This blog post is part of a series for the 'Bureaucracy Lab', a World Bank initiative to better understand the world's public officials.
“Why? Why do we always fail the people of this country?” So reflects the public official who plays the hero in my graphic novel on governance in the developing world. The story, set in fictional Zanzarim, follows the struggles of the ‘Director’ up to that point, as he labours to implement policy that will help his fellow citizens. His exhausting — and frequently unsuccessful — attempts to succeed mirror the many such struggles I have witnessed in the governments of developing countries across the world.
Economists tend to agree on the importance of competition for a sound market economy. So what’s the problem when it comes to governments competing to attract investors through the tax treatment they provide? The trouble is that by competing with one another and eroding each other’s revenues, countries end up having to rely on other—typically more distortive—sources of financing or reduce much-needed public spending, or both.
All this has serious implications for developing countries because they are especially reliant on the corporate income tax for revenues. The risk that tax competition will pressure them into tax policies that endanger this key revenue source is therefore particularly worrisome.
In the fiscal transparency arena, people often hear two conflicting claims. First, governments complain that few people take advantage of fiscal information that they make publicly available. Many countries - including fragile and low-income countries such as Togo and Haiti – have been opening up their budgets to public scrutiny by making fiscal data available, often through web portals.
Increasing the supply of fiscal information, however, often does not translate to the adequate demand and usage required to bring some of the intended benefits of transparency such as increased citizen engagement, and accountability. Providing a comprehensive budget dataset to the public does not guarantee that citizens, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and the media will start digging through the numbers.
In the board game 'Bureaucracy', you must assume the role of the ‘Lifer’, the ‘Over Achiever’, the ‘Empire Builder’, or the ‘Hustler’. Each character must use different tactics associated with their personality to rise up the ranks of the bureaucracy to achieve the position of director. For example, by amassing contacts, the Hustler can attempt a 'power play' on players above her in the hierarchy.
In an effort to address this issue, the World Bank Group and the United Nations embarked on a three-year partnership that led to the publication of a new report titled Securing Development: Public Finance and the Security Sector. It is a sourcebook providing guidance to governments and development practitioners on how to use a tool called “Public Expenditure Review (PER)” adapted to examine the financing of security and criminal justice institutions.
Most development stakeholders agree on the need to foster more open and transparent Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) to ensure that PPP projects provide quality public goods and services to citizens, and that they effectively contribute to pro-poor development outcomes.
That sounds great in theory, but in practice, it’s not that easy. PPPs involve a trove of data and documents. On top of that, the information made available publicly is generally difficult to interrogate, when it’s not completely lost in lengthy PDF files.
Let’s face it: searching for relevant PPP data and information can oftentimes feel like looking for a needle in a haystack.
As I have blogged earlier, the World Bank is supporting Procurement Observatories in India. Procurement Observatories are civil society organizations, whose goal is to collect, analyze and present public procurement policies and data to the public in a more understandable way. These initiatives, inspired by similar approaches in Nigeria, allow for greater transparency of procurement practices.
While the aim of these observatories is to become self-sustaining and independent from World Bank support, recent progress from three such observatories in India show that .
In a live-streamed event from 1 pm to 2 pm EST on Friday, April 21, the World Bank will host a discussion of a critical development issue: Taxes. The event, Boosting Revenues, Driving Development: Why Taxes are Critical for Growth, will include an illustrious list of panelists, representing many different perspectives:
By 2030, almost half of the world’s poor will be concentrated in countries affected by fragility, conflict and violence. It’s easy to associate these problems with only poorer countries, but in fact they affect a broader range of countries, and yes, middle income countries too. And, increasingly, they cross borders. Beyond the threats of terrorism, conflict and violence, poor public services and economic livelihoods have led to mass migration and forced displacement, trapping growing numbers of innocent people in vicious cycles of deprivation.
Consider how the Syrian refugee situation has spilled over beyond the Middle East, and the current famine in South Sudan, which is impacting approximately 100,000 people, with millions of lives at risk in the region if we do not act quickly and decisively.
India is the fastest-growing major economy in the world with significant Government investments in infrastructure. According to estimates by WTO and OECD, as quoted in a report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, India: Probity in Public Procurement, the estimated public procurement in India is between 20 and 30 percent of GDP.
This translates to Indian government agencies issuing contracts worth an estimated US$ 419 billion to US$ 628 billion each year for various aspects of infrastructure projects. Ideally, in contractual agreements no disputes would arise and both sides would benefit from the outcome. However, unexpected events occur and many contracts end in dispute. Contractual legal disputes devoid project benefits to the public as time and resources are spent in expensive arbitration and litigation. As a result, India’s development goals are impacted.