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Public Sector and Governance

Reversing the 'race to the bottom’ in corporate conduct: Governance reform, ethical focus must repair the damage

Christopher Colford's picture

When terms like “criminal conspiracy” and “felony” appear in confessions and plea bargains, the criminal-justice system sits up and takes notice. And when the confessed felons are some of the world’s largest corporations, the private sector ought to be jolted into action, too.

The continuing shame of confessed corporate misconduct – in this case, lawbreaking conducted with such a degree of guile that the U.S. Attorney General called it “breathtaking flagrancy” and that the FBI labeled it criminality “on a massive scale” – reached a new intensity this month: Four of the world’s largest banks confessed to taking part in a five-year-long conspiracy to manipulate the world’s foreign-exchange markets.

This latest in a series of stern legal judgments has damaged the corporate reputations of some of the world’s most pivotal financial institutions – with guilty pleas, to felony charges no less, entered by Citicorp, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Barclays PLC and The Royal Bank of Scotland PLC. A separate guilty plea by UBS – along with earlier fines against Bank of America and HSBC in separate settlements in related cases – has brought the total of fines against those once-trusted, now-tarnished firms to about $6 billion.

The corporate confessions of deliberate lawbreaking, pursued with systematic and sinister stealth – at the very center of the international financial system – vividly validate the recent exhortation of Christine Lagarde of the International Monetary Fund: that corporate governance must be strengthened and that a higher standard of individual ethics must prevail, especially in the financial sector.

Lagarde wisely linked skewed incentives and a short-term profit-maximization mindset to the risk of financial instability, in an eloquent recent address to the Institute for New Economic Thinking’s conference on “Finance and Society”: “There is still work to be done to address distorted incentives in the financial system. Indeed, actions that precipitated the [global financial] crisis were – mostly – not so much fraudulent as driven by short-term profit motivation. This suggests to me that we need to build a financial system that is both more ethical and oriented more to the needs of the real economy – a financial system that serves society, and not the other way round.”

Those who champion the creative potential of the private sector (including, I imagine, the regular readers of this blog) have a particular reason – one might even say, a special responsibility – to voice their anger about the foreign-exchange-rigging scandal and other acts of lawlessness.

Idealists who esteem the private sector’s ingenuity in delivering growth and jobs sans frontières know that business' creativity will be indispensable in achieving the vital development goals of eliminating extreme poverty and promoting shared prosperity. Society thus rightly expects that the full measure of corporate energies should be focused on companies’ central mission of generating wealth that benefits all of society. Whenever any of those energies are diverted – especially toward criminal schemes that put short-term personal plunder ahead of long-term economic growth – the lawbreakers undermine public confidence (or what little remains of it, in the wake of the global financial crisis) in the fairness of the economic system.

Moreover, lawbreakers provide ammunition to critics who allege that today’s economic system is irredeemably corrupt, through-and-through – thus making it even more difficult for law-abiding companies, holding true to the values of honest business behavior, to make the case for policies that liberate private-sector dynamism.

​Five secrets of success of Sub-Saharan Africa’s first road PPP

Laurence Carter's picture
A view of the Dakar-Diamniadio toll road.

Why is Senegal’s Dakar-Diamniadio toll road, which opened on time and on budget in August 2013, so successful? The road has dramatically improved urban mobility around Dakar, reducing commute times between the city and its suburbs from two hours to less than 30 minutes.  
 
Building on this positive experience, in 2014 the Government of Senegal awarded a further concession to extend the motorway to connect it to Dakar’s new Blaise Diagne International Airport. Excluding South Africa, this is the first greenfield road PPP in sub-Saharan Africa. What lessons can we draw? 
  1. Political commitment. The Government of Senegal set the project as a priority. The first driver on the road was the President – who paid the toll. But commitment alone isn’t enough; it needs to be turned into action by government agencies. An intra-agency coordinating committee was set up. The National Agency for the Promotion of Investments (APIX) oversaw the preparation of the concession. The Public Private Infrastructure Advisory Facility (PPIAF) supported APIX with technical assistance, including the design of a framework for the oversight of the project.
  2. Toll plaza along the road
    Consensus-building and stakeholder engagement.  Part of PPIAF’s US$250,000 grant to the Government of Senegal helped to pay for seminars with stakeholder groups to discuss structuring options for the road and socio-economic drivers of the willingness to pay. The final structure chosen involved a relatively low toll, with an upfront contribution by the government to the cost, with the concessionaire taking full construction, operating and traffic risk. The combination of careful outreach to stakeholders, a fairly low toll, significant time savings and a well-maintained road meant that the first toll road in the country was accepted by the population. In addition, the fact that there is a free alternative road helped the Government and other stakeholders point out that motorists could always choose to use the other route.
  3. Experienced concessionaire with strong commitment to Senegal. The concessionaire, the Eiffage Group is one of Europe’s leading construction and toll road operating companies, with a long history of involvement in, and commitment to, Senegal. Eiffage, through the special purpose company set up to construct and operate for 30 years the road, SENAC S.A., ensured that the road was constructed and is being operated to a high standard, on time and within budget.  

Flexibility, opportunity, and inclusion through online outsourcing jobs

Cecilia Paradi-Guilford's picture
What is online outsourcing, and how could countries leverage it to create new jobs for youth and women? Those are questions we will help answer as part of an upcoming report and toolkit.

The World Bank, in collaboration with our partners at the Rockefeller Foundation, recently met with government agencies and other key stakeholders, as well as the online work community in Kenya and Nigeria, to discuss these issues. Online workers from these countries also presented their stories, including the highly inspirational story of Elizabeth, a retiree who was able to take in an orphan and provide for her schooling, as well as afford a lifestyle upgrade because of her online outsourcing work.
 
Elizabeth supports her
family through online work.

Elizabeth, 55, originally worked as a stenographer. Her husband died in 2003, and she is the sole breadwinner for three of her own children and one other orphan who she has informally adopted. She works online on writing platforms, and is currently being on- boarded to start work with CloudFactory. At the moment, she earns between US$50–80 per week working online; this is her the sole source of income, from which she pays her family’s rent, living expenses and short-term loans.

“I lost my husband in 2003, so I am the mother and the father," Elizabeth says. "I am self-sufficient. Online work does not confine me to an 8-5 time frame. I can work at my convenience, and I can manage my own home while I work.”

Online outsourcing (OO) is providing this kind of flexibilty and earning potential to millions of people around the world. OO generally refers to the contracting of third-party workers and providers (often overseas) to supply services or perform tasks via Internet-based marketplaces or platforms. Popular platforms include Elance-oDesk (now known as Upwork), Freelancer.com, CrowdFlower and Amazon Mechnical Turk. The industry’s global market size is projected to grow to US$15-25 billion by the year 2020, and could employ at least 30 million active workers from all over the world.

Swept up in work: My years in the Kabul office

Paul Sisk's picture
Family on Motorbike in Afghanistan
Afghanistan. Photo by Graham Crouch/World Bank


I spent the past 11 years working and living in Afghanistan.  I didn’t intend to stay that long in one country office, but I got swept up in the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund, which under the World Bank, was financing 50% of government expenditures earlier on.  Its budget operations grew from $600 million in 2004 to more than $5 billion in 2014.

For anyone working on public financial management, there were a lot of challenges to tackle and no good time to leave. Our work in Afghanistan is the World Bank at its best. Moreover, Afghans are excellent hosts and have been very receptive to World Bank collaboration.

Six Financial Sector Challenges for Emerging and Developing Economies

Erik Feyen's picture
The relatively weak economic growth outlook, particularly for emerging and developing economies (EMDE), provides an important backdrop for the financial challenges that some of them currently face.
 
Recently, financial volatility returned because of various concerns in the marketplace – including (just to name a few) shifting expectations of the shape of the Federal Reserve’s exit path from ultra-low interest rates and the rapid strengthening of the US dollar; the launch of quantitative easing by the European Central Bank and its impact on inflation expectations and bond markets; low and volatile oil prices; China’s growth slowdown, additional stimulus and financial-sector challenges; the standoff between the new Greek government and its creditors; and continuing geopolitical turmoil.
 
In this context, EMDEs face six interrelated financial challenges, although it is important to note significant differences between countries exist.
 
First: Prolonged extraordinary monetary policies (EMPs) in developed countries and the prospect of asynchronous exits create a wide range of global financial market challenges. EMPs in developed economies created an environment of ultra-low interest rates, as policymakers have aimed to rekindle economic growth and battle disinflationary pressures. Three key risks have emerged:
 
  • Low rates and excessive risk-taking have contributed to very high asset valuations, compressed risk spreads and term premiums, and stimulated non-bank-sector growth, boosting leverage, illiquidity and collateral shortages. That exposes the financial system to shocks. This has weakened risk pricing and contributed to the “illusion of liquidity,” raising the risk of pro-cyclical “fire sales” with global spillovers.
  • Sudden shifts in market expectations or a bumpy trajectory of the U.S. Federal Reserve exit path to normalized interest rates could trigger volatility in currency, equity and capital-flow markets – similar to the “Taper Tantrum” of 2013, when the Federal Reserve openly contemplated scaling back its asset purchases.
  • Increasing divergence between central bank policies in developed economies has already had significant implications for currency markets, particularly for the euro-dollar pair. Divergence creates an interference risk and the possibility of miscommunication, which could trigger new bouts of global financial market volatility.

Your summer PPP beach reading

Geoffrey Keele's picture

As you prepare to take off for summer travels to parts unknown, leave your paperbacks behind and take that stack of must-read magazines to the recycling bin, because I’ve compiled a selection of recent articles related to PPPs that will engage, educate and inspire. It’s also intended to answer some common questions – because many people are not fully aware of the complexities of PPPs and how risks are shared between the public and private sectors.

For those in search of a broader perspective on how PPPs contribute to global development, their challenges and their potential, these articles will give you something to think about before, during and after your vacation.
 
Transparency is always an important issue, whether we are talking public procurement or PPPs, and there has been a push recently for all government contracts to be made public. The argument is that transparency not only inhibits corruption and builds trust in governments, but can help improve the contracts themselves. For example, in Slovakia, the publication of contracts led to a 50 percent increase in the average number of bids on government tenders. In Buenos Aires, Argentina, it reduced variation and lowered average prices for hospital supplies.

In this editorial, the authors make their case. But what does this mean for PPPs, where openness and commercial confidentiality must find a balance? Can the two be reconciled?

Forging a partnership with the Global Infrastructure Hub

Mark Moseley's picture
During the Spring Meetings in mid-April, the World Bank Group committed to addressing the world’s data gaps for infrastructure investments, which will help lower barriers to those investments and help provide services to more people across the globe.

Our team signed an agreement with the recently established Global Infrastructure Hub (GIH) – an initiative of the world’s G20 leading economies – that paves the way for future cooperation.

The GIH came into existence last December, as a result of decisions taken at the November 2014 G20 Leaders’ Summit in Brisbane, Australia. Based in Sydney, the GIH is designed to drive progress on the infrastructure agenda of the G20 and, in particular, to encourage additional private sector involvement with infrastructure development.

It will be a knowledge-sharing network, which will aggregate and disseminate information on infrastructure projects and financing opportunities. The GIH is also designed to assist governments with capacity-building in regard to infrastructure development, by sharing best practice approaches.

The agreement signed by both parties details collaboration on new knowledge products and the mutual support of conferences and learning opportunities, such as the forthcoming Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) Days event in London on June 16-17, 2015.

The value of evaluations: asking the right questions

Mario Marcel's picture
Charting Accountability in Public Policy and Development
Successful public policy monitoring and evaluation: the World Bank identifies five ground rules that deliver results that are both useful and used.


During the Spring Meetings, the Governance Global Practice, the Independent Evaluation Group, and the International Initiative for Impact Evaluation (3ie) co-hosted a lively panel discussion with a provocative title: Why focus on results when no one uses them?
 
Albert Byamugisha, Commissioner for Monitoring and Evaluation from the Uganda Office of the Prime Minister, kicked off the session with a rebuttal to this question by sharing examples of the Ugandan government’s commitment to using and learning from both positive and negative results. Although this sounds like common sense, it is not always common practice.

Establish a national PPP Unit to support bottom-up infrastructure investment

Robert Puentes's picture
Photo: flickr/cmh2315fl
By any measure, the United States is a laggard in terms of public-private partnership (PPP) projects. Between 1985 and 2011, there were 377 transportation PPP infrastructure projects funded in the U.S. Those projects comprised just nine percent of the total nominal costs of infrastructure PPPs around the world. Europe leads the infrastructure PPP market, concentrating more than 45 percent of the nominal value of all PPPs.

There appear to be several discrete, but related, reasons why the U.S. has been slow to pursue PPPs in comparison with European and Asian countries:
  • In some cases, there is a lack of consensus, institutional capacity, and expertise to properly promote the benefits and costs of PPP deals. In Pittsburgh, for example, an arrangement to lease the city’s parking operations to a private entity collapsed when the city council voted against the transaction.
  • Deals are getting more complex, politically heated, and cumbersome as some stretch across jurisdictions and even international borders, as is the case with the New International Trade Crossing intended to connect Detroit to Windsor, Ontario.
  • With state and municipal finances under strain, the public sector is trying to transfer greater responsibility to the private sector, including in the arena of project financing.
In this regard, the U.S. Government Accountability Office recently noted that while the U.S. has done much to promote the benefits of PPPs, it needs to do more to assist states and metro areas in thinking through potential costs and trade-offs, as well as assessing national interests.

Financing for Development: World Bank's role in supporting tax and revenue mobilization reforms is critical

Rajul Awasthi's picture

Melissa Thomas, author of Govern like us, speaking at the World Bank recently raised a very interesting question: is our expectation that poor countries with limited resources can deliver high-quality governance unrealistic?

Can these countries provide the public goods and services that citizens demand and need, to be able to forge a strong social contract?

She compares the levels of revenue per capita in rich and poor countries and finds that in the poorest countries, levels of revenue per capita are so low that it would be years, or even decades, until they have enough to provide a decent level of public goods and services.

It is in that context that I thought of Sri Mulyani’s appeal during the Spring Meetings when she spoke of the need to clamp down on tax evasion and avoidance and boost the domestic resource mobilization (DRM) capacities of developing countries as a means of finding resources for financing development going forward.


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