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Sotto Voce?

Shanthi Kalathil's picture

Recently I read yet another paper advancing the idea that governance reforms should take a back seat to economic development. To which, as I watch the ongoing footage from the Middle East, I must respond: really?
If there is nothing else that recent events in Egypt have taught us, it is that people, everywhere, demand a voice. Not all democracy templates are universally applicable. But citizens of any country surely desire the freedom to express themselves, and count themselves heard. It's not merely a human right; it's a human fact. 
Many development agencies have been caught off balance by recent developments in the Middle East, and are scrambling to adjust. Why? Because we, the collective development community, still have no real way to think about issues of voice, accountability, representation, politics, and power. Our assessment templates only marginally, if at all, take into account such crucial issues; operationally, we have no established methods of building such issues into our work. Even now, governance remains a road hesitantly trod, skirting the outside of the development mainstream. And yet I challenge anyone who has watched recent global events unfold to argue that governance and politics do not matter in people's everyday lives.

Business Environment Reforms: Distinguishing Tokenism from the Real Thing

Inessa Love's picture

To promote the registration of new firms, many countries have been undertaking reforms to reduce the costs, days or procedures required to register a business. For example, the World Bank Doing Business report each year identifies the 10 most improved countries on the overall Doing Business index (comprised of 9 subindicators). One of these subindicators measures reforms related to starting a business, with 30-65 countries reforming in this area each year. A still unanswered question is whether some reforms are more important than others. A priori, it is not clear what magnitude of reduction in costs (or days or procedures) is necessary to create a significant impact on firm registration. In other words, what exactly constitutes a reform? Is a 20% reduction in the costs of registration sufficient, or is a 50% reduction necessary to get a substantial number of firms to register?

In a recent paper Leora Klapper and I empirically investigate the magnitude of reform required for a significant impact on the number of new registrations. We use a new dataset that is uniquely suited for this purpose: the World Bank Group Entrepreneurship Snapshots (WBGES), a cross-country, time-series panel dataset on the number of newly registered companies. We supplement it with data from Doing Business reports that contain the cost, time and procedures required for registration of new companies. Importantly, both datasets focus on limited liability companies. In an earlier paper, we used the same dataset to investigate the impact of the global financial crisis on new firm registrations

An American Lesson: Counter-Reform Can Shape Public Opinion

Sina Odugbemi's picture

What might be the generalizable lessons of the recent mid-term elections in the United States? There are several that this blog would be interested in. The one that I would like to draw attention to today is the fact that despite the huge reform bills that Democrats successfully passed - the biggest being the health care reform bill - it seems clear that they lost the battle for public opinion, and that losing that battle did not help them on election day, whatever else shaped voter preferences on that day.  Reformers everywhere need to reflect on that experience very carefully.

When reforms fail what is often blamed is 'lack of political will'; in other words, not enough leaders in leadership positions in the specific country context supported the proposed reform and it failed. Suppose you secure political will, as in this case, and the reform succeeds, is it game-over? Clearly not. To quote Robert  O. Varenik of the Open Society Justice Initiative (at the end of a  review of a series of pretrial detention reform experiences from around the world): "The acid test of reform should not be what can be attained but what can be sustained."

Publish and the Problem Will Go Away?

Johanna Martinsson's picture

Transparency International’s (TI) 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index provides a rather bleak picture of the current state of corruption around the world. With more than half of the 178 indexed countries scoring below five on a 10 point scale (with 10 being “very clean”), corruption remains a major impediment to development.  Thus, TI is now advocating for stricter implementation and monitoring of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), a global legal framework that came into force in 2005 to help curb corruption. The Convention’s 140 signatories’ will be under review for the next three years for their efforts in fighting corruption.  TI further recommends that focus should be given to areas such as, “strengthening institutions; strengthening the rule of law; making decision-making transparent; educating youths and setting up better whistle-blower protection schemes.”  As a matter of fact, anti-corruption measures will be discussed at the G-20 summit taking place in Seoul next week.  However, Christiaan Poortman, TI’s Director of Global Programmes, is skeptical as to whether it will produce any major changes at the governance level. 

“Missions Suspended”: Does The Bank Need to Worry about ‘Political Risks’ - and What Does That Mean?

Verena Fritz's picture

For World Bank staff, it’s the announcement on the intranet: at a rate of about once a month, missions are being suspended to some country. All upcoming trips to the concerned country are being cancelled. Sometimes, the events – a disputed presidential election, riots against rising food prices, an increase in bus fares or the price of electricity, or a sudden clash between different ethnicities who previously seemed to live together peacefully – makes international news. At other times, the country concerned is too obscure and the instability is either too short-lived or too recurrent and there is barely a mentioning in the media.

Electrifying Laos: The Movie

Alfredo Baño Leal's picture

The history of the power sector in Lao PDR is relatively new. 15 years ago, Laos counted with just a couple of large hydropower plants, and a meager 16% of the households throughout the country counted with electricity access, mostly concentrated in Vientiane, the capital city, and few provincial towns such as Luang Prabang and Savannakett.

Infrastructures needed an urgent push to help the economy start up and reduce the extreme poverty rates of the population. During the beginning of the 90’s, several donors including the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) began different infrastructure development programs, including roads, water supply and electrification.

At The Cutting Edge of Governance: Final Day

Sina Odugbemi's picture

The third and final day of the workshop on 'Implementing Effective Country Level Governance' (Cape Town, South Africa) looked to the future. But, in a sense, it was not possible to look ahead without looking back at the same time. Again and again, participants reflected on the amazing road already travelled. Stories were told of the time when the World Bank and other donors would not discuss the terrible scourge of corruption in developing countries, let alone the role of politics and political institutions in either enabling or hampering development results. Yet now, all these things are part of not only the agenda but concrete practice in the field. A director summed up the state of play succinctly:

Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Governance Reform

Naniette Coleman's picture

Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance” by Atul Gawande seems an unlikely place to find governance reform ideas and development inspiration but I found both therein last week.  The book was recommended by a dear colleague who knows of my interest in organizational change.   An accomplished non-fiction writer "Atul Gawande, a 2006 MacArthur Fellow, is a general surgeon at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, a staff writer for The New Yorker, and an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health.”    He tackles the “universal struggle to perform well” through the eyes of a surgeon.  Along the way we are introduced to countless examples of organizational seizure, organizational change and the people at the center of these operations. 

Not In My Backyard

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

There are so many things in the world that need fixing, don't you think? More people need health insurance - but not from my money! Refugees need space and facilities in order to live halfway decently - but not in my backyard! Religious groups have the right to open their centers wherever they want - but not in my neighborhood!

It's a common public phenomenon - NIMBY, Not In My Backyard. It's a hurdle for many reforms: people opposing reasonable reforms because they don't want to have to deal with the consequences or pay the price. We don't want to pay higher taxes in order to cover a national reform that benefits a large number of people. We don't want certain groups of people in our neighborhoods (might bring property values down!). We do want to help, but preferably without having to do something about it. It's rather understandable - after all, we have our own interests to look after. If we don't, who will?

How UK’s Anti-Slavery Campaign Led to Transformational Change

Johanna Martinsson's picture

If you are a frequent reader of this blog, you will know that we in CommGAP are interested in learning how to change social norms for better governance and accountability.  In a forthcoming paper, I will take a closer look at the journey of norms in development; how they emerge, become global norms and diffuse to local contexts.  In reviewing global advocacy campaigns that led to transformational and normative change, it’s hard to ignore one of the most successful and important reform movements of the 19th century, namely the UK’s Anti-Slavery Campaign. How did the campaign manage to change such deeply entrenched norms as slave trade and slavery throughout the British Empire in some 50 years? Clearly, it’s a unique case that involved many institutional and environmental factors, and it would be impossible to cover all of them in a single blog post.  However, the campaign would not have succeeded if it wasn’t for a number of critical components that are of great interest to what we are learning about social norms and successful reforms.