Afghanistan’s image in the news media is often shaped by negative stories focused on security and political challenges. What is often not highlighted are a number of successes, achieved over the past several years, in shaping the country’s economic policy and democratic governance. These reforms have improved the business enabling environment and made a positive difference in the lives of small business owners whose livelihoods depend on a predictable and efficient regulatory environment.
Zimbabwean economist Daniel Ndlela shares his thoughts on economic recovery as part of a conference hosted by the Southern Africa Political Economy Series Trust and the National Endowment for Democracy in May 2014. The conference, entitled “Zimbabwe Going Forward” featured Zimbabwean think tanks, private sector representatives, government and civil society. (l-r: Kupukile Mlambo, Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, Ndlela, and Abdulwahab Alkebsi, Regional Director for Africa, the Center for International Private Enterprise).
While 50 African heads of state prepared to visit Washington for the U.S.-Africa summit held earlier this month, one president who wasn’t invited decided to throw a party of his own. In Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe invited dignitaries and government officials to the State House on July 31 to mark the one year anniversary of his party’s victory over the opposition in national elections whose legitimacy was questioned by domestic and foreign observers alike.
The 90-year-old Mugabe, restricted from entering the United States due to targeted travel and financial sanctions, welcomed government friends to his official residence in Harare with a banquet and live music. Unfortunately, given Zimbabwe’s economic outlook, throwing a party is the last thing the President should be doing.
When the public and private sectors work together to implement necessary economic reforms, entrepreneurs, businesses and citizens benefit from a more prosperous and vibrant democracy. Businesses possess the know-how and detailed knowledge of economic conditions, obstacles, and opportunities for growth, while governments have the means to pass business-friendly legislation. Public-private dialogue helps these two groups work together to arrive at effective policy solution.
Moldova’s National Business Agenda Network (NBA), comprised of more than 30 business associations and chambers of commerce from across the country, positioned itself as a key stakeholder in policymaking. With CIPE’s support, the Institute for Development and Social Initiatives (IDSI) institutionalized a culture of public-private dialogue where it did not exist before and encouraged greater transparency and inclusiveness in setting reform priorities in the areas of tax and customs law.
Find out how the Moldovan business community successfully built an advocacy coalition to work with the government on reform priorities in the recently-released case study “Public-Private Dialogue in Moldova”, part of a forthcoming case collection Strategies for Policy Reform.
Teodora Mihaylova is a Research Assistant at CIPE.
Since 2005, CIPE has been working with the business community in Afghanistan to build their capacity to work with the government to improve the business environment in Afghanistan. CIPE has helped business associations identify the challenges and barriers to business, develop practical policy solutions, and effectively communicate the policies to government officials.
A major step for the business community was the launch of the CIPE-supported Afghanistan National Business Agenda (NBA) in 2011. The NBA is a grassroots program to build consensus among the business community of the most urgent policy priorities. The Afghan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) led a coalition of 11 business associations in conducting public forums in five major cities with over 1,300 business people to gather input on improving the business environment. Based on the input from these forums, the coalition produced a report outlining the business community’s reform agenda.
Since the launch of the NBA in 2011, CIPE has supported the NBA coalition in advocating for the implementation of the policy reforms. The advocacy campaigns have been highly successful, increasing land and infrastructure for businesses, reducing and simplifying taxes and licenses, reducing corruption, and improving government services.
The 2014 Afghanistan presidential elections presented a great opportunity for a renewed efforts by the business community to advance their reform priorities. ACCI, in partnership with Harakat, organized a National Business Forum on February 27 to once again bring the business community together to unify behind a common agenda.
Since its inception, CIPE has been an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. A large part of CIPE’s mission revolves around strengthening chambers of commerce and business associations in developing countries so that they can act as the voice of the private sector. As perhaps the most influential chamber in the world, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has served as a model and an inspiration for many CIPE initiatives.
The National Business Agenda process, for example, has been a successful tool for articulating private sector concerns into concrete policy recommendations. Likewise, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Institute for Organization Management has helped CIPE staff train partners around the world in the latest best practices for running an effective association.
Recently U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Donohue wrote about CIPE’s 30-year history of supporting free enterprise and democracy around the world.
On June 11 the World Bankreleased a report titled, “Moldova: Policy Priorities for Private Sector Development.” The report highlights business constraints and proposals for reform in five key areas: customs administration, tax administration, business regulation (licenses, authorizations, permits, and inspections), competition framework, and access to finance. These priorities are in line with the National Business Agenda (NBA) prepared by CIPE partners in Moldova. In fact, the World Bank report makes multiple references to the 2012-2013 NBA document, citing it as “reflecting the views of a broad range of private sector stakeholders.”
The NBA is not only a document. To prepare it, a network of over 30 business associations and chambers of commerce from across Moldova go through a well-structured process that includes building broad consensus on priorities, analyzing the legal framework for each issue, and developing joint proposals for reform. Using this methodology, the chambers and associations utilize the NBA framework to prepare for a constructive dialogue with government. CIPE has partnered with leading Moldovan think tank Institute for Development and Social Initiative (IDSI) to build the capacity of NBA members to jointly articulate not only the key barriers businesses face, but also concrete proposals to overcome them.
In addition, CIPE and IDSI have been providing assistance to the NBA member organizations to create a private sector platform. Today this platform is well-known among policymakers, the broader business community, and civil society as the NBA network. The member organizations are committed to developing a partnership with government through public-private dialogue. The goal is to work together on improving the economy, creating more jobs, and improving the climate for doing business. The voice of the NBA network is especially important in the reform process as it represents the views of the small and medium-sized domestic enterprises that comprise a majority of the Moldovan private companies.
Participants at a roundtable on the National Business Agenda Monitoring Report, held on December 4th, 2012 in Chișinău, Moldova.
In a distant corner of Eastern Europe, Moldova’s economy is struggling amidst Europe’s recent recession. The economy grew at a rate of just 0.5% in 2012 and The Economist predicts that the economy will grow at an annualized rate of 3.3% between 2013 and 2017.
Such a growth rate is not sufficient to lift Europe’s poorest country, in terms of price-adjusted GDP per capita, out of poverty. The government’s regulatory policies are oriented towards attracting foreign investment and appeasing European donors instead of promoting local business development and capacity building.
Although for this reason Moldova has shot up the World Bank’s “Doing Business” rankings, the business community complains that the business environment is worsening. Moldova’s business community needs tax and customs reforms for the country to prosper. The fragmentation of the business community has stymied previous appeals to the government, which has accused the business community of incompetence.
CIPE and its Moldovan partner, the Institute for Development and Social Initiatives, a leading think tank, are striving to foster public-private dialogue to improve the business environment by strengthening the institutions of the Moldovan business community. Through the National Business Agenda mechanism, business associations from around Moldova have formed a national coalition to advocate for vital reforms to the tax code and customs regulations. One crucial reform they are advocating for is establishing the presumption of innocence in tax disputes — which could have important effects on the ability of Moldovan businesses to grow and prosper.