31 May 2011

How to make a government planning process from scratch

The Southern Sudan experience provides useful insight into appropriate approaches to developing planning and budgeting systems in other post-con¬flict settings. Above all, it injects a note of realism about what can be achieved. The key policy lessons are as follows: 
1. A strong technical lead by an integrated Ministry of Finance is essential. Although international technical assistance can provide support to system design and management, it is not a replacement for the leadership role and decision-making capacity of Government. 
2. When designing post-conflict support programmes, efforts are needed to fully understand the levels of local capacity, and the systems used prior to and during the conflict, so that starting points are realistic. 
3. For system development to be fully grounded, it needs to be aligned with the rate of improvement of local capacity. This means accepting that process development can take years, and that best practice, however desirable, cannot always be achieved overnight. 
The Ministry of Finance received continuous technical assistance throughout the development process, including long-term TA based in the Ministry, short-term consultants for training and quality assurance, and logistical and financial support for workshops. Although this support played a key role in the design and development of the systems, decision-making and strategic direction always belonged to the Ministry of Finance. In addition, the gradual recruitment of technical staff meant that the Ministry was increasingly able to manage systems itself, although with back-up support. Key providers of support included the UNDP’s ‘Support to Economic Planning’ project, Overseas Development Institute (ODI) fellows, USAID and more recently the ODI’s Budget Strengthening Initiative.
From a new ODI briefing paper by Fiona Davies and Gregory Smith.

29 May 2011

Is Sudan heading back to war?

I'm still optimistic and think probably not, mainly due to the assumption that the SPLA could halt oil production or transportation altogether if they had to.

Jacob Akol, Chief Editor of the Gurtong media project worries about the possibility of Khartoum attempting to Annex the Southern Oil fields.

His next step is to invade the South and follow a line along the north bank of River Kiir (just below Abyei town) up to where it joins River Bahr al Gazal, continue along the north bank of that river all the way to its junction with the White Nile, and annexing Malakal northward, continue all the way to the border of Southern Blue Nile State with the South and Ethiopia. Such a border, which has been floated before, will include practically all the current functioning oil fields in South Sudan’s territory.

No doubt, President Bashir, armed to the teeth with latest weapons from China and Iran, must believe that his armed forces, alongside South Sudanese militiamen it has armed and continue arming to destabilise the South, will defend such a long border and continue to exploit the oil. If it were anyone else, not Omar Bashir, such a plan could never have been contemplated, leave alone executed; but it is Bashir, who by now must have come to believe that his long reign in power is blessed by Allah and will never end.

John Ashworth rules out oil in Abyei as an explanation for the recent Khartoum offensive, but offers a number of potential explanations;

Khartoum's motives for seizing Abyei, in direct contravention of the CPA, remain unclear. Perhaps it is simply that some elements within NCP feel that southern independence is as far as they can go and allowing Abyei to rejoin the South is a step too far (despite the fact that they have already agreed to it in principle in the CPA - "too many agreements dishonoured"). Perhaps it's a signal to the people of the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile how far this regime is prepared to go to crush dissent. Perhaps it's a reward to the elements within the Missiriya who have supported the NCP agenda (but who clearly do not represent all Missiriya opinion). Perhaps it's just to sow confusion and delay, an old and well-tried tactic of NCP which is usually to their benefit. Perhaps it's part of a negotiating strategy; that NCP will eventually make a "generous" concession and withdraw from Abyei (despite President Omar Hassan al Bashir's rhetoric in article 1 below), and demand in a return a huge concession from the South and/or the international community. As some media reports have noted, oil may not be the key factor, as the oil fields around Abyei have now been exploited for many years and may be becoming depleted, but also
because the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling has already redefined the boundaries of Abyei in such a way that most of the oil fields remain in the North even if Abyei rejoins the South. What one can say with some certainty is that it has little to do with an attack on SAF forces a few days ago. The troop build-up has been going on for months, and sporadic fighting for years, leading up to this convenient excuse for breaching the CPA yet again.

Finally, Ken Opalo considers Bashir’s domestic political audience.

A part of me still thinks that Bashir’s sabre-rattling is designed for the northern public. After all he will go down in history as the president who lost the south. In order to avoid immediate ouster he must, at least, pretend to put up a fight. My other side, however, thinks that Bashir (and his generals) might actually want war. Oil and water are on the line.

Time will tell.

23 May 2011

The new Pandora

There's a new online music phenomenon taking over. The concept is kind of like Pandora Internet Radio or Spotify, except there are no ads and instead of using computer algorithms they get totally retro and use actual people to pick the songs for you. And they're charming gents to boot.

Hop Skip Jump 18.05.2011 by NTS RADIO

When you're done with that, go listen to Gilles Peterson.

The Wrong Expert

A concerned friend just sent me the link to “An Ethnographic Study of the Use of Evidence in Policy-making in the UK
Based on participant observation in a team of British policy-making civil servants carried out in 2009, this article examines the use that is made of evidence in making policy. It shows that these civil servants displayed a high level of commitment to the use of evidence. However, their use of evidence was hampered by the huge volume of various kinds of evidence and by the unsuitability of much academic research in answering policy questions. Faced with this deluge of inconclusive information, they used evidence to create persuasive policy stories. These stories were useful both in making acceptable policies and in advancing careers. They often involved the excision of methodological uncertainty and the use of ‘killer charts’ to boost the persuasiveness of the narrative. In telling these stories, social inequality was ‘silently silenced’ in favour of promoting policies which were ‘totemically’ tough. The article concludes that this selective, narrative use of evidence is ideological in that it supports systematically asymmetrical relations of power.
Well here’s another ethnographic study, from “The Thick of It” (a fantastic show, buy the DVD here) (NSFW).

19 May 2011

Doing Business in Juba

The World Bank's Doing Business report on business regulations comes to Southern Sudan. Which is exciting if only because there are so few reports on Southern Sudan. This allows comparisons between the rules for doing business in Juba with other countries around the world (Juba would rank 159 compared with 183 other economies).

But doing business reports only tell us so much. They tell us the de jure rule, not necessarily what firms actually end up doing. One might suppose that sometimes deals are struck to bend the rules.

Lant Pritchett and Mary Hallward-Driemeie (also at the World Bank) are doing research comparing the official rules as measured by Doing Business, with what firms actually report when surveyed (on for example, the time it takes to get permits).
“Doing Business” (DB) provides measures of the time and costs associated with fully complying with an array of business regulations.  Enterprise Surveys (ES) ask a wide range of firms about their actual experiences in doing business.  We use three comparable indicators in both: time to get an operating permit, time to get a construction permit, and time to import goods, to compare these distinct de jure (DB) and de facto (ES) approaches to assessing the “investment climate” in over 100 countries ... 
cross-nationally there is very little association between the ES distributions and DB numbers ...The de jure environment appears to only affect some firms
None of which is to say that the Doing Business reports are not useful - just to be careful to remember that they are not necessarily representative of what actually happens.

Dinka Hip-Hop

Rajiv and Salva, Best Friends Forever

Erik Solheim and Andrew Mitchell are well jealous (please excuse my immature humour). (Sudan Votes.com)

12 May 2011

Blattman's 7 top tips on Southern Sudan

I hate linking to Chris Blattman's blog because you all read it anyway, or if you don't you should, but when it comes to Southern Sudan.... here are his ideas in response to Duflo/Banerjee's suggestions. 
I know too little about Sudanese politics to give specific recommendations, but here’s a sample of suggestions based on what I think I know: 
1. Build compacts, possibly unequal and unsavory ones, with warlords and other big men, giving them a stake in continued peace, even if it means they control crucial ministries or development organs. 
2. But for goodness sake try not to give up the ministries or development organs. There are non-pecuniary ways to buy people off. And spread it out so you get petty barons rather than oligarchs. They’ll be easier to deal with in 20 years when you have the strength. 
3. Next, give every incentive for elites, especially the ones apt to war, to invest in fixed assets whose value depends on stability and growth. Make them entrepreneurs. Oil rigs don’t count. Property in Juba does. So do plantations and small factories, even if they need subsidies to operate at first. This is hard, and will require attention and dedication. 
4. Aim for minimal corruption in twenty years, not two. 
5. Create a minimally competent police force, one that is less criminal than the criminals. And a court system, with particular attention to the places where ethnic groups repeatedly clash over land or rights or respect. Target programs to these hotspots to buy some measure of content. 
6. Train and educate the military like the bejeezus, and at all costs do not let it slip into factions. 
7. Roads, roads, roads. Not only are they good for growth, they are good for exerting state control and building a sense of nation.
I think the third point is a really good one. The rest, particularly 1 and 6, are things that are probably high priorities for the leadership already. You would have a hard time persuading them after 21 years of war that peace and stability is not the top priority. And they know plenty about balancing different armed factions in the pursuit of peace, having already brought different independent militias into the SPLM.

So: a big chunk of the budget is effectively already ring-fenced for salaries, the army, and road construction.

The question then is what to do with the small amount that that is discretionary and remaining, and I do think that there is space to deliver some social services in the simplest and most effective way possible, which might just be cash and/or health services. I do have a hard time with the poverty alleviation vs growth policy trade-off, and don’t know what the answer is. Its interesting that Duflo/Banerjee make no mention of macro/growth policy, contrasted with Lant Pritchett’s advice which is all macro/growth and no mention of social policy.

11 May 2011

South Sudan Emerging

We're Number One!

Congrats Britain, here's something to really be proud of; in an updated ranking, Bill Easterly and Claudia Williamson at the NYU Development Research Institute say:
The best bilateral agency is UK’s Department for International Development (DFID).

Advice from Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee for Southern Sudan

In the New York Times. Banerjee goes with universal cash transfers and health insurance. Sounds good to me.
Q [David Leonhardt]. Let’s broaden the discussion from education. If you each could have a few minutes with the new leaders of South Sudan — the world’s newest country and a very poor one — and they asked you how they could best improve the lives of their citizens, what would you tell them
Ms. Duflo: In just a few minutes, we could not cover very detailed ground. So we’ll have to focus on the basics. First of all, I would try to convince them that a key priority would be to invest enough money and talent in running good quality social services for the poor, including free access to good schools, preventive medical care, and hospitals. This may not seem like rocket science: but these are basic human priorities, and these are also domains where some things are known about what may work. 
Second, I think I would try to convince them to run anti-poverty policy in a more intelligent way than what we see in most countries. In particular, I may try to encourage them not to listen too much to the elevator pitches of all the other experts, and stake their entire policy course on the basis of those… Of course they’ll have to start somewhere, and there is a body of knowledge available to choose policies that are likely to work. But they will still have a lot more to learn about the best ways to achieve their objectives. So I would like to advise them to always keep some margin to experiment, in order to find the best programs to reach those goals. 
Mr. Banerjee: Since they will no doubt want more specific suggestions, here are two policies that I think every poor country should implement. A small universal cash grant to everyone over 12, based on biometric identification. This guarantees that no one has to face the humiliation of being totally indigent, and from our evidence, makes people more productive as well. Making it universal is important, so that they do not attempt to identify the poor (which is very difficult to do effectively in poor countries). 
Second, a free universal health insurance policy that covers catastrophic health events, which allows people to go to private or public hospitals. Catastrophic health shocks do enormous damage to families both economically and otherwise, and are easy to insure, because nobody gets them on purpose. On the other hand, insurance policies that only treat certain catastrophic illnesses are hard to comprehend, especially of you are illiterate and unused to the legalistic nature of exclusions etc. Therefore people do not value them as much as they should which makes it hard for markets to supply them. This is an obvious thing for governments to take on.
Closely following the release of More Than Good Intentions, Duflo and Banerjee also have a new book out "Poor Economics." I'm about 2 chapters in and so far it is fantastic.

New Sudan Bombing Data

Sudan researcher Eric Reeves has painstakingly compiled a downloadable spreadsheet of 1,414 referenced bombing incidents by the Khartoum government in Sudan since 1993. From the report:
This report grows out of my belief that the almost complete anonymity and invisibility of Sudanese civilian victims of targeted aerial military assaults is morally intolerable. So, too, are such attacks on humanitarian aid workers and operations, including hospitals and feeding centers.  There have been many casualties among relief personnel. For more than twelve years, these assaults have been standard counter-insurgency strategy on the part of the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime in Khartoum.  As I argue and as the facts demonstrate, such a strategy—obscenely destructive in its consequences—has no historical precedent anywhere in the world. It would be presumptuous to dedicate such a document to so many thousands of victims; it must stand simply in memoriam. ER – May 2011
via John Ashworth

04 May 2011

HEY BRITAIN. Vote YES tomorrow!

So Britain votes on changing its voting system tomorrow.

via the UK Polling Report
ICM’s final call poll for the AV referendum is very similar to the ComRes poll yesterday. Topline figures are YES 32%, NO 68% – a landside victory for NO. 
ICM also included standing voting intention, with topline figures of CON 36%(+1), LAB 37%(nc), LDEM 15%(nc)
Which means that there are a lot of Labour voters either voting NO or sitting it out. Here's the thing - I know you all hate the Lib Dems now - but a YES vote is basically unambiguously bad for the Conservatives, which is why they are the ones leading the NO campaign. What is going on, why isn't this a shoe-in?

03 May 2011

More of the same?

Take a long hard look at these 2 charts.

Afghanistan could have faster economic growth than any country has ever had, and incomes would still not approach US levels for over 50 years.

The charts are from Lant Pritchett (this paper, for more see this podcast and this video).

So - what should we do?

02 May 2011

The Role of Economists in Government

I don't recall who said it, but it has been said that the role of economists in government is to stop bad ideas, and then to stop them again when they come back again. Evidently some local authorities in Southern Sudan need an economist, or at least someone minimally literate in markets.

From the Tribune
Johnson Sebit Aki, a staff officer at the traffic police in Wau, said the illegal commuter transport business in the town is well known to the traffic police but the major obstacle has been lack of support from the members of public in curbing the menace. 
Aki cited an incident which recently occurred in Wau town, where traffic police were alerted the passenger of a commuter bus where passengers were charged twice the acceptable fare. However, on arrival the passengers insulted the police officer.

"They asked our officers to stay away as the payment was a consensus reached between them and the conductor. From such reactions we also lose appetite to continue dealing with them," he said.
 and Gurtong;
RUMBEK, 28th April, 2011 [Gurtong] - Butchers operating in Rumbek township have been apprehended by security officers following their decision to increase the price of meat without due consultation with relevant authorities in Lakes State.
Also to be filed under "Reasons to be doubtful of the effectiveness of decentralised systems of government."