An Ideal Husband, the play by Oscar Wilde, tells a story of unrealistic expectations. Lady Chiltern, a woman of strict principles, idolizes her husband, a rising star in politics. Their life is filled with nectar and ambrosia, until the appearance of Mrs. Cheveley. She comes with a letter – one that proves Sir Robert Chiltern’s fortunes were made on the back of privileged information during the construction of the Suez Canal. In exchange for this letter, she seeks support for the construction of a new canal in Argentina.
Economic growth in Bangladesh began to decline since FY06 at roughly the same time that its public investment rate started falling. The decline in growth also appears to coincide with slowdown in growth of infrastructure capital in the hard infrastructure sectors; particularly energy, transport and communication. It is therefore tempting to think that the two may be correlated.
Indeed, economic theory suggests that the availability of economic and social infrastructures makes it conducive for the private sector to invest; higher public capital increases productivity and reduces production costs; and by increasing demand public investment gives rise to profit and sales expectations which in turn induce private investments. These are known as the crowding-in effects of public investment.
Crowding in, however, cannot be taken for granted. Public investment can also crowd out private investment if it is made in activities that compete with the private sector. In addition, the growth impact of increased public investment depends on how it is financed. If it is financed through higher public debt, which implies higher future taxation levels, private investments may get crowded out.
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.
Start counting the poor in India and you are bound to get into controversy. In “A Comparative Perspective on Poverty Reduction in Brazil, China and India,” Martin Ravallion (October 2009) calculates that 42% of the population in India in 2005 lived in households with income per person below US$1.25 a day (converted using purchasing power parity exchange rates for consumption in 2005). But he finds only 20% of the population under the US$1.25 poverty line when using a different method as a sensitivity test. The difference is huge. One number is twice the other and corresponds to two hundred million people (more than the whole population of Brazil!).
Ravallion repeats the exercise and finds that in Brazil, in 2005, the population who lived in households with income per person below US$1.25 a day (converted using purchasing power parity exchange rates for consumption in 2005) is 8%. When using the alternative sensitivity test method, it is 10%. Compared to India, the difference is small (2% of the population) between the two measures.
I suspect that instead of trying to calculate the number of people with less than US$ 1.25 a day, policies for poverty reduction should focus on the bottom quintile of the population: the 20% poorest group in the country.
One of my reasons is that inequality matters. Think of poverty as a relationship.
As a policy target, there is little doubt that it is desirable that government should ensure services for all. Breaking this down to a simple target of 100% access to a service, some local governments are showing that ensuring services for all is achievable, when they deploy their social and legal authority to leverage existing service providers to ensure a basic service for all and then increase the quality of the service (i.e. 100% by 100%).
In the remote North West Corner of Bangladesh in the poor and monga (hunger) prone District of Kurrigram there is a remote yet remarkable upazila called Rajarhat. Rajarhat was the first upazila (subdistrict) in the country to be declared Open Defecation Free (i.e. 100% sanitation) in 2004. In the light of the Government’s target of education for all, the Rajarhat upazila (subdistrict) is now seeking to be the first upazila in the country to achieve universal enrollment (i.e. 100% of children turning 6 are enrolled in school).
To understand this phenomena we visited one of the Union Parishads (UP) (Council) called Omar Majid and spent some time with the UP Chairman Khanbaker Abdul Hakim. This Union Parishad claims to have achieved:
• 100% sanitation (achieved in 2004) sustained through ward task forces, hygiene education and public latrines with MGSK and WaterAid.
• 100% registration at birth (achieved in 2007) and subsequently introduced as a pre-requisite for the enrollment of children in school.
The title of this post may seem a bit odd. What can an island of 20 million people and a diverse continent of 47 countries have in common? The answer: Both were thought to have initial advantages that would generate rapid economic growth; instead, they have fallen painfully short of expectations.
In the African case, the advantage was its rich natural resources such as oil and minerals. But instead of exploiting this potential ticket to poverty reduction, Africa’s natural resource producers have seen their per capita income grow more slowly than that of non-mineral countries. Nigeria is a case in point. Its per capita income in 1970 (before the oil boom) was $913; today it is $454.
Sri Lanka’s asset is its human resources—reflected in the high levels of literacy and low levels of child and maternal mortality that have stood out since the 1960s. Like Africa, Sri Lanka has been an exercise in disappointment. In fact, there is no other country with a lower infant mortality rate and a lower per capita income than Sri Lanka.
The question for Africa and Sri Lanka is therefore how to manage the enormous assets they posses in a way that translates into sustainable wellbeing for their populations?
“Did you kill somebody tonight?” Durga Pokkherel asks the police officer while in police custody in Nepal, after hearing terrified screams. As told in her memoir, Shadow over Shangri-la, the police officer replies: “You always imagine something big. He is not killed. As a routine treatment he was enclosed in a sack and beaten. But he would not speak a word, so some other police friends put a couple pins in his fingers. That is all.”
The dialogue took place in late 1990s, when both Maoists and the state committed human rights abuses in Nepal, a country on the top of the world, where caste, ethnicity, gender status and regional disparities have largely determined inequality. Social exclusion fostered state fragility, a Maoist rebellion, and a civil war that lasted for ten years (1996-2006).
After an unpopular royal coup in February 2005, the international community put pressure on the government to accept international monitoring under the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The monitoring created the space for peaceful political protest and, in April 2006, the King restored Parliament. Civil war came to an end with elections and the declaration of the Federal Republic of Nepal in May 2008.
I am old enough to remember the days when Latin America was the land of inflation. Hyperinflation in Bolivia, Brazil and Argentina made the news in the 1980s and early 1990s. At that time, Asia was seen as immune to the Latin disease. Since then, much water has gone under the bridge. Inflation came under control in the majority of Latin American countries. Today the median inflation rate in South Asia is more than twice the size of the median inflation rate in Latin America and the Caribbean. (See chart below)
Should South Asia’s policymakers look at this information and wonder whether they are doing something wrong?
In general, the recipe for hyperinflation is the monetization of budget deficits in countries afflicted by political instability or conflict. Even if the threat of mega inflation is far removed from the South Asia scenarios, the combination of big budget deficits and loose monetary policy seems to be present in some countries of the region.
What is Happiness? Many of us equate it with money. However, since 1972, the kingdom of Bhutan under the leadership of its former King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck has measured its developmental success not solely through the economic lens of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) but also through a more complete approach known as Gross National Happiness (GNH). Its laurels were based upon the original four pillars of sustainable development, preservation and promotion of cultural values, conservation of the natural environment, and good governance.
These indicators have become increasingly important over the last three decades as it became apparent that blindly pursuing economic expansion has created growing pains in a number of countries. GNH has appeared to be very successful in Bhutan, a nation the size of Switzerland with a population of around 700,000. With initiatives such as maintaining at least 60% (currently 72%) of the land for forests and conservation, while maintaining 165 indigenous mammal species such as the rare snow leopard, Bhutan also has a fast growing economy.
Government spending on health and education is the highest in the region at 18% and Bhutan boasts a GDP growth rate of 21.4% and a per capita income level that is almost twice as much as much as India’s, although it was much poorer as recently as the 1980’s. Independent sources also seem to echo these sentiments as Business Week magazine rated Bhutan the world’s 8th happiest country.
On the flip side, an urgent response to provide clean water or some relief to those affected is often neither sustainable nor scalable.
During a visit to Chapai Nawabganj we discovered that the Horizontal Learning Program enables rapid response - without undermining a sound policy position.
While visiting Meherpur municipality in Bangladesh last week, we learnt that 15 people had recently died in the nearby Amjhupi Union Parishad (UP) from arsenicosis. In a village meeting with the District Commissioner and UP Chairman we discovered that the citizens were drinking from both wells marked green (safe) as well as red (unsafe) because they were not confident that either of these sources had been correctly marked.
We were overwhelmed with the need for an immediate response but aware that any top-down solution could at best be partial. However, because of the Horizontal Learning Program (initiated by Union Parishads, facilitated by the Government of Bangladesh and supported by development partners) we were aware that local solutions to this problem had been developed by other Union Parishads.
At around 11 pm that night, it was resolved that a three member team from Amjhupi Union Parishad would join us to visit the nearby Ranihati Union Parishad of the neighboring Chapai Nawabganj Upazila (sub-district) to see how they had solved this problem. The solution was surprisingly simple, low cost and comprehensive.