With the ink barely dry on the Sustainable Development Goals, naturally the just-completed Open Government Partnership annual summit focused on how greater openness can accelerate progress toward the goals.
The open government agenda is most closely linked to the ambitious Goal 16 on Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions, which among other targets includes the objective of ensuring “responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels.” Though progress in this area is maddeningly difficult to quantify, evidence increasingly shows that participation, the next transparency frontier, matters to development outcomes. Making the target explicit, it is hoped, will galvanize efforts in the right direction.
There are many issues one could propose to tackle with citizen engagement strategies, but to narrow the topic of discussion, let’s consider just one: enabling smart growth in the world’s exploding cities and megacities.
Two weeks ago, we launched an exciting new Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on Citizen Engagement hosted on Coursera and in partnership with the London School of Economics, the Overseas Development Institute, Participedia, and CIVICUS.
To date, over 15,000 people from 192 countries (45% women) have enrolled in the course and our digital footprint continues to be strong: the launch event page has had over 2,500 unique visitors while many continue to use the hashtag #CitizensEngage on Twitter.
These healthy metrics are a strong indication of just how timely and significant this issue has become and is the latest reason why I firmly believe in the power of engaging citizens to build good governance. This MOOC therefore is a key component of the World Bank Group’s commitment to develop a citizen perspective on governance to improve the contribution of institutions to development.
Yet let me offer six compelling reasons why it is necessary, feasible and useful to do it:
“There has been a broad recognition amongst economists that “institutions matter”: poor countries are not poor because they lack resources, but because they lack effective political institutions”. Francis Fukuyama, the Origins of Political Order, Vol 1 (2009)
For development professionals, there is no getting away from the fact that politics shapes the environments in which we work—that our programs can and do fail when we don’t take politics into account. But despite growing evidence that political economy analysis (PEA) can contribute to new ways of working and ultimately better results, the politics agenda remains what Thomas Carothers calls an “almost revolution” in mainstream development practice.
There are many factors at play: limited staff capacity to engage with politics, bureaucratic incentives to meet lending targets, a preference for best practice solutions and institutional blueprints. Many continue to argue that it is not the business of development banks or aid agencies to analyse politics, let alone act on key findings. This resistance is posited on several arguments—or myths—which I address below.
A few weeks ago, the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) concluded a three-day visit to the Bank with a presentation by its Chief Economist, Stefan Dercon. ‘Aid is Politics’ traversed the big picture debates in economics, politics and development with ease, but the focus was the practice of aid.
Once we’re on the ground at scale, we become part of the politics. Not only do domestic politics shape the impact of our interventions, our programs today affect politics tomorrow. Economic policy, although seemingly about ‘removing market failures and correcting distortions’, impacts upon the distribution of rents or income, at times adversely affecting political equilibria by benefitting already powerful groups.
Since walking away from politically fraught environments is not an option (aid practitioners are “the intervention squad”), we need to constantly analyze, adapt programing to politics, be creative, make political engagement endogenous, and try to nudge aspects of the political settlement to a better place.
Although Stefan gave a lively presentation, what struck me was not the content -- over the last decade, a virtual consensus has formed in development praxis that political drivers shape development outcomes, and that effective interventions require both deep understanding of the distribution of power and resources in a given country and the flexibility to adapt to changing context. Most striking was the mission underlying Stefan’s comments.
The last 10 years have seen turbulent economic times. The global economic crises was rooted, in part, in standards for guiding private sector behavior and setting economic policy that failed to meet emerging challenges and risks. One of the lower profile, but important, consequences has been to reexamine the fiscal standards that have guided fiscal policy and management practices.
On October 6, 2014 the International Monetary Fund, at a joint event with the World Bank, launched its new Fiscal Transparency Code (FTC) and Evaluation following two years of intensive analysis and consultation. I congratulate the IMF on creating a set of standards that capture the quality of fiscal reports and data, are graduated to reflect different levels of country capacity, and more comprehensively covers fiscal risks.
As newly resource-rich countries grapple with how to manage their resources well, questions arise on how governments can channel natural resource revenues into smart investments, as well as lessons learned from past experiences. At a Flagship event preceding the Annual Meetings, panelists came together to discuss “Making Extractives Industries’ Wealth Work for the Poor.”
If managed well, revenue from resources such as oil and gas in Tanzania and Mozambique, iron ore in Guinea, copper in Mongolia, gas and gold in Latin America, oil, gas, bauxite and gold in Central Asia, can contribute to sustainable development. When poorly handled they can present long-term challenges for governments, communities and the environment.
The panelists included Marinke Van Riet, International Director, Publish What You Pay; Ombeni Sefue, Chief Secretary of Government, Tanzania; Samuel Walsh, Chief Executive Officer, Rio Tinto; and Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop, Deputy Chairman, Nasional Berhad, Malaysia. The session was moderated by renowned energy expert Daniel Yergin, Vice-Chairman, IHS, and bestselling author of The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World.
Back in 2004, Extractive Industries Review noted that “the overall framework of governance within which Extractives Industries (EI) development takes place will be a major determinant of its contribution to sustainable poverty reduction.” The expert panel called for World Bank Group to do more on governance and transparency of the sector.
Source: Getty Images/Sam Edwards.
In Africa, estimates indicate that an annual investment of $93 billion is required to address the continent’s basic infrastructure needs – more than double the current level of investment.
The lack of productive investment of resource revenues, with spending of these revenues often heavily tilted towards consumption, is a critical component of the so-called resource curse, the observation that countries rich in natural resources frequently have slow long-term growth. Following oil or mineral discoveries, as the expectation of increased wealth spreads, pressures to spend typically become hard for politicians to resist, public sector salaries go through the roof, wasteful spending increases, corruption may flourish, hidden foreign bank accounts may be established, and the number of unproductive “white elephant” projects grows.
How can resource-rich countries ensure that a large share of oil, gas, and mining revenues are used for productive investment rather than excessive or wasteful consumption?
Over the past two decades, almost every developing country has adopted some form of public finance management (PFM) reform plan, with many currently pursuing second or third generation plans. Over the same period, development partners have provided substantial support – a total of over $20 billion since 2002. However, some countries have seen strong progress, while others have seen little, or have even experienced backsliding (see Graph 1 a and b).