Point-of-View: A Conversation with the GGP Staff

Rima Koteiche

Senior Financial Management Specialist

Pierre Messali

Senior Public Sector Specialist

Rachel Lipson

Analyst, Public Integrity and Openness

Moad Alrubaidi

Senior Financial Management Specialist

Francesca Recanatini

Senior Public Sector Specialist


What does the term “governance” mean to you?

Rima Koteiche: In the public sense, it means to deliver public services in an efficient and effective manner. And as World Bank President, Dr. Jim Kim, recently noted: “It means protecting citizens from violence and ensuring the rule of law. It means choosing wise policies and investments; maintaining public assets and ensuring that civil servants are skilled. It means directly confronting corruption so that citizens have faith in their leaders and systems”.

Pierre Messali: I would add that governance also refers to a legal and regulatory framework publicly developed, whereby the decisions toward society and citizens are made by responsible authorities. Usually the word “governance” is associated with a virtuous process whereby the society and citizens effectively control the decision-making process; it is meant to feature a “good governance” system.  But the word “governance” can also be viewed in a more neutral way as a system that defines the mechanisms and procedures by which decisions are made and it is often associated with  “bad governance“, especially in authoritarian systems.

Rachel Lipson: This seems like an easy question, but it is actually a really tough one. But I think the answer has to center around institutions, and how those institutions respond to communities and their needs, and how they safeguard individual rights. These institutions are guided by their responsibilities for public goods provision, and, to a varying extent, democratic principles.

Moad Alrubaidi: In the Arabic language, governance means Haokama or Hokm, which is a reference to authority, control, and power to make decisions. Governance is the structure whereby an organization (private/public/other) has a defined methodology of making decisions to execute its mandate.

Francesca Recanatini:  I must agree with my colleagues: governance is a complex concept that encompasses many different dimensions. Each of them has highlighted an important aspect of governance.  In my mind, governance encompasses the traditions and institutions by which authority in a country is exercised, and by which citizens and businesses can participate in the governing of the country.

What role do governance reforms play in strengthening and supporting development of MENA region countries?

Rima Koteiche:  Governance reforms play an important role in the development of the MENA region. However, any governance reform plans need to be backed by the political will and commitment from political leaders and legislators to implement such reforms. In the absence of a strong political will, any reform efforts will have a weak impact. In addition, the MENA countries are going through a transitional period, with frequent political alternation. This is an impediment to reform, especially if the elected leaders are enacting reforms to curb corruption, thereby challenging vested interests.

Pierre Messali:  Governance reforms should also have an impact on economic development if they establish a renewed reliance on and trust in the government. Some of the more challenging reforms in the region touching upon subsidy reductions and tax increases urgently require ownership by and support from the citizenry.

Rachel Lipson:  Governance reforms should help to deliver needed goods and services more quickly, at better quality, and at a lower price to the taxpayer. Such reforms should also help to foster an open and fair environment where new ideas and innovation can thrive, thereby creating the space for economic growth, job creation, and shared prosperity.

Moad Alrubaidi:  While we may have good constitutions and regulatory frameworks in the MENA region, often what is lacking is the implementation of such regulations, as well as an accountability and sanctions process.  In a loose environment, individuals can have a pervasive impact based on random decisions. Such flexibility may be perceived to be good when the individuals with the power are leveraging their power to do the right thing, but with power comes responsibility and that is why you need good governance.

Francesca Recanatini:  It is widely recognized that poor governance and corruption can be harmful for standards of living and the distribution of income of citizens— reducing literacy and per capita income, while increasing infant mortality. What’s more, poor governance distorts public expenditures and increases poverty, thus reducing investment efficiency. Thus, governance reforms are key for the development and stability of the MENA region.

What are the top three challenges facing governance reforms in MENA in your opinion? Why?

Rima Koteiche:  (i) Political instability—the changes in governments and the Arab Spring voices reflect the citizen needs for good governance. However, transition countries remain mired in political and economic crises hindering institutional and economic development. (ii) Decreasing security and emergence of armed militants and terrorists— this renders the MENA region an unsafe place for international donors and development communities to step in and carry out governance and other reforms. (iii) Confessionalism— domestic and regional dynamics of conflict are a major and over-arching constraint to economic growth and development, especially in Lebanon.

Pierre Messali: I would add political fragmentation to the problem of confessionalism.

Rachel Lipson:  To me, one of the major challenges regarding governance in MENA relates to how closely the state, business, and political power are connected and intertwined (in some cases, with corruption being the glue to these relationships). In my view, future growth and prosperity will depend to a large extent on countries’ abilities to challenge some of the traditional public-private relationships, and open up doors for new firms to compete, innovate, and create jobs. Other top challenges I see include: sectarian tensions; lack of shared national vision/conception of where the country should be going; a limited sense of citizen agency (that is, do people feel like they really have the ability to change things?); and inter-agency tensions and turf wars over policy areas.

Moad Alrubaidi:  (i) Good Governance means more structure and controls which in turn means less random decision-making. In the MENA region, many prefer to be free from restrictions, enabling them to make decisions as desired. (ii) Governance reforms are pervasive across all sectors and require a strong and comprehensive vision by the people and their leaders to develop and implement short-, medium- and long-term plans in multiple sectors. This is challenging in a fragile and fluid political and security environment. (iii) If it is not broken, do not fix it. Some countries were content to leave things as they were, and found ways to sustain their privileges. Of course, such privileges were challenged during the 2011 events. Countries with previous strong efforts regarding governance reforms were able to quickly take the necessary actions to respond to the demands of the citizens.

What are the top three factors for governance reform success in your opinion? Why?

Rima Koteiche:  In my view, it would be: (i) Political will: if it exists, then the consent of the legislators, regulators and executives will be obtained and reforms will be passed smoothly and successfully. (ii) Building institutions so that governments can efficiently deliver public goods, and conduct sound economic management. Regulators ensure the rule of law, and the legislators can provide leadership and oversight. Capable and accountable states also constitute the strongest defense against corruption. (iii) Participation and citizen engagement: Greater participation and oversight by civil society and media that have adequate access to information regarding the operation of state institutions can play a crucial role in fostering accountability.

Moad Alrubaidi: I believe that the top three factors for governance reform success must involve: (i) Development of the relevant strategic plan for the country context and a commitment to it. (ii)        Focus on the priority areas where governance reforms will have the most impact. (iii) Leading by example.

Rachel Lipson:  I would add to that: (i) Leadership buy-in and commitment. (ii) High-profile driving forces and demand for change (which could come from the media, or social sentiment). (iii) Visibility to citizens, that is, changes and reforms have to be tangible and produce some initial results for people for the momentum to continue.

Francesca Recanatini:  One must also look at the governance reform process. The overall reform process needs to receive strong political support from the leadership both in terms of messages and resources. Moreover, the information used to help design the reforms should be shared and used by a wide range of stakeholders who could help identify the most appropriate policy measures. Participatory processes should also be used at the implementation stage so that clear channels of communication between citizens and the government are established. This approach, based on political commitment, participation, and communication, will foster greater coordination and collaboration among different actors; and, in turn, it will reduce the risks associated with the political economy issues. It will also increase the ownership of the reform process, ensuring greater sustainability over time.

In your opinion, how will the new Governance Global Practice (GGP) structure further World Bank governance reform activities?

Rima Koteiche:  With its global and diverse resources and knowledge, the GGP will need to engage in developing capable and accountable states and institutions that can set out and implement sound policies, thereby ensuring the efficient and effective service delivery of public goods. They should also be capable of combating corruption. In these ways, they can help to reduce extreme poverty and contribute to shared prosperity. The pool of experts in this GP, as well as the contributions of cross support, gives it a competitive advantage in delivering the best advice and support for client countries with issues related to governance in all of its aspects— thus completing a governance chain that reduces the gaps and harmonizes the outputs and outcomes.

Francesca Recanatini:  I would like to add one caveat to Rima’s comment.  While the new structure introduced by the GPs should facilitate the sharing of expertise and knowledge by pooling together experts, we are still struggling to implement fully such a structure. We knew this aspect of the transition to a GP would be challenging and we need to focus now on making the Global Practice a fully functioning reality within the World Bank.

Moad Alrubaidi: The GGP structure is still new and will evolve over time. A lot of work has gone into establishing the new GGP structure with the idea that it will help the World Bank Group provide client countries with an integrated value. We have started to see such a value, as we are now working closer with colleagues from other departments within the GGP. Such collaboration needs to continue and we need to reach out to other GPs, as governance work is not limited to the GGP.

Rachel Lipson:  I agree. We also need to provide integrated approaches to cross-cutting issues. The new GGP should help us to look at problems from different angles, involving new and different stakeholders in the process. Hopefully, this will also help us to develop more innovative solutions. Finally, I think that the new GGP will help to provide us with greater accessibility to global knowledge on what has and has not worked.