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A wealth of opportunities: Public real estate management as a tool for good governance

Eguiar Lizundia's picture

Also available in Spanish

Public works in Sixth Avenue, zona 1, besides the National Palace, Guatemala City, Guatemala. Photo: Maria Fleischmann / World Bank


How much are the government buildings, lands and other publicly-owned real estate of your country worth?  According to recent publications, a lot. A 2013 IMF study estimated that non-financial assets are worth an average of 67 percent of the GDP of a selection of 32 countries.

More recently, a book by Dag Detter and Stefan Fölster underscored the incredible potential of improving public wealth management. According to their calculations, a one percent increase in returns to public assets worldwide (including real estate) would generate gains equal to roughly one percent of global GDP!  In the United States, a one percent increase in yields from federal assets would be equivalent to the revenue raised from a four percent tax increase. But why are governments sitting on so much unused wealth?  And what can they do to make better use of what they have?

Seeking to reap the fruits of smarter public real estate management, representatives from twenty countries from around the world met in Mexico last September. Participants discussed how to turn the management of public real estate assets into a tool for good governance, including strategies to optimize the use of government property and generate savings in maintenance. The conference was organized by The Workplace Network (TWN), an international public real estate management network, with participation of the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank.

How a professor started a campaign to fight everyday corruption in India

Alice Lloyd's picture
Also available in Spanish,  French and Arabic
Photo credit: 5th Pillar


An expatriate Indian physics professor, when traveling back home to India, found himself harassed by endless extortion demands. As a way to fight corruption by shaming the officials who ask for bribes, the professor created a fake currency bill: the zero-rupee note.

The notes are identical to Indian banknotes, but carry the slogan, "Eliminate corruption at all levels," and the pledge, "I promise to neither accept nor give bribe".

Vijay Anand, president of the non-governmental organization 5th Pillar, thought the idea could work on a larger scale. Initially, the NGO printed 25,000 zero-rupee notes and distributed them to students in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. Since 2007, the NGO has distributed more than one million bills in five languages, covering 600-plus institutions. Volunteers hand them out near places where officials often solicit bribes, such as railway stations and government hospitals. 

How is the conditional cash transfers program changing the politics of service delivery in Philippines?

Motoky Hayakawa's picture
Photo: Kenneth Pornillos / World Bank

Vote buying has shaped much of Philippine politics throughout history. For many politicians, distributing private goods and cultivating patronage to individual supporters is one of the most effective electoral strategies.

While the line between public and private is traditionally blurry, people who are used to this relationship with those who hold positions in government tend to measure politicians’ performance in terms of how much they provide private goods as opposed to broad public goods.
 
But though it may have been prevalent, vote buying has been a serious constraint in the country. Research has shown that practices such as vote buying and political dynasties undermine public service delivery and poverty reduction. How can these practices, which are so deeply embedded in Filipinos’ political way of life, begin to change?

A call for action and the way forward for reform in Francophone Africa

Nestor Coffi's picture
Also available in: French
​Number of accredited chartered accountants serving in public practice/million inhabitants in country.


With the call for action issued last month in Dakar, the commitment was clear: Francophone countries in Africa will seek to improve the well-being of their citizens by accelerating the transformation of public financial management systems. They will take this initiative through strong partnership between governments and the accountancy profession with the support of the development partners.
 
The call was made by 200 high-level delegates from 20 countries: decision-makers and practitioners from both the public sector and professional accounting organizations, and representatives from multilateral development organizations and civil society.
 
“The effective implementation of these reforms will improve the use of public resources to enhance delivery of services, transparency, accountability, and citizens’ trust in our governments,” said the Honorable Ansoumane Condé, Minister for Budget of the Republic of Guinea, after reading the call on October 29.

Making taxes easier to pay

Ismail Radwan's picture
A team of NAFA young professionals receives an award in recognition for their work to help Romanians register and pay taxes online


Nobody likes paying taxes. But taxes are fundamental to governing a country. Without tax revenues we cannot pay for schools, hospitals and other important government services. 

Without taxes there would be no law and order, no security, no pensions and no social safety net. 
 
Collecting a sufficient amount of tax revenue to finance public services without distorting the economy or discouraging people from working is a challenge everywhere.  In Romania, the challenge is especially difficult as the culture of voluntary compliance has yet to take hold: Romania ranks among the lowest countries in the EU in terms of the tax gap and the amount of revenue raised as a percentage of GDP.

The economy is growing quickly, which has an unfortunate side effect: more opportunities for tax evasion.

A tool at the right time for tax reform

Jim Brumby's picture


In today’s world, international aid is fickle, financial flows unstable, and many donor countries are facing domestic economic crises themselves, driving them to apply resources inward. In this environment, developing countries need inner strength. They need inner stability. And they deserve the right to chart their own futures.

This is within their grasp, and last week the launch of an unassuming-but-powerful tool marked an important step forward in this quiet independence movement. It’s called the TADAT, or Tax Administration Diagnostic Assessment Tool. At first glance, this tool may look inscrutable, technical, and disconnected from development. But listen. 

Are you GovSmart? Take our November quiz to find out!

Alice Lloyd's picture


Last month we blogged about public financial management, four ways governments are making girls’ lives better and much more.
 
Take our quiz to sharpen or refresh your knowledge about issues related to governance.
 
And let us know if you're "GovSmart." Please tweet your score @wbg_gov!

 


Among wealthy nations, Nordic countries are leading the pack on sustainable development

Craig James Willy's picture
Source: Bertelsmann Stiftung

Sustainable development was once thought of as primarily a concern for the poorer, so-called “developing” countries. Today, with industrial civilization spreading across the entire world, devouring ever more resources and emitting more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, economists believe wealthy countries too are in a sense still “developing” ones. Life on Earth will not survive in its current form if lifestyle of the northern countries remains as it is and extends across the planet.

That is the spirit behind the Bertelsmann Foundation’s latest report on wealthy country’s progress on fulfilling Sustainable Development Goals. Recent developments have often not been pretty. Many countries have stuck to energy-intensive economic models, and inequality has been rising almost everywhere, with economic elites getting an ever-larger part of the pie, while working and middle classes decline.

Government could cheaply encourage citizens to save water by doing this

Laura De Castro Zoratto's picture
 Photo: Curt Carnemark / World Bank


Crises in access to water are making headlines around the world. Among difficult policy pathways to respond, convincing people to change their behavior and reduce their consumption can be one of the hardest.

This post gives us a promising picture from Belén, a small town in Costa Rica.  Of Belén’s 21,633 inhabitants, 99.3% have access to water service, but shortages are anticipated by 2030. Our recent study demonstrated that the government could cheaply encourage citizens to save water by enabling them to compare their consumption with that of their peers. 

This is a timely lesson, as the United Nations estimates that more than two-thirds of the world’s population will live in water-stressed regions by 2025.  Demographic and economic pressures make water management an increasingly urgent policy priority even in water rich areas like Latin America, home to nearly 31% of the world's freshwater resources. 

While Costa Rica is relatively well-endowed with water resources, current demand virtually matches production capacity  Risks of water deficits and existing shortages are heightened by overdevelopment of areas with limited water supply. To help address these challenges, we partnered with local authorities in the small municipality of Belén to conduct a randomized control trial, capturing an innovative approach that can help conserve water across the country, and in similar contexts around the world.

The project built on insights from the growing field of behavioral economics, which challenges the underlying, intentionally simplified assumption of standard models: that people make rational decisions based on a self-interested cost-benefit analysis. Behavioral economics borrows from other sciences to consider the full scope of social and psychological influences on human decision-making.

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