In Rabat recently, civil society, private sector, media and government representatives from across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region warmly greeted each other. They asked about family and friends, customary to the region’s tradition, but there was something unique about this gathering: the participants talked about the region’s transition, youth movements, activists, constitutions, and reforms – sharing each other’s dreams and concerns.
Reducing corruption requires integrity and economic growth. This was the main message I took from the Economic Research Forum's (ERF) annual conference in Cairo this week focused on eradicating corruption. More traditional calls for transparency and accountability, while still critical, were overshadowed by the recognition that incentives for corruption will persist unless people have a moral aversion to it and evidence that the only foolproof correlation with low corruption is high per capita income.
Also available in: العربية
When I last wrote, we were launching a round of consultations out of our World Bank office in Cairo to hear from Egyptian voices on how best we support this great country in the historic transition now underway. Thanks to those of you who joined us in the great wide world of the virtual cafe. In our actual offices (and with real tea and coffee) we had meetings with political parties including the Freedom and Justice Party, the Al-Nour Party, Al-Wafd and the Egyptian Social Democratic Party.
As Egypt embarks down the road of electing a new President, Egyptians are going to have to go to the polls again. But, this time they won’t be voting for someone to represent their district in Parliament, they will be voting for their new President. Let me be clear about the context here: I have never met an Egyptian who voted for anything until the post-revolution parliamentary vote. But, voting for a Parliamentarian is one thing, voting for your new President is something else entirely. To me the whole thing seems rather daunting.
Also available in: العربية
We’ve just hosted the Middle East and North Africa Forum bringing together international and regional experts to focus on the important topics of governance, employment and inclusive growth in this open moment for region. Fear and hope were the dominant emotions in this turbulent period. Fear of the unknown, fear of repeating the mistakes of failed transitions, fear of continued unrest in some parts of the region. And, hope for a better future, a future built on dignity and inclusion, hope for peace and prosperity in the region. Few talked of a return to the compromises of the past.
Successful democracies need more than elections, according to Professor Roger Myerson of the University of Chicago. They need a steady supply of politicians with good reputations for responsible leadership. While this may seem an obvious conclusion, the question of how politicians develop track records is a critical one. It is especially critical for societies in transition, with no tradition of competitive elections. In his opening remarks to the MENA Chief Economist Forum on Economic and Political Transitions, Professor Myerson looked beyond processes such as elections to the very structure of democratic systems and how they determine outcomes.
For citizens of the Arab world – and probably most especially young citizens – the post-revolution era has seemed a bit of a cold shower; the obstacles daunting; the heady moments of people power faded; and the question for some perhaps whether there even was a revolution. In this context it’s empowering to hear the voices of recent history from elsewhere in the world and fascinating among them is Dewi Fortuna Anwar from the Vice President’s Office in Indonesia. She is steeped in her country’s history of independence, democracy, and dictatorship.
It’s so uplifting to walk into a room that’s crackling with energy. I was a little late for the opening session in Rabat today for a workshop focused on Supporting Citizen-State Engagement in the Arab World. That’s ok, I thought, forgiving myself a little too easily, it’ll take a bit of time to warm up. How wrong I was: some 90 people in the room from seven different countries across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) – Egyptian, Jordanian, Lebanese, Moroccan, Tunisian, Palestinian and Yemeni teams. The debate was whipping around with everyone pitching in about whether this workshop should be open and transparent.
Against the noise of citizens echoing their demands from the streets of Rabat, our discussions with Moroccan authorities in preparation of the Accountability and Transparency Development Policy Loan (DPL) were promising – both on the central and local level. There is a strong will to deliver on governance reforms which respond to popular demands for change and an urge to produce strong and visible results in the short term. This interest is also reinforced by an ambition to translate recent constitutional reforms into real change on the ground. On Monday, Moroccans marked the one-year anniversary of the country’s own version of the Arab Spring uprisings. Thousands of citizens joined in Casablanca and Rabat, and a few more thousand across the country , to reaffirm demands for democratic change.
In an attempt to improve government transparency and accountability, Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti this week made his cabinet disclose their finances. The public was so curious that the government website crashed. Is this a sensible step towards better governance? A recent paper on disclosure by politicians says yes. Djankov, La Porta, Lopez-de-Silanes, and Shleifer (2010) collect data on the rules and practices of financial and conflict disclosure by members of parliament in 175 countries. They find that less than one third of countries make disclosures available to the public, and less than 15% of potentially useful information is presented.