunami evacuation warnings in September 2007 and April 2014, which resulted in the safe evacuation of coastal communities.
Nepal needs to fix its budget process, remove hurdles to infrastructure development and cut down excess liquidiity.
At first glance Nepal’s economic fundamentals appear sound. Economic growth this year is expected to recover to 4.5%, after a lackluster FY13. On the fiscal and external fronts, indicators are well in the green. This year again, Nepal is likely to be the only country in South Asia to post a budget surplus (0.3% of GDP). Continued growth in revenue mobilization and higher grants will more than make up for the increase in government spending. In FY14, public debt is expected to fall below 30% of GDP, and Nepal’s risk of debt distress may fall from a “moderate” rating to “low”.
Unlike other South Asian countries, Nepal has remained largely unscathed by global monetary tightening, reflecting its limited integration into global financial markets as well as its healthy external balances. Nepali analysts often highlight the growing trade deficit as a cause for concern, but remittances (projected at over 30% of GDP) should push the current account to a comfortable surplus position of 2.4% of GDP.
The only apparent dark spot is inflation, which remains stubbornly high. With inflation close to double digits in January (year-over-year), it appears unlikely that the NRB’s target of 8.5% will be reached.
In short, Nepal appears to be doing well. Many European countries today can only dream of posting similar growth, fiscal or debt numbers. So what is the problem?
More than 1.5 billion people today reside in countries affected by violence and conflict, most - if not all - of which also suffer from inadequate and poor access to basic services. By 2030, it is estimated that about 40 percent of the world’s poor will be living in such environments, where each consecutive year of organized violence will continue to slow down poverty reduction by nearly one percentage point.
A large portion of this group presently resides in conflict-affected parts of South Asia, a region that is home to 24 percent of the world’s population and about half the world’s poor.
Despite such challenging circumstances, research shows that in many settings, development aid is indeed working - albeit with frustrating inconsistency.
The 2011 World Development Report recognizes the strong link between security and development outcomes in fragile and conflict-affected contexts. However, what the evidence is yet to show us is how exactly do you get the job done right?
“Thanks to our research program, we have been able to save the lives of at least 10 women by detecting their breast cancer at early stages,” enthusiastically says Dr. Md. Kamrul Hasan, a professor at Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering (DEEE), Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), Dhaka.
Dr. Hasan is the manager of the cancer detection research project, which is one of the sub-projects awarded with research grants from the Academic Innovation Fund (AIF) program under the Higher Education Quality Enhancement Project (HEQEP). Faculty members and research students of the department joined together for the research project.
Lack of access to research grants and proper research environment has long been a major headache for researchers in developing countries like Bangladesh, especially in fields of science and technology. Bangladeshi scholars, who go abroad for their studies, often prefer to stay back in the host countries out of concern for availability of research facilities and financial resources indispensable for pursuing their academic work.
The biggest daily struggle for 28 year old mother of two Sima Begum, is feeding her young children and keeping them healthy. Nutrition is a key challenge not only for Sima, living in a slum in Narayanganj, but for women across Bangladesh and South Asia. In fact, wasting and stunting are among the most stubborn health challenges facing the children of this region.
For the last 15 months, Sima has started receiving nutritional advice as well as a small cash transfer to help raise healthy children. Through a pilot cash-transfer program supported by the Rapid Social Response Multi-Donor Trust Fund (MDTF), her 10 year old son Faisal, is eligible for a Tk 800 ($10) school stipend and her daughter Shakal, 5, for a Tk 800 income transfer. Sima uses the stipends to feed Shakal a healthier diet and to pay for Faisal’s tuition, school books and uniform.
In order to receive these stipends Sima has to ensure that Faisal goes to school and that Shakal is brought every month to the community center near her house at New Zimkhana, where her growth can be monitored. The growth monitoring is simple:
Bangladesh, the most vulnerable country in the world to the impact of natural disasters is also a leader in emergency preparedness and disaster response, particularly for cyclones, tidal surges and floods. This was achieved through 25 years of effort, which was catalyzed through two devastating cyclones, one in 1970 and 1991 that caused the deaths of approximately 500,000 and 300,000 people respectively. Part of what makes Bangladesh so strong at cyclone preparedness and response is the fact that major cyclones seem to hit Bangladesh every 3-4 years. Recurrence of this frequency is quite unique.
On the other hand, major seismic events that lead to major losses occur infrequently. Cities like Dhaka and Kathmandu, which are susceptible to major earthquakes, haven’t experienced a major shake in more than a generation. Unfortunately, a lack of frequency often leads to complacency amongst governments and citizens. Even more problematic is the very rapid accumulation of assets and population in urban environments in South Asia, including Dhaka.
Walking through the streets of Dhaka paints a picture of a city with significant structural vulnerabilities – where poor construction standards, lack of enforcement, and poor maintenance turn many buildings into potential hazards. When a building in Savar collapsed in April 2013 – killing over 1,100 people and injuring thousands more – it was a wakeup call for Bangladesh. The collapse was not triggered by an earthquake, it was the result of catastrophic structural failures, but it was a glimpse into what could happen in the event of a major earthquake.