Tag Archives: transparency

To Benefit from Energy Resources, Lebanon Needs Better Institutions, Not Just Greater Transparency

A map showing the offshore areas being opened to oil and gas exploration. The auctions have been repeatedly delayed.

A map showing the offshore areas being opened to oil and gas exploration. The auctions have been repeatedly delayed. (Photo: Deloitte)

By Sami Atallah

A paradox confronts countries endowed with oil and gas resources. Despite their riches, these countries tend to grow slower in the long term, have higher income inequality, be more corrupt and even become authoritarian. This, of course is not the fate of all such countries — many have managed to turn the oil curse into a blessing. Those that did had two things going for them: a high level of human capital and good institutions that upheld checks and balances on power.

Although Lebanon is well endowed with human capital, its institutions are generally weak. The Taef agreement redistributed power more equally across the three key institutions — the presidency, the parliament and the prime ministership — that are associated with the three dominant sects, and in many ways, undermined the political system.

For one, the executive authority became diffused to an extent that it is no longer obvious who is in charge. The members of the parliament seem less interested in legislating and holding executive authority accountable and more interested in providing services to constituents. The political parties have mastered the game of electoral survival by crafting election laws through redistricting and vote counting in ways that get them reelected with little to show for. They have resorted to clientelistic strategies of buying votes and providing services in return for political loyalty. Furthermore, the judiciary and the oversight agencies whose job it is to hold the government accountable were at best sidelined but most often intentionally weakened through political interventions or bureaucratic understaffing.

In sum, the political elite govern the country largely by the logic of dividing the spoils among themselves through illegal subcontracting of projects, violating tendering requirements, as well as contracting companies despite conflicts of interest. This has resulted in high levels of corruption, embezzlement, mismanagement and waste benefiting the political elite at the expense of the rest of the population.

It is against this backdrop that the Lebanese Petroleum Administration (LPA), the body entrusted to govern the oil sector, came into being. Between November 2012 and August 2013, the LPA proceeded rather efficiently and with more transparency than most Lebanese institutions in approaching the sector. It held consultative meetings and workshops, and managed to lay the groundwork for the launch of the offshore licensing round. Now it is waiting on the government to pass the last decrees for the process to continue, and has found itself caught up in the Lebanese political mill with no clear way out of the deadlock.

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Open Government, Open Data, and the Meaning of Transparency

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“Open” has become one of the biggest buzzwords in governance. But what does openness really mean? And does it mean the same thing to governments, civil society groups, the media, and the private sector?

As part of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) — Deputy Director Andrew Wilson serves as co-chair of the Council for Engaging the Private Sector — CIPE is also interested in the answer to this question. OGP is a multinational partnership, currently made up of 63 countries and a number of civil society organizations, that aims to make government more transparent, more accountable, and more responsive to citizens.

One way that governments have tried to become more open is through open data — making data about government operations such as budgets, spending, and voting freely available for anyone to use.

But simply releasing some data does not necessarily make a government more transparent or accountable. “So if open data doesn’t produce benefits by itself, how does it work?” asked Emily Shaw in a recent post on the Sunlight Foundation’s blog.

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How Does Corruption Affect the Alibaba IPO?

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Last week Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba filed paperwork with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for an initial public offering (IPO). As one of the largest companies in the world’s second largest economy, Alibaba represents an enormous opportunity for investors. They are expected to raise between $15 and $20 billion, making this IPO potentially bigger than Facebook’s.

While Alibaba already handles more sales volume than eBay and Amazon combined, there is added room for growth as internet penetration in China is only around 45 percent. Online shopping is projected to increase at a rate of 27 percent per year as the still-poor country grows richer and more connected.

Regardless of the perceived opportunities, foreign investors are not entirely convinced that Alibaba will be a good buy. The attitude toward Chinese companies in general is one of skepticism and uncertainty — perpetuated most recently by concerns about the transparency in auditing practices. Alibaba’s complex network of businesses and a lack of details surrounding partnerships with domestic logistics companies also raise some questions for potential investors.

In all the buzz surrounding Alibaba’a IPO, however, there is a missing element that could be cause for additional concern. By selling shares in the U.S., Alibaba opens itself to more exposure to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), a piece of legislation that makes it illegal for companies to bribe officials of foreign governments. A number of multinational companies from around the world have already been ensnared in FCPA investigations as a result of corruption in China and the idea that Alibaba has grown within a market rife with corrupt acts could be cause for increased suspicion. Compounding this risk is the fact that the company has been the subject of investigations by domestic authorities in the past.

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A Ray of Hope on Health Care from an Unlikely Source

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Health care professionals in Egypt conduct a stakeholder analysis to help spell out governance principles for Egyptian hospitals.

A hip replacement in the United States, paid for out-of-pocket (i.e., without health insurance), would cost anywhere from $11,000 to $125,000, depending on what hospital you go to, according to a 2013 survey of 100 hospitals featured on National Public Radio.  And that was among the hospitals that, when asked, could actually produce a quote – 40 of the 100 hospitals surveyed couldn’t quote a price at all.

Those fortunate enough to have insurance don’t need to worry about price-shopping.  When I go to my primary care physician, I pay a $20 co-pay.  (Under our previous insurance, provided by my wife’s former employer, it was $10.  Why the difference?  Who knows?)  I have no idea how much my insurance company pays the doctor.  I suppose I could find out, but… honestly?  There’s really no compelling reason for me to do so.  It’s $20 no matter who I see.

And it turns out that, even if there were more incentive for me to price-shop, more expensive hospitals aren’t necessarily better hospitals, according to a 2014 study.

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Building Trust between Private, Public, and Civic Sectors within the Open Government Partnership

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Michael Putra, Shell, discusses open policymaking at the OGP Asia Pacific Regional Conference, May 6. Seated to his left are Y. W. Junardy, President, Indonesia Global Compact Network, and Ahmad Yuniarto, Chairman, Schlumberger Indonesia.

At a tender three years of age, the Open Government Partnership (OGP) is growing toward maturity. It has reached a stage where it can reflect on progress made to date and learn from early attempts to inspire action by government and civil society. While enthusiasm remains fresh – palpable in the youth contingent at the Asia Regional Conference in Bali – champions within OGP are thinking seriously about how to ensure the credibility of national commitments and deliver the fruits of open government to the people.

Yet as an observer in Bali, I was mostly struck by the moments of discovery, the “aha” moments that occurred as new and veteran participants encountered one another. OGP is entirely new to many countries in Asia (Papua New Guinea and Burma, for instance) and equally new to certain segments of society, especially the private sector.

At the session hosted by Indonesia Global Compact Network on “Building Trust between Private and Public Sectors for a Competitive and Sustainable Economy,” prominent business people were amazed to know that there is such a partnership for transparency, accountability, and citizen engagement. They immediately grasped the potential of OGP to address issues of concern to them, including innovation policy, education, health, and local development. The light bulb really came on when they expressed that corporate social responsibility is not sufficient, that companies must become active citizens and engage with civil society and government alike to build trust.

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Economic Journalism Driving Democratic Debate

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When Maxim Tsoi, a journalist for the Kyrgyzstan newspaper Vecherny Bishkek, made the four-hour drive last spring to the town of Talas on the border with Kazakhstan, he was expecting to gather some local color to illustrate provincial life for readers in the capital city. What Tsoi came away with was a little different. After interviewing local bean farmers, customs officials, and border guards, he had material for a story on the pros and cons of Kyrgyzstan joining the Eurasian Economic Union.

The issue of whether Kyrgyzstan should join the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union, which so far includes Kazakhstan and Belarus, is a source of frequent debate in Bishkek. Membership in the Union has significant implications for the country’s political and economic elites. In the border town, Tsoi found farmers in favor of joining the Union and getting privileged access to new markets. Local resellers of Chinese imports, however, were opposed since they would be facing new tariffs.

“Most of media outlets here in the capital only write about what happens in the capital. So, the material from these trips is quite interesting to everyone, to the journalists and to the readers,” said Tsoi in an interview from Bishkek.

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2014 Global Editorial Cartoon Competition Open!

2012-2013 1st Place Winner, Democratic Governance category. By Seyedbehzad Ghafarizadeh (Iran/Canada).

2012-2013 1st Place Winner, Democratic Governance category. By Seyedbehzad Ghafarizadeh (Iran/Canada).

Can you create a picture that’s worth a thousand words?

Cartoons have an unparalleled ability to communicate universal ideas across cultures and language barriers. Cartoonists have long played a key role in the development of democracy — from the American and French revolutions through to defending media freedom and critiquing corruption in countries like Ecuador today.

CIPE’s Editorial Cartoon Competition is open to amateur and professional cartoonists of all ages from any country. First place winners in each category are eligible for a cash prize of $1,000.

Do you have something to say about Democracy, Transparency, or Corruption? Draw attention — enter your cartoons before June 2, 2014!

Jon Custer is the Social Media / Communications Coordinator at CIPE.