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Improving Service Delivery in Pakistan, One Text Message at a Time

Mabruk Kabir's picture

After visiting a government office, residents in Punjab may be surprised to find a familiar voice on the phone – their Chief Minister. “You have recently registered property,” the voice of Shahbaz Sharif booms, “Did you face any difficulties? Did you have to pay a bribe?” (Hear the robo-call here!)
 
It is an uncomfortable question – but one that tackles a stubborn social issue in Pakistan. In a country of 180 million, a culture of bribery and pretty corruption plagues public service delivery.
 
When visiting a land services official, a staggering 75 percent of households reported paying a bribe, according to Transparency International. Over half of households said they bribed the public utilities or a police officer in the last year. Endemic corruption is not just a drag on economic activity and poverty reduction efforts – it erodes trust between citizens and the state. 

A “Problem Tree” Assures that Complaints are Quickly Addressed in Tamil Nadu

Kalesh Kumar's picture

The multi-colored ‘problem tree’ on the branch of a Banyan tree in Elamangalam Village in the Kadaloor district of Tamil Nadu grabs your attention. You see it as soon as you enter the village and English letters ending in @worldbank.org immediately piqued our curiosity despite our lack of knowledge of the local language. This poster, placed around the Village Poverty Reduction Committee (VPRC) and established under the World Bank supported Tamil Nadu Empowerment and Poverty Reduction Project (TNEPRP - “Vazhndu Kaatuvom”), in Elamangalam and other villages in Tamil Nadu gives the title, addresses and phone numbers of all the responsible project leaders from the government and the World Bank to help solve any complaints.

This innovative Complaint Redressal System provides a timeframe within which a complaint is expected to get a response. If unsatisfactory, the plaintiff can appeal to a higher authority. Having clear time lines for escalation and resolution of problems is an essential cornerstone of good governance and social accountability in projects that are implemented at the grass root level. The last row of the poster has the name and email address of the project leader from World Bank and suggests 48 hrs as the time available for her to provide a response! The former project team leader confirmed to have received about 20 emails from across Tamil Nadu in her Washington office over two years reflecting the utilization of the system.

How to Make a Billion Dollars Work

Parmesh Shah's picture

Large-scale public services and expenditure, especially those specifically designed for the poor, are vulnerable to leakages. Whether it is access to quality health care or education, clean water or entitlements under a development scheme; the poor face many barriers in accessing the public services and programs that are intended for them.

Social accountability interventions aggregate citizen voice and strengthen their capacity to directly demand greater accountability and responsiveness from public officials and service providers. Such interventions include the use of tools such as community scorecards, citizen report cards and social audits.

In 2007, three social accountability interventions were introduced in India in public programs on a pilot basis, representing budgets that run into the billions of dollars. With social accountability as the common denominator, three different states with three different service delivery contexts have been able to precipitate a series of impacts in just one year.

Don’t Throw the Baby with the Bathwater!

Zahid Hussain's picture

Paul Krugman’s September 6 article in the New York Times (How Did Economists Get It So Wrong?) is a humbling warning to the economics profession against the pitfalls of intellectual complacence. It challenges the profession to re-examine the validity of its existing knowledge particularly in relation to globalization and the workings of local and global financial markets.

Granted that economists have to face up to the unpalatable fact that our theoretical apparatus falls far short both as descriptions of how economies function and as prescriptions of how they can be made to function better. The crisis has exposed the limits of economic knowledge. According to Krugman: “The vision that emerge as the profession rethinks its foundations may not be all that clear; it certainly won’t be neat; but one can hope that it will have the virtue of being at least partly right.”

In this process of reappraising existing economic knowledge, there is a real risk of going overboard and wrong the right knowledge. Using the global economic crisis as an excuse, there are emerging tendencies to reject tested economic wisdoms in areas such as the role of foreign capital and trade policy in economic development.

One school of thought that is attempting to rise from the ashes is known as (old) Structural Economics.