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.
Home to one of the world’s most rapidly expanding populations, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is currently around 60% urbanized. Its urban population is expected to double or triple in the next 30 years. The region will experience a 65% increase of its urban population, corresponding to over 130 million additional urban inhabitants by 2030. Indeed, the region’s average annual urban growth rate in the past two decades is exceeded only by Sub-Saharan Africa, which is far less urbanized.
The list of challenging issues that led to the Arab Spring are now well known and will need to be overcome to meet the aspirations of the people of the region. These range from governance, education and bloated public sectors to a correspondingly weak private sector, all of which crystallize around the issue of employment, particularly for youth and women. The OECD's "Arab World Competitiveness Report, 2011-2012" estimates that 25 million jobs will be needed over the next decade just to keep unemployment at current levels (over 10%).
In 1989, I remember reading in Al Akhbar, a prominent government newspaper, that all cars in Egypt were mandated by government to have first-aid kits and the police would be randomly stopping cars to check if drivers were in compliance. No first-aid kit, you would pay a fine. I remember thinking this is crazy, but I bought the first-aid kit anyway. So did eight million other people who had cars. I recall going to a car parts store to buy my first-aid kit, and the salesman told me there was only one kit that was in compliance according to the requirements of this new law. Could this get any more bizarre?
Call me old fashioned, but my favorite source of news is still the writing, and sometimes the voice, of a known reporter or commentator. When one falls, as Anthony Shadid fell yesterday on his way out of Syria, something so special is lost, something that binds thousands of readers in a common web of understanding and appreciation. We mourn for Anthony and his family as one might for a colleague or friend. We knew him, even though we’d never met. We feel the loss as intimately as a familiar presence in a newspaper, whether it crinkles reassuringly in our hands or slides along glass at our fingertips.
Long before anyone was paying attention, Lillie Paquette was listening. Her debut film, screened before a diverse audience of World Bank staff and guests, recounts the prologue to the Egyptian revolution. We Are Egypt: The Story Behind the Revolution follows opposition politicians and civil society groups over the course of the two years leading up to the mass uprising. With the benefit of hindsight, the ultimate conclusion in Tahrir Square appears inevitable, but for the men and women struggling for change it was a long process, with many setbacks. Though the film ends before February 11, 2011 when former President Mubarak stepped down, and focuses on the painstaking work of organizing and building institutions, it is an engaging and valuable historical document.
Arab World Higher Education Ministers have endorsed a screening card tool to benchmark university governance across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Developed by a higher education program at the World Bank supported Marseille Center for Mediterranean Integration, it is aimed at benchmarking university governance and identifying different patterns and “fitness for purpose” to help higher education institutions understand how they can improve performance.
Development agencies, such as the World Bank, have often been criticized for not sufficiently listening to the people they are trying to help. For acting without first systematically assessing whether beneficiaries agree with the strategies produced and projects developed on their behalf. To address this, many World Bank teams now arrange in-country consultations with a broad range of people including civil society, young people, and government representatives, depending on the type of project.
Egypt is at a historical crossroads. Just over a year ago, Egyptians demonstrated to the world that they could successfully come together to reclaim their destiny. Beginning with Tunisia and continuing with Egypt, a wave of revolutions now commonly referred to as the "Arab Spring" spread to the entire Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Citizens demanded respect, voice, accountability, and opportunity for all. One year after the Tahrir revolution, Egypt faces huge challenges, including a fast deteriorating macroeconomic situation, persistent poverty, high unemployment, especially among the youth, and a failing education system.
An issue that often comes up both within the Bank and outside is how one identifies the metrics to measure whether our countries are on the path to “inclusive” and “sustainable” growth as they move away from the old regimes and their crony-friendly and often wasteful policies and programs. Well, be careful (grateful?) for what you ask for…the metrics are on their way and spot on when it comes to issues around the transition in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.