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).