Tag Archives: reform

Public Policies: The Art, Science, and Institutionalization


This article originally appeared in Arabic on cipe-arabia.org

As I prepared for the final paper of my college years, I recall my unwavering conviction in the infamous saying by Muhammad Yunus – Founder of Grameen Bank – that, “Once poverty is gone, we’ll need to build museums to display its horrors to future generations.”

Multiple public policies and methods have been devised, yet the primary objective has always remained unchanged: provide citizens with a decent standard of living. This, I believe, can be achieved through paving the way for entrepreneurial initiatives and creating a just and equitable investment environment, where investors, citizens, workers, and employees alike are familiar with their respective rights and obligations.

Over time however, it has become increasingly apparent to me that any practice devoid of theory would be blind, and any theory without practice would be deemed hollow. During the few years of my engagement with the reform process I drew a number of important lessons that I would like to share.

1. Outcomes of efforts in the public policy domain are difficult to quantify using short-term indicators

Contrary to other disciplines – such as engineering, accounting, trade, commerce, and medicine – the outcomes of public policy work are not immediate. For instance, support for entrepreneurship in a country such as Egypt cannot occur overnight, especially in light of an economic milieu where it is difficult to participate in the market, and lacks a just mechanism for filing for bankruptcy or completing a successful market exit. This is in addition to the absence of real and tangible funding tools, coupled with the deterioration of education. Having said this, however, it is imperative to make a start somewhere. The continuity of these efforts and the relentless resumption of reforms must not be abandoned. The status of entrepreneurship in Egypt today –though it falls short of fulfilling aspirations on many different levels – is still considered much better than what it was several years previously. At least today, there is some knowledge and understanding of the concept of entrepreneurship and its correlation with institutional reform. Sound initiatives are coming to light every day, and are expected to result in cumulative change.

In short, efforts exerted in the public policy domain are cumulative and cannot be measured by short-term indicators, thus one should not be frustrated or discouraged. The challenge lies, however, in conducting assessments and gauging impact in order to develop reform strategies and to avoid committing the same errors, while expecting different outcomes.

2. The social contract binding the state to its citizens is reflected in all aspects of life, including the economy

Citizenship is not just a political concept, it constitutes the core of the economic reform process in the sense that in some developing countries (e.g. Egypt), the social contract is based on guardianship and not citizenship. This means that the state assists its people by rationing food, housing, health, and education in return for their compliance to state dictation. The end result being: poor quality of public services, owed to the state’s goal of expanding its production activities and hence negatively impacting the growth of the public sector and compromising the creation of employment and operation opportunities. Over time, state expenses will overcome revenues, leading to the deterioration of public services and to that state becoming prone to a series of interrelated and complex ailments.
In contrast, and in the case of states that are founded on the basis of citizenship, we find that at the core of the social contract lie rights and obligations. This contract obligates the state to assume the role of an effective regulator and legislator and to oversee the efficient enforcement of these laws and pieces of legislation in a manner that safeguards upholding the regulation of market transactions – such as the protection of consumers and competition and the prohibition of monopolistic practices, etc. A state of this kind should be able to pave the way for citizens to allow them to invest by creating a competitive environment that would ultimately enhance economic growth. A state that does not abandon those citizens unable to work, by assisting those in need of support instead of rationing goods—a practice that is prone to aggravating corruption. Finally, a state that is able to collect due taxes is the cornerstone of the rights and obligations system.

3. There is no one-size-fits-all solution

Though the reform process is multi-faceted and primarily built on local trials and experiences, it can still benefit from global input and expertise. With this said, one must bear in mind that what may prove successful in Latin America may not necessarily bear fruition in East Asia, since local expertise and social capital must be the prime determinants of a locally-driven reform strategy. For example, when tackling an issue such as the informal economy in Egypt, some may suggest registering all entities operating within that sector in order to improve economic indicators. However, in practice, it might become apparent that the dilemma of reforming the informal sector in Egypt does not lie with registration, but instead revolves around a more precarious phenomenon – parallel institutions in various areas including education, health, transport, and the economy. In this sense, any reform that fails to accommodate these parallel institutions won’t work. Incidentally, not all practices in these parallel institutions are detrimental. Those few positive practices must be codified and capitalized upon in the formal domain, while the exclusionary ones must be tackled – occasionally through penalization and suspension, but more frequently via incentives.

In conclusion, to summarize the lessons in this article in one phrase: “Institutions are the solution.” However, the creation of institutions is a long-term process that is not merely limited to changing public policies, but also involves changing practices and taking the social structure into consideration while doing so.

Seif El-Khawanky is a Program Officer for CIPE Egypt

Democracy that Delivers Podcast #34: Murray Hiebert on Aung San Suu Kyi’s Historic Visit to the United States

Podcast guest Murray Hiebert (left), with hosts John Morrell and Julie Johnson

Podcast guest Murray Hiebert (left), with hosts John Morrell and Julie Johnson

In this week’s Democracy That Delivers podcast, Murray Hiebert, Senior Adviser and Deputy Director of the Southeast Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), talks about the historic visit to the U.S. last week of Aung San Suu Kyi. Hiebert discusses what the visit means for Myanmar’s future, including the peace process and the investment climate in a country where peace and development is long overdue. Hiebert also talks about what the lifting of sanctions will mean for the inflow of foreign direct investment, and how economic development and the resolution of ethnic grievances through the peace process are linked. Reaction in Myanmar to Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit is also discussed. Hiebert also talks about the tension between the  Muslim-minority Rohingya population and the majority Buddhist population in Myanmar and Aung San Suu Kyi’s commitment to resolve tension between the two groups.

For more information on Murray Hiebert and his work, visit the CSIS website.

Democracy that Delivers Podcast #33: Camelia Bulat and Carmen Stanila on Helping Business Associations Around the World with Policymaking and Advocacy

Podcast guests Carmen Stanila (far left) and Camelia Bulat (second right) with hosts Ken Jaques and Julie Johnson

Podcast guests Carmen Stanila (far left) and Camelia Bulat (second right) with hosts Ken Jaques and Julie Johnson

In this week’s Democracy That Delivers podcast, CIPE consultants Camelia Bulat and Carmen Stanila talk about working with the private sector and business associations on public policy development and advocacy. They discuss their early work in Romania and later in the Balkans, Moldova, and the Caucuses, and the challenges of managing citizen expectations when countries transition to democratic, free market systems. Bulat and Stanila also talk about how they were able to transfer early lessons learned in Romania to projects elsewhere, and the surprising similarity between the issues and priorities facing business associations all over the world.

Guatemalan Youth Fed Up with Spectating Become Protagonists in their Country’s Future

Presentaci+¦n de Colectivo en UVG

By Dara Sanford

In the past few months, Guatemala has been hit by a wave of protests aimed at the government, focusing primarily on corruption endemic in the country. Thousands of Guatemalans, a majority of whom are Millennials, have taken to the streets to show they are fed up with corruption and that they want their government to do more in terms of responding to their needs.

One organization working on helping the Guatemalan youth demand more from the government through protests and various other channels is Cincoen5 (Five in 5). Cincoen5 is a collective of six organizations that work together to improve development in Guatemala focusing on five key areas: education, security, nutrition, infrastructure, and employment. The collective has a specific interest in helping youth become more politically active.

Since its creation in 2013, Cincoen5 has created and shared a long-term development plan for Guatemala, held multiple meetings around the country, including universities, and has remained an active participant in social mobilizations.

In this interview, we had the opportunity to talk to Walter Corzo, whose organization Jovenes Contra la Violencia (Youth Against Violence) is a member of the collective, about the current situation youth in Guatemala are facing, the work of Cincoen5, and what the collective is planning for the future.

Q: First, what are some of the challenges the youth in Guatemala are facing right now and how can increased participation in the political process help alleviate some of these challenges?

A: There is a big call for change. This is because the young people don’t see their needs being acknowledged by the government. What we are doing right now is putting a lot of pressure on the system, but government is resistant to making changes. In Guatemala, 50 percent of people live in poverty, and that is a huge problem.

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Community and Political Actors Present ‘Ideas for Rebuilding Nepal’ to the Government

On April 25, a devastating earthquake of 7.8 magnitude rocked the central region of Nepal, claiming over 8000 lives, injuring thousands, and leaving another 2.8 million people homeless. The government of Nepal has been posed with one of its biggest disaster-related challenges in recent history. Despite the looming challenges that remain, a window of opportunity has emerged for Nepal to mobilize the energy and enthusiasm of its citizens for a better, more prosperous country. The fabric of Nepali society—which exemplifies cooperation, tolerance, and compassion— has been on clear display in the voluntary efforts of various non-governmental organizations (NGOs), civil society groups, and individuals alike. This energy marks a new beginning for Nepali society and politics.

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Riinvest Institute Celebrates 20 year Anniversary

Riinvest 20th Anniversary 2

CIPE’s long term partner Riinvest Institute for Development Research is celebrating their 20th anniversary this year. To mark the occasion, Riinvest held a conference on May 15 and 16 titled, “Activating the Sources of Economic Growth in Kosovo”. The conference brought together an impressive audience— the President and the Prime Minister of Kosovo*, the Deputy Minister of Finance, the World Bank Country Manager, other high level public officials, academics, business people, NGO leaders, the donor community, and members of the media.

*Kosovo’s newly-elected Prime Minister, Isa Mustafa, is the former President of Riinvest.

Riinvest leaders presented awards to a number of partners, individuals, and organizations who have supported the organization since its inception. CIPE had the honor of being presented the first two awards, one for Executive Director John Sullivan and one for the organization as a whole. CIPE Senior Consultant Carmen Stanila kindly received both awards on behalf of John and the organization.

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The New Middle East: An Uncertain Future

Map of Middle East Region

By Bahaa Eddin Al Dahoudi, CIPE-Atlas Corps Think Tank LINKS Fellow

What future awaits the Middle East? This question remains pivotal following the outbreak of the Arab revolutions four years ago. It keeps popping up as regional developments arise, especially with the decline of democracy and presence of revolutionary forces in many Arab countries. The region’s resort to military tools is increasing due to the rise of terrorism, violence, and political polarization, a decline of charismatic leaders, and a lack of support for institutional structures and democratic transitions. In a Middle East where “there is no winner,” two vital questions emerge: Is the Arab revolution the reason behind the chaos and collapses? And, what are the future scenarios for this inflamed region?

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