At the same time, profound challenges persist. Within days of Obama’s visit, Kenya’s Office of the Auditor-General released a troubling report that brought to light some uncomfortable numbers. According to the report, only 26% of money spent and collected by the government has been fully approved in an audit for 2013-2014. The health department alone failed to account for 22 billion Kenyan shillings ($216 million) worth of spending. What is more, over 12,000 false names were discovered on the government payroll.
“There is no development that can be done if it’s not budgeted for.” These are the words of Edwin Kiprono, the president of Kerio Community Trust Fund, explaining the importance of citizen’s alternative budgets in Kenya.
In 2010, Kenya adopted a new constitution, establishing a system of devolution in which more control and responsibility was shifted from the national government to newly-created county-level governments. These governments, which began operating in 2013, now oversee certain aspects of local health care, infrastructure, and education. For the first time, the counties are now expected to raise their own revenue through taxes and fees and establish their own budgets for spending that revenue.
Such a move provides great opportunity for local development to be taken into the hands of local citizens – but it also requires citizens to be engaged and provide input and feedback to their local governments.
Throughout Kenya, CIPE has been working with local partners to develop citizen’s alternative budgets – a system of participatory budgeting made possible through the devolved government system. One of the counties CIPE has been working in is Elgeyo Marakwet – a diverse county in which citizens have various and competing concerns and opinions on what the priorities of their county should be when developing a budget and spending its resources.
Those wishing to send aid, remittances, and investment overseas face exchange rate manipulation and inflated fees when using traditional money transfer services. One emerging alternative to using these services is to transfer Bitcoin internationally. Bitcoin is alluring because financial institutions do not manage its online trade. The transfer of Bitcoin is therefore much less costly than transferring traditional currencies because it bypasses bank fees and regulation.
Several organizations are already beginning to trade and transfer Bitcoin across international borders, and profitable businesses have developed plans to facilitate these trades. Although hesitant investors remain wary of Bitcoin, optimists see the potential to make a big splash in the way $167 billion of foreign aid and $436 billion of global remittances are transferred to the developing world.
Bank-less money transfers are swiftly becoming the norm in the developing world, where less than fifty percent of adults own a bank account. Hassle-free mobile money services such as Kenya’s M-Pesa, Vodacom Tanzania and MTN Uganda are used in lieu of credit and debit cards in these areas. However, the benefits of convenience and low cost mobile transfers are largely limited to domestic transactions.
On May 20th, 2015 the lights went out in Nigeria, Africa’s biggest oil producer. Nigeria suffers from a phenomenon known as the curse of oil which is a subset of a larger issue known as the resource curse. The idea behind the curse of oil is that countries with large oil reserves cannot seem to manage revenues in a way that benefits the majority of the population economically and socially. Some of the symptoms of the curse of oil include lack of economic diversification, revenue volatility, inability to provide public goods and services, corruption, government inefficiency and the Dutch Disease.
As soon as the massive fuel shortage in Nigeria struck, numerous businesses and banks shut down. Power outages also affected common households because neighborhoods are typically powered by individually owned generators due to inconsistent provision of public utilities. As soon as licensed gas stations closed down, black market vendors looking to make a quick Naira (Nigeria’s currency) began selling low quality oil at exorbitant prices. The shortage exemplifies the curse of oil by revealing an inability to provide a crucial public good. Furthermore, the shortage unveils the existence of corruption in black market practices.
Oil importers shut down operations claiming that the government owed them $2 billion. Nigeria’s Minister of Finance Okonjo-Iweala countered that importers misrepresented the debt in an attempt to recover lost revenue from the recent decrease in value of the Naira due to global declining oil prices. The global decrease of oil prices is a perfect example of the volatility that comes with the curse of oil and how it can complicate economic transactions between the governments and oil corporations.
Fortunately, oil suppliers and distributors eventually met with the government for negotiations that put an end to the crisis. The specifics of the negotiations have not been revealed but it appears that the crisis has been averted for now. But as global oil prices continue to decline, economic shocks are imminent. What will the government do to thwart the curse of oil?
Free trade is crucial to global economies because it reduces tariff barriers which in turn results in trade creation. The benefits of trade for developing nations in general are numerous. To name a few: first and foremost, trade allows for specialization meaning countries can build a comparative advantage by focusing on producing goods with low opportunity costs. Secondly, trade encourages healthy competition which incentivizes businesses to increase efficiency and cut costs. Lastly, trade can reduce dependence on existing markets and stabilize countries affected by seasonal changes in markets.
It is a popular opinion in the international development community that remittances – money transferred by a foreign worker back to someone in his or her home country – can have a negative effect on economic growth because recipients tend to spend cash flows on day-to-day subsistence. However, research shows that the opposite is true. A study on the effect of remittances on growth in Africa reveals that remittances seem to have an overall positive effect on Gross Domestic Product (GDP). When compared to foreign aid and Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), a 10 percent increase in remittances leads to a 0.3 percent increase in the GDP per capita income.
The CIPE Development Blog provides coverage of the Center for International Private Enterprise and its partner network at work -- highlighting successes, drawing out lessons from failure, and exploring the broader issues of political and economic development. For more information visit CIPE.org.