Energy imports are a key issue for Pakistan’s business community. (Photo: The Tribune)
CIPE partner Rawalpindi Chamber of Commerce and Industry organized its first All-Pakistan Chamber Presidents’ Conference in 2009. Since then, the annual conference has become an important venue for bringing the business community from across Pakistan together to discuss pressing economic issues and propose reforms to provide level playing field for businesses to grow.
This year, the conference focused on making the newly-elected democratic government accountable for its promises. The current government is considered pro-business, and has made a number of promises in their manifesto to undertake business-friendly policy reform. Now the business community needs to monitor the progress made by the government in initiating the reform process and the implementation of these reforms. To this end, the Policy Research Institute of Market Economy (PRIME), with the help of CIPE, has started a Manifesto Monitoring Project to track how well the government is keeping its promises.
With the price of oil stuck in the mid-$40′s, the Russian stock market in the tank, and the value of the Ruble plummeting the vertical consolidation of power that occurred under the watch of President Putin is now being called into question. While economic times were swell and oil and $100+ per barrel the population of Russia welcomed the order of a vertical political power and were thankful after years of government mis-management under President Yeltsin. The petrodollars flooding the country were hiding a dirty little non-secret – endemic corruption (price of oil v. TI score). It is difficult to think of an adjective strong enough to describe the level of corruption in Russia - estimated by one source at 50% of GDP!
Calls for the decentralization of the power structure have already begun to ring from many academic circles in Moscow. A simple first step toward making government officials accountable for their actions would be to re-institute gubernatorial elections. The Kremlin took away direct elections over five years ago. Currently the president picks governors who are voted on by regional assemblies. In a recent Moscow Times article by Konstantin Sonin of the New Economic School suggests:
Political scientists and economists have shown that when there are highly competitive elections and informed voters, there is less corruption…In Russia, there is a commonly held misconception that democracy is a luxury that only economically developed and prosperous countries can afford. This belief is particularly popular during economic booms. When times are tough, however, we must pull our heads out of the clouds and plant our feet firmly on the ground. The best place to start is by return direct elections to Russia.
Last summer the presidents of the Russian republics of Tatarstan and Bashkir openly stated that a return to the direct election of governors was preferable. And in November Moscow’s mayor Yuri Luzhkov declared that open elections would increase accountability in government. Now the decision is up to the Kremlin and so far they are saying a big Nyet to any changes in elections.
As China prepares to host the Olympics next month, the communist leadership tries to do everything in its power to cultivate the image of an orderly and well-governed nation it wants the world to see. But the outbursts of anger directed at public officials continue. In two recent incidents, more than 30,000 people rioted in Guizhou province over an alleged cover-up of a teenage girls’ death, and after a migrant worker was allegedly beaten by the police in Zhejiang province, hundreds of other workers attacked a police local station.
While the government’s response to social discontent so far has mostly consisted of heavy-handed practices, Chinese leaders are trying to project a new approach. Recently, the government has told local leaders to be on alert to public grievances and find ways to resolve them.
The order is the most recent in a series of calls reflecting the government’s apparent concern over rising social inequality, rampant corruption and the weak legal system. The latest order to resolve conflicts made no mention of specific instructions on how to do so and appeared to follow an all too common trend whereby the government strives to appear responsive without exposing the party to direct criticism or making officials more accountable to the public.
Therein lies the government’s problem. By definition, it cannot be more responsive to its people without greater transparency and accountability. If the lack of transparency continues to fuel covering up for blunders and negligence of public officials, how can truly improved responsiveness be achieved? If the lack of accountability makes mass protests the only available tool for exposing corruption and abuse, how can the Chinese people possibly feel that the government takes responsiveness seriously?
The state-run China Daily paper said that the latest “unprecedented move … shows the central leadership is paying more attention to public complaints.” But is it really? Calling for greater responsiveness that is not accompanied by greater transparency or accountability can’t be much more than a short-lived publicity stunt.
After Ukraine’s recent elections, many people are wondering if tenuous alliances can hold long enough for positive reforms to pass. On the economic side, the tax law has been waiting for review in the Rada for over a year, as has Ukraine’s joint stock law.
In general, many Ukrainians seem optimistic. Even if politics remain dicey in the short term, it seems that attitudes are changing and the country’s political culture gradually continues to open up. Here is one example:
As recently as March of 2007, Mykhola Prestupa – Khmelnitsky’s former mayor and member of the Rada (Ukraine’s Parliament) since 2006 – showed little interest in economic reform or improving the business environment for entrepreneurs. Since then however, his attitude has changed in several respects. His most dramatic shift in thinking came when he decided to voluntarily publish his voting record for public view. This is not a requirement or even a tradition in the Rada. In general, the way members of the Rada vote is a state secret.
In contrast to his previous attitude toward business, Mr. Prestupa was recently appointed deputy head of the Government Committee for Entrepreneurship and is taking charge of reforming Ukraine’s business licensing system. It will be interesting to keep an eye on Mr. Prestupa’s career. As his voluntary decision to make his votes public shows, attitudes are changing in Ukraine, and there are politicians who recognize that transparency and accountability are vital for Ukraine if it is going to become competitive in the 21st Century.