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Submitted by junaid ahmad on

Shanta, While I agree that there is often “asymmetry” in the accountability chain, I wonder if you can categorically say “if the underlying politics is dysfunctional, fixing the compact won’t work. “ While recognizing that the two links of the long route are not usually symmetric, the fact that they are "interconnected" gives reform a chance by engaging either on the voice or compact side if there is a tactical opening -- or in the words of the WDR “strategic incrementalism.” For example, in Bangladesh, in response to the arsenic crisis, we supported a change in the compact by adding a small level of discretionary fiscal transfers from central to local government. The amount was too small to disturb the overall political structure of the way resources flowed between different tiers of government -- i.e. the underlying dysfunctional politics was preserved -- but this (very) incremental autonomy of local councils enabled the triggering of citizen engagement and information campaigns – the effectiveness of the latter being dependent on the former. This small window created by a crisis was self-reinforcing. Here the critical factor was not the asymmetry in the accountability chain, but the inter-connection between voice and compact – however weak the connection can be in practice.

As I look back at the WDR, however, I feel we underemphasized the nature of social failure. We recognized that if markets and the state fail poor people, we have supported the delivery of public and private services around communities, assuming that social relations within a community would preserve accountability. But, communities are a reflection of their societies and in this context the “gangs of New York” syndrome – capture by a particular social group -- is very likely. While we have often looked at delivery choices by making a judgment call of whether market or state failure is more costly, we have not assessed the relative cost of social failure.

Thank you for organizing a wonderful conference.