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French Version

World Bank report shows MENA countries lagging

BEIRUT: Oil wealth, real or imagined threat of conflict and aversion to transparency are some of the reasons why the Middle East and North Africa region lags behind other developing countries when in comes to governance, a World Bank report said Monday.

“The MENA region ranks at the bottom in terms of overall governance when compared with countries with similar characteristics in East Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America as well as other developing countries,” said the report, titled Better Governance for Development in the Middle East and North Africa, unveiled Monday.

The publication was the second in a series of four reports released by the Washington-based institution in the run-up to a landmark conference of World Bank and International Monetary Fund governors in the Dubai later this month. “Studies have shown that if, over the past 15 years, the MENA had matched the quality of administration in the public sector for strong performers in Southeast Asia, the region’s growth rates would have been higher by about one percentage point a year,” the report said. “This would have meant the average income per person would be double what it is today.”

The study examined 15 MENA countries and said the region fared relatively well in terms of public administration, but its ranking in public accountability was low, compared to countries with similar incomes.

“On the index of public accountability, virtually every MENA country ranks behind, typically far behind, almost all comparator countries,” said the report. “The richer the MENA country, the worse the gap between its worldwide peers.”

Charles Humphreys, lead author of the report, named oil, real or imagined threat of conflict and aversion to transparency as three factors that are “militant against efforts to improve governance.”
“Oil countries have slightly better quality of administration, but when it comes to public accountability, they are more secretive,” said Humphreys.

Besides oil, the MENA region’s poor governance is blamed on threat of conflicts, often used as an excuse to halt reforms ­ as some governments did after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.
“For the last four decades, there has been a persistence of conflict, real or imagined,” said Humphreys. “It is not obvious whether they (threats) are going to disappear in the immediate future … these threats are not legitimate reasons to squelch institutions of good governance.”
“To the extent that external forces are factors in the persistence of poor governance, then change in the way of external forces’ behavior helps,” he said, “but countries are sovereign and have a choice.”
“You can’t simply transform institutions from the outside, put them in a country and make them work,” he added.

But the international community can act as an agent of change in a different way. “Agreements with the EU that are tied to economic reform and governance strengthen the hand of people who want to make reforms,” said Humphreys, referring to the Association Agreements struck between the 15-member bloc and some countries in the Middle East.

He cited the example of former socialist states in Eastern Europe, where the desire to be associated with Western Europe helped accelerate reforms after the fall of the Soviet Union.

States’ aversion to transparency is another major deterrent to public accountability. “The MENA is a region that is not sure it likes transparency, believes in the value of public debate and trusts civil societies to act in public interest,” said Humphreys.

Beirut,09 15 2003
Dania Saadi
The Daily Star
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