Buying bread with subsidy cards at a bakery in Cairo. via REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
The subsidy systems in some Middle East and North African (MENA) nations need an overhaul. In countries such as Lebanon and Egypt, poorly structured subsidies exacerbate extant problems caused by high fiscal deficits, growing populations, and unmet citizen expectations. At least, that was the key message I took away from the CIPE webinar I attended on September 26. Because subsidies affect the economic capacity of millions of low-income families, CIPE hosted a webinar focusing on electricity subsidies in Lebanon and bread subsidies in Egypt to generate dialogue on the topic. My blog aims to highlight the main points from the webinar, which was facilitated by Patrick Mardini of the Lebanese Institute for Market Studies (LIMS) and Reem Abdelhaliem of the Faculty of Economics and Political Science at Cairo University.
Governments implement subsidies as a means to pacify discontented populations. The hope is that if the sticker price of essential commodities—such as bread, rice, oil, and electricity—is kept artificially low, citizens will have less of an incentive to protest poor economic conditions. While this may ease discontent in the short term, the subsidy systems in place often do more harm than good. By keeping prices low, the government bears consistent losses and passes those on to its citizens by elevating taxes and providing lower quality services. Furthermore, widespread corruption within the subsidy system exacerbates economic disparity and prevents the subsidies from benefiting its intended beneficiaries: the poor. Mardini and Abdelhaliem both discussed this during the webinar, using Lebanon and Egypt as prime examples.
Mobile networks are revamping African infrastructure. While increasing connectivity is creating opportunities for economic growth and social inclusion, the digital economy will be hard-pressed to deliver on these opportunities through connectivity alone.
Businesses and governments need access to information about what stakeholders think, want, and need. This information allows businesses and governments to define and fill existing gaps in policy and service delivery in order to take advantage of opportunities presented by the digital economy. In the past, poor infrastructure made it expensive to collect this information, but mobile phones are reshaping the landscape.
Surveys administered via mobile phone are lowering the barriers to data collection by providing cheaper, faster ways to conduct public opinion research. In doing so, they can be an effective tool to increase access to information for small business and civil society groups, allowing these groups to take a greater leadership role in developing services and proposing policy solutions.
What are some advantages of mobile surveys?
Mobile surveys are short questionnaires administered via pre-recorded voice, SMS, or web by mobile survey companies such as VOTO Mobile or GeoPoll. They take less time to develop and administer than a paper survey and tend to be considerably less expensive.
Corruption is detrimental to countries’ economies because it leads to reduced productivity, high unemployment, and poverty. In addition to the economic cost, corruption corrodes democracies by weakening citizens’ confidence in their governments. This distrust and disenfranchisement can drive people to join extremist groups. “In conflict-affected areas, especially where Al-Qaeda or the Islamic State are trying to set up shop, economic grievances make it much easier to recruit local nationals into their fight,” commented Jennifer Anderson, CIPE’s senior program officer for South Asia. “Not only is corruption debilitating democracy in Afghanistan, it’s also leading to recruitment. Right now in Afghanistan, the Taliban has either control or influence over 40 percent of the country.”
Anderson spoke in a CIPE panel discussion in July that examined the issue of corruption in Asia, with a focus on Afghanistan and Cambodia. Other panelists included experts from CIPE’s Asia Department; the Hudson Institute; and SILAKA, a Cambodian nonprofit organization.
By Peter Goliaš, Jozef Hajko, and Michal Piško
The Institute for Economic and Social Reform (INEKO), with support from CIPE and the National Endowment for Democracy, conducted a study on the recent trends in Slovakia affecting democracy in the country. The study shows considerable popular dissatisfaction with the quality of democracy, worsening in the last few years. In order to ensure broad input, the research was based on a representative public poll, a questionnaire conducted with selected public figures, detailed interviews with business people, and discussions with thought leaders and students. The results reveal that the most frustrated segment of the population is prone to accept radical non-democratic solutions. This is a warning sign that further strengthening of extremists and opportunists in Slovakia’s political life is a real possibility.
The latest CIPE Feature Service article summarizes key findings of this study along with recommendations for various stakeholders, including the government, political parties, civil society, media, businesses, donors, as well as teachers and the society at large.
From left: podcast guest Ayesha Bilal, with guest host Marc Schleifer and host Julie Johnson
On this week’s Democracy that Delivers podcast, Ayesha Bilal, Chief Operating Officer of Pakistani think tank PRIME (Policy Research Institute of the Market Economy), discusses PRIME’s work encouraging citizen involvement in public policymaking in Pakistan. She talks about PRIME’s highly successful Scorecard project to track how well the government has met its economic reform promises. Bilal shares how PRIME included the government as a stakeholder in the project and how the government is now using the Scorecard to track its own progress.
Bilal talks about the importance of tackling issues that have a broad appeal, and tactics for involving many sectors of the population in policy discussions – from homemakers to entrepreneurs to business owners. She stresses the need for openness and transparency in research and advocacy projects, and the importance of encouraging discussion, not imposing solutions. She also discusses PRIME’s current #FairTax campaign.
For more information on PRIME, Pakistan’s leading economic research think tank, visit: www.primeinstitute.org
View PRIME’s Scorecards
Follow PRIME Institute on Twitter: @PrimeInstitute
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Recipients of the Jose Egardo Campos Collaborative Leadership Awards at the Global Leadership Forum
In today’s world of polarized politics, divisions within societies struggling with the history of divisions feel particularly deep. Countries emerging from conflict, such as Colombia or South Sudan, are striving to make progress toward non-violence and reconciliation. Even in peaceful, mature democracies, the public discourse has become more partisan and polarized than ever. As countries look for transformative leadership to overcome divisions, they struggle with building effective coalitions that could overcome differences and find consensus in key areas.