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Governance

Nepal: Modest beginnings, big rewards

Taneem Ahad's picture
In recent years, Nepal has made the headlines for the wrong reasons. In April 2015, it was shaken by a huge earthquake that claimed thousands of lives and caused country-wide destruction.  In previous decades, it suffered political violence and chronic instability.

Yet despite these difficulties, the country rebounded strongly with growth at 7.5 percent in Fiscal Year 2017 and was able to achieve significant progress in business through a series of seemingly modest yet important steps.

Over the course of four years, Nepal’s Ministry of Industry, the country's Office of the Company Registrar (OCR) and IFC’s Investment Climate Team implemented a series of reforms to encourage business registration online. In 2013, a new mandatory online registration service was launched. Help desks in the Kathmandu OCR office, extensive training for business owners, a media campaign, and an enabling legal directive eased the speed and efficiency of the registration process for businesses.

Within a short period of time, almost 100 percent of companies – as opposed to 10 percent during the initial phase of launch – were registered online. Registration became simpler, saving money for both businesses and the government. Online registration also addressed the challenges of the government's limited capacity and poor technology readiness through extensive training and peer-to-peer learning. The processes became more transparent with online file tracking.

In the year following the launch of the online registration system, Nepal’s ranking for "Starting a Business" in the World Bank Group’s 2014 Doing Business Report rose by 6 places. The number of days it took to start a business dropped by 45 percent and led to a 24-percent increase in the number of new companies registered annually.



In Nepal, an employee of the Trade and Export Promotion Centre works on the Nepal Trade Information Portal. The portal, financed under the Nepal-India Regional Trade and Transport Project, provides information that traders need to import and export goods, including information on permits, laws and taxes. Photo Credit: Peter Kapuscinski / The World Bank

These successes produced broader lessons for Nepal and others facing similar challenges. These include:
  • Make change compulsory, easy and durable. People adapt to new circumstances only if they feel compelled to do so, and only if they fel that the change is not going to disrupt their businesses.
  • Ensure coordination between government offices in supporting initiatives. There must be "buy-in" from all government agencies involved at all levels. ICT changes must be fully coordinated with business staff. 
  • Nurture trust and cooperation between the WBG and government teams.  Study and learn about previous experiences, communicate how the current project will be carried out, and keep talking to partners in government. 

Helping Somalia attract private investment will require realism, rigor and reforms

Klaus Tilmes's picture



The president of the Somali Chamber of Commerce, Mohamoud Abdi Ali, joins with the country's Minister of Commerce and Industry, Khadra Ahmed Dualle, at the IFC-sponsored Public-Private Dialogue at the Somalia Conference, which was convened in London in May 2017. The need to increase revenue, growth and trust led to the creation of the Public-Private Dialogue. Photo credit: MPF. 

Stabilizing countries that have long been afflicted by fragility, conflict and violence (FCV) – and helping them shape effective reforms to strengthen the investment climate – is one of the most difficult challenges in international development. The task is all the more severe when, as in Somalia, a large proportion of the population has been displaced by violence and natural disaster and when the economy is overly concentrated on a few sectors. Such factors make rebuilding investor confidence a daunting challenge for the newly elected government.
 
However, despite these challenges, Somalia represents a rare example of private-sector resilience. The major sectors of the economy survived the tumultuous period after the collapse of the state in 1991. Entrepreneurs in Somalia and abroad continue to innovate and adapt in a country void of regulatory frameworks or government oversight. Domestic mobile-money transfers average $1.2 billion in monthly transactions, and mobile money usage is above 70 percent.
 
Nonetheless, economic growth in Somalia has stagnated and has not resulted in a peace dividend for the population. Government revenue is low – around 2.5 percent of GDP – in an economy driven by consumption, as identified in the World Bank Group’s Somali Economic Update (SEU) from 2016.  According to the SEU, two of the biggest obstacles to equitable growth are access to finance and lack of regulations. Moreover, investment in priority sectors is low, held back by protectionism, conflict and instability.
 
Somalia was the focus of an international conference in May 2017 in London that brought together some of Somalia’s top private-sector firms, development institutions and government leaders to discuss how to jump-start private-sector-led growth and achieve long-term peace and development. Among the distinguished attendees were the newly elected president of Somalia, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed “Farmaajo”; Prime Minister Teresa May of the United Kingdom; United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres; and the European Union’s foreign-policy chief, Federica Mogherini. The World Bank Group delegation was led by Jan Walliser, the Vice President for Equitable Growth, Finance and Institutions.

Economic marginalization of minorities: Do laws provide the needed protections?

Elaine R.E. Panter's picture

Never in recent history has anti-minorities rhetoric — anti-immigrants, anti-religious-minorities, anti-LGBTI — been so pronounced in so many countries around the world. Those groups, we are told, are the cause of our current economic crisis because they steal our jobs, fuel criminality and threaten our traditional way of living. And yet, the causes of our economic crisis are probably more nuanced, and initial research seems to suggest that more and not less social inclusion will help us overcome the instability of our times.

The exclusion of minorities from the labor force is becoming politically and economically unsustainable for many states that are struggling to retain their legitimacy and strengthen their competitive potential in an increasingly global marketplace. As a consequence, governments, international development agencies and academic institutions are now looking seriously at ways to develop policies that guarantee a more equal and sustainable form of economic development — development that addresses both short- and  long-term economic goals.

The World Bank’s Equality Project attempts to address this problem. The idea driving the project is that institutional measures that hamper the access of ethnic, religious and sexual minorities to the labor market and financial systems (such as legal and policy restrictions, or the absence of appropriate, positive nondiscrimination actions) directly affect their economic performance and, as a consequence, represent a cost for the economy: If a sizeable percentage of the population is not given the opportunity to acquire a high-quality education, a good job, secure housing, access to services, equal representation in decision-making institutions and protection from violence, human capital will be wasted, income inequality will grow and social unrest will ensue. The World Bank’s widely cited Inclusion Matters report puts it succinctly: “Social inclusion matters because exclusion is too costly. These costs are social, economic and political, and are often interrelated.”

The project collected and validated data on the legal framework of six pilot countries: Bulgaria, Mexico, Morocco, the Netherlands, Tanzania and Vietnam. The methodological approach of collecting cross-country comparable data according to key indicators yielded some general but interesting results, published in a research working paper in March 2017.

Private sector engagement is key to success on gender equity

Anabel Gonzalez's picture

Photo: Visual News Associates / The World Bank

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, if there is one concept to keep in mind above all others, it’s that gender equity is vital 24-7-365, and not just as a once-a-year observance.

You have heard the argument before and you will hear it again: Economies cannot reach their full potential if half the population is systematically blocked from full participation. This fundamental idea motivates the World Bank Group as it redoubles its efforts to address gaps in gender equality.

Our deepening work to close key gender gaps shows that the issues go far beyond economic inequity. Barriers to women’s full economic participation also impose moral, emotional and at times even physical costs.

We see this in the laws that prevent wives from making autonomous decisions about their careers. We see it in instances of violence against women in the workplace. We see this when harassment occurs at rural border crossings where women traders can encounter threats, and worse, from border guards.

In developing and developed countries alike, women face obstacles to starting and managing a business, to accessing finance, to earning equal pay for equal work, and to owning land or other assets. Many countries maintain laws and regulations that advantage men while discriminating against women, often relegating them to the status of a legal minor.

As Emeritus Professor Linda Scott of Oxford University’s Saïd Business School told us recently, “Women are economically disadvantaged in every country on the planet” and “women’s economic exclusion imposes a significant drag on world economies and societies.”

A key part of the Bank Group’s gender effort revolves around the importance of leveraging the private sector to ensure that reform goes beyond policy statements and creates real economic benefits for women and men. The Bank Group’s Trade & Competitiveness Global Practice (T&C) has developed an approach to gender equity that focuses on expanding market opportunities, enabling private initiative, and developing dynamic economies.

The work we are doing recognizes the entrenched nature of the obstacles to fuller economic empowerment for women. Achieving results at scale will require sustained commitment. But we also understand the importance of realizing near-term progress to catalyze change, and we recognize how interventions in particular countries can show the way forward elsewhere.

The concept is simple: Good results generate more good results.

Looping in local suppliers rather than forcing out international firms

Anabel Gonzalez's picture



An instructor at the Savar EPZ training center in Dhaka, Bangladesh, helps young women being trained to make shirts. Photo Credit: © Dominic Chavez/The World Bank


Increasing economic prosperity for developing countries is related not only to rising trade, but also – and more important – to transforming the traditional composition of what they produce and export. In the world today, many developing countries strive to diversify away from exporting commodities toward higher-value-added goods and services.

The evolution of trade and investment flows over the last three decades shows that foreign direct investment (FDI) can be a powerful driver of exports, a creator of well-paid new jobs and a crucial source of financing. More important, FDI may become a very rapid and effective engine to promote the transfer of technology, know-how and new business practices, helping to raise productivity and setting a country on the course of convergence. This is particularly the case of efficiency-seeking FDI – that is, FDI that locates productive processes in a country seeking to enhance its ability to better compete in international markets-.
 
The benefits of FDI are further leveraged when local firms can catalyze the presence of foreign investors to connect to global and regional value chains (GVCs). As a result of new international firms investing in a host country, great new opportunities arise for local enterprises to supply the inputs – be it goods or services – that their international counterparts need.

This has been the experience of Bangladesh, where local suppliers have grown in tandem with foreign investors in the garment sector. It is through linkages with international investors that local firms can gradually be lured into producing new goods and services that, until then, were not produced in the host country.  This is how economic diversification and greater value added are generated.

Multinational enterprises (MNEs) and their key partners (Tier 1 suppliers) are generally keen to source locally if a competitive local supplier can be found. However, they are also reluctant to absorb high search-and-find costs, and they will typically not invest in assisting local suppliers with upgrading efforts. Likewise, local firms are generally keen to supply to foreign firms, but are often not ready to make the necessary investments in technology and in processes to meet strict quality standards without a clear line of sight on potential payoff for such investment.

How can Hong Kong stay smart and competitive? By driving change through a 'Public-Private-People Partnership' approach

Dr. Winnie Tang's picture

According to the World Economic Forum’s “Global Competitiveness Report 2016-2017,” Hong Kong dropped two notches to rank as No. 9 in its Global Competitiveness Index. The decline occurred mainly because the city faces challenges to “evolve from one of the world’s foremost financial hubs to become an innovative powerhouse.”

One might argue this is an unfounded worry: After all, as a developed economy with a GDP per capita of US $42,000, Hong Kong has recorded an impressive GDP growth rate, over the last five years, of about 3 percent annually. This growth rate is higher than many developed economy.

However, if we look at the economic figures more closely, some worrisome early warning signs are already emerging – especially in terms of the factors that will drive Hong Kong’s future economic growth.

Apart from finance and insurance, the majority of Hong Kong’s GDP growth nowadays is contributed by “non-tradable” sectors that have less knowledge and innovation content, such as the construction and public-administration sectors.

According to the World Bank’s latest research on “Competitive Cities for Jobs and Growth,” long-term economic success and job growth in cities are usually driven by “tradable” sectors – economic sectors whose output could be traded and competed internationally. Firms in tradable sectors are exposed to fierce competition which, in turn, exerts pressure on them to invest in research and knowledge-intensive sectors so that they become more productive and innovative in order to remain competitive internationally. Hong Kong is now lagging behind its Asian and world peers in the critical features of knowledge and innovation.

Although the urgency to act to increase the knowledge-driven content of the economy is obvious, there seems to be a limited number of actions taking place here on the ground in Hong Kong.  How can Hong Kong forge ahead and start making changes?



Staying competitive in today’s global economy is like sailing against the current: Either you keep forging ahead, or you will fall behind.


The World Bank’s Smart Cities Conference – held in Yokohama, Japan last month – presented some good examples from around the world on how to use a bottom-up approach with active citizen engagement to increase the chance of success in implementing changes. The audience was interested in learning about the successful transformation of Yokohama through the cities many initiatives, such as the development of the Minato Mirai 21 central business district.

Taking a tour of a ‘Competitive City’

Megha Mukim's picture

Do you want to take a walk through a competitive city? Since today, October 31, has been designated as World Cities Day by the United Nations, today is an especially good day to explore that idea. 

Have you ever noticed how mayors and city leaders experience life alongside their citizens? It forces them to be more focused on the local manifestations of their policy decisions. They connect with what their citizens see and experience on a day-to-day basis. Numbers are crucial, because policies need to be supported by evidence – but what if the numbers and experiences could be brought to life? What does a 5 percent annual GDP growth rate look like? For that matter, what does a “competitive city” look like?

Members of the Competitive Cities team at the World Bank Group traveled to Bucaramanga, Colombia to find out. Here, amid the city’s famously rugged topography – with no ports or railroads nearby, and almost 10 hours away from the nation’s capital, Bogota – economic development seemed to be a tough proposal. Bucaramanga, however, managed to reinvent itself and become a globally competitive city – with the fastest rates of GDP growth and job growth in Colombia, and one of the fastest growth rates in the Western Hemisphere. As part of the Competitive Cities for Jobs and Growth initiative, we had already looked at Bucaramanga’s success in numbers and had analyzed qualitatively how they managed to get things done. Now we wanted others to experience how it felt to walk through a secondary city that blossomed into a dynamic economic center.

Thanks to a donated helicopter, the use of hobbyist drone technology, a motorcycle and a hugely enthusiastic local chamber of commerce, the team captured images and videos of the places that were central to Bucaramanga’s growth story. Bucaramanga’s transformation began with the creation of a regional competitiveness commission, a public- private alliance spearheaded by the private sector. As you’ll see in the accompanying video, one single block within the city hosts the chamber, an industrial university, the enterprise center, the commerce association and important regional banks.



In Bucaramanga, Colombia, Erick Ramos Murillo (left) and Rómulo Cabeza (right) prepare to fly a 3-D camera rigged to a drone. 

The silent ‘change agents’ in government

Syed Akhtar Mahmood's picture

Sometimes, the drive comes from the senior echelons of government – a reform-minded government leader, an important minister or an agency head. At times, there is pressure from donors. Often, the two combine: The initial idea comes from a donor, which a powerful person in government then takes up as an agenda.

Many reforms happen in this top-down way. But, often, there are questions about their sustainability. Commitment to reforms may not be widespread. Once donor pressure wears off, or once the bold reformer at the top moves on (or loses interest or energy), reform initiatives dissipate. Sometimes, the reforms happen on paper, but implementation remains deficient. Top-down reform initiatives often fail to take on board the front-line officials. Implementation thus suffers, especially when the attention of the top-down driver shifts elsewhere.

The 2015 World Development Report, Mind, Society and Behavior, thus points to the need to understand the motivations and behavioral characteristics of different players, such as politicians and government bureaucrats, and how these affect their decisions and actions. The WDR argues that such an understanding helps design policy interventions and reforms that stand a chance of success even in seemingly intractable situations.

This brings us to a third way of reform, less common but potentially more powerful – one that is driven by the middle tiers of bureaucracy. Reforms initiated in the trenches enjoy, almost by definition, the commitment of those responsible for implementation. Reforms may also be better designed, since the officials know exactly what is feasible and where there are pitfalls. A single bottom-up reform may not be very bold.  But one reform may lead to another, and the cumulative impact may make a big difference.

Donor programs usually don’t regard mid-level officials as key drivers of reforms. It is often assumed that such officials will oppose reforms and they should thus be bypassed or, at best, co-opted in some fashion. Such assumptions lead to many lost opportunities. Mid-level officials can often be good initiators of reform if they are properly inspired and engaged. The attitudes and perceptions of this important tier of the bureaucracy have an important bearing on the formulation of policies and regulations, as well as on their implementation. These attitudes are shaped by an awareness of business-related issues, or a lack of it.

Understand the differences, act on the commonalities in a globalized economy: How can Public-Private Dialogue be of help?

Steve Utterwulghe's picture



The Mongolian government’s economic advisors. Photo by Steve Utterwulghe


Misunderstanding, distrust, lack of genuine consultation. These are some of the words that I hear the most from various public and private stakeholders during my regular missions to developing countries.

From Bamako to Ulan Bator, where I am writing this post, the relentless echo of grievances points to the fact that the government doesn’t understand – or want to listen to – the private sector, and therefore doesn’t trust it. And likewise, the private sector sees public authorities as often incompetent, corrupt and an impediment to competitiveness and wealth creation.

While generalizing is a dubious exercise, the similarity and recurrence of complaints across the globe warrants deeper digging.

The issue of trust in policymaking is a complex field of study. The origin of mistrust of the private sector by the government in many developing countries is embedded in the socio-political culture and economic history of the state.
That being said, it is now rare to find a government that categorically denies the contribution of the private sector to the economic development of a nation. About 90 percent of the jobs are created by the private sector in the developing world, and about 50 percent of those are created by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Furthermore, as José Juan Ruiz from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has written, “Policymakers realize that they need to access the deep knowledge held by the private sector in order to learn about market failure and formulate the right policies to address them.”

On the other hand, the private sector wants a stable and transparent regulatory environment in which to operate. It doesn’t want more regulations, but better regulations that will protect its investments. For that, it needs the government to listen and act in a way that will create an enabling business environment. Building trust is hard work.

Differences between public and private stakeholders certainly exist, but so do commonalities. It never takes long for parties to acknowledge that there is a clear common ground to strive for: sustainable economic development that should lead to inclusive growth. That, in turn, will spur job creation and revenue collection for the state. That’s an irrefutable win-win scenario.

Opening markets: Mexico uncovers and slashes local barriers to competition

Marialisa Motta's picture

In the state of Chiapas, Mexico — where nearly 1 million people live in moderate to extreme poverty — bus fares have been too high, and the availability of buses has been limited. Over four years, consumers on a single route have paid $2.5 million more than necessary. Tortillas in states across Mexico are more expensive than they need to be. In one state, firms overcharge for road construction by an estimated 15 percent, making it difficult to provide the high-quality transport services for cargo and construction materials that are necessary to build a logistics hub to diversify the state economy beyond petroleum. Another state has a very dynamic economy, hosting a greater density of industrial parks than comparable states. Given the positive spillover effects — industrial activity boosting local employment, demand, and purchasing power — the state expected growth in retail markets. Yet, stores have not been opening. Yet another state relies on tourism to generate business opportunities and jobs, including for poor people. However, until recently, tourists found that commercial establishments in the state’s primary municipality closed in the evenings and at night, often preventing them from going shopping.
 
What do these examples have in common? Local barriers to competition.

In the past few years, the Mexican Federal Competition Authority (COFECE) and Better Regulation Authority (COFEMER), internationally recognized institutions, as well as the World Bank Group, have pointed out that subnational regulations restrict competition in local markets. In many municipalities in Mexico, regulations and government interventions allow market incumbents to deny entry to new firms, to coordinate prices, to impose minimum distances between outlets, or to grant incumbents exclusive rights to artificially protect their dominant position. In total, a lack of vigorous marketplace competition costs the Mexican economy about one percentage point of GDP growth each year – a shortfall that affects the country’s poorest households by an estimated 20 percent more than its richest households. Most countries, however, have never systematically scrutinized local barriers to competition.


 
To address such issues effectively, competition policy experts from the World Bank Group’s Trade & Competitiveness Global Practice have developed an innovative tool – the Subnational Market Assessment of Competition (SMAC) – to systematically identify, prioritize and support the removal of local barriers to competition. (The SMAC is built from the World Bank Group Markets and Competition Policy Assessment Tool, or MCPAT.) The World Bank Group designed the SMAC to prioritize the reform of the rules and practices that most severely prevent healthy competition in the primary sectors for each state’s economic development.

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