World Bank to push citizen participation and building institutions
Washington, April 6, 2011 – The crisis engulfing the Middle East and North Africa shows that greater citizen participation and better governance are crucial for economic development and the World Bank will do more to emphasize both, said World Bank Group President Robert B. Zoellick.
In a policy address before the World Bank’s Spring Meetings, Zoellick said the Bank would not only promote institutional reforms but also look into providing more support for civil society as a way of making government more accountable to people.
“Our message to our clients, whatever their political system, is that you cannot have successful development without good governance and without the participation of your citizens,” Zoellick told an audience at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington DC. “We will encourage governments to publish information, enact Freedom of Information Acts, open up their budget and procurement processes, build independent audit functions, and sponsor reforms of justice systems. We will not lend directly to finance budgets in countries that do not publish their budgets or, in exceptional cases, at least commit to publish their budgets within twelve months.”
Zoellick noted that issues such as corruption, gender and transparency were in the past not mentioned at the World Bank because they were seen as too political. But over the last 20 years, each had become recognized as crucial for successful development and are now part of the Bank’s policy portfolio. Likewise, citizen participation and good governance are recognized today as must haves for economic success.
”Some of that may be what we think of as politics, but most of it is also what we know is good economics; most of it is what we know is good for fighting corruption; most of it is what we know is good for inclusive and sustainable development,” Zoellick said in a speech entitled: “The Middle East and North Africa: A New Social Contract for Development”.
But good governance will not happen without the active participation of citizens, especially in the Middle East and North Africa where modernization had only been partially successful and institutions were sclerotic. Institutions, however reformed, needed citizens to keep them accountable. An important role here should be played by civil society. But in much of the developing world, including the Middle East and North Africa, civil society was still in its infancy. Zoellick said the World Bank, just as it had moved over the last six decades to supporting the private sector from originally financing just governments, should consider how to provide more support for civil society. The World Bank is currently working with civil society and project beneficiaries in over half of its new operations. But Zoellick proposed that the Bank now examine taking this further by introducing new facilities or capabilities to help strengthen the capacity of civil society organizations working on accountability and transparency in service delivery.
“Now it may be time to invest in the private, not-for-profit sector – civil society -- to help strengthen the capacity of organizations working on transparency, accountability, and service delivery,” Zoellick said. “I suggest it is now time for the World Bank to examine, with its Board and shareholders, whether the Bank needs new capabilities or facilities that could leverage support from countries, foundations, and others to strengthen the capacity of CSOs working on accountability and transparency in service delivery. We could give priority to countries in the Middle East and North Africa, and in Sub-Saharan Africa. We could back this work with seed capital, and with knowledge exchange and research aimed at improving the enabling environment for social accountability.”
Surveying the economic performance in the Middle East and North Africa, Zoellick noted it is the region that is poorly integrated into the global economy. It also suffers the highest unemployment among developing regions; the highest jobless rates among the best educated; the lowest economic participation rates by women. Its governments now faced enormous expectations to provide jobs quickly in a region where the direct opportunity cost of youth unemployment is estimated at up to $50 billion a year.
The immediate priority of providing jobs should not result in the wrong kind of jobs programs that led to economic distortions. The Bank’s work in fragile and conflict-affected countries, such as Liberia or Afghanistan, showed that infrastructure works programs combined with measures to boost the private sector could bring political stability and lay the foundations for sustainable economic growth. Also important were well-designed safety-net programs that ensured that women and children, usually the most vulnerable groups, did not suffer from hunger or malnutrition.
Noting that the region needed to create 40 million jobs over the next decade, Zoellick said countries had to make policy decisions now about how to boost employment, add to productivity, and better integrate with the global economy. This would mean becoming open to importing know-how, technologies, and manufacturing and logistics systems, whether through foreign investment, licensing, or other business ties to overcome insularity and remove barriers to regional integration. “There are many roads to prosperity, but one must be taken. Inaction leads nowhere,” Zoellick said.
Summing up the needs in the Middle East and North Africa, Zoellick said: “They want a new social contract. They want dignity. They want respect. And if they are women, they want these same things.”