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Views from the Center

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World Bank Results Initiative: The U.S. Should Support It – But with Independent Verification Please

For more than two years, the staff of the World Bank have been developing a new lending instrument that would link financing to measurable results within countries. If approved, it would be the third instrument at the World Bank; the two that exist now are “investment loans” under which inputs, not results, are financed; and policy based loans, under which policy changes are financed.

Reflections on a Holiday in Zimbabwe

Not too many people would think to take a vacation in Zimbabwe. My wife Caroline and I have our reasons.  Caroline was born and raised in the country, the descendant of an old Zimbabwe “pioneer” family. I am from South Africa.

Could Uganda Be the Next Niger Delta?

That’s the question in Alain Vicky’s piece this morning in Le Monde Diplomatique (gated). Vicky warns that oil discoveries in Uganda’s Bunyoro region threaten to heighten simmering tensions between the local communities whose ground is being drilled and the central government which is pocketing the cash. Unmet expectations and popular frustration with politicians could unleash violence and do raise concerns that Uganda might be heading for a rough patch.

Shortcut to Accountability? A World Bank Call to Try Cash Transfers

This is a joint post with Stephanie Majerowicz

The World Bank’s Shanta Devarajan and Marcelo Giugale in yesterday’s Guardian Poverty Matters blog write:

Except for Botswana, the track record of Africa's mineral and hydrocarbon exporters is sobering. While Africa's central banks are today better equipped to deal with currency appreciation, and its civil society more alert to environmental hazards, the institutions that control graft are not strong. They must be improved. However, this will take time. Is there a shortcut to better accountability in the management of natural resources? Yes, there is: direct transfers of resource dividends to citizens.

Democracy and Development: The Spread of Biometric Voter Rolls

This post is joint with Caroline Decker

The application of biometrics to promote development and democratization is proceeding rapidly in the developing world—and largely below the radar of the media and development experts in high-income countries. Monitoring press releases on biometrics with the help of a news Google alert, I’ve been struck by the astonishing spread of this technology for use in voter registration in developing countries... Nepal, Zambia, Ghana, to name just three and ongoing cases.

Related Working Paper

Cash at Your Fingertips: Biometric Technology for Transfers in Developing and Resource-Rich Countries

Most recently, Gabon announced plans to introduce a biometric voter roll in advance of the next election: the opposition parties have been urging this for years. The election is due in December 2011, but the President is to seek a court ruling on its deferral to 2012 to allow for the orderly introduction of biometrics. The proposal has been supported by a group of NGOs and associations, as well as the Secretary General of one of the main opposition parties. Bolivia provides an example of what can be done to increase political inclusion. Over 5 million people were enrolled in 2009 within a period of 76 days by some 3,000 enrolment stations, increasing the voter roll by an astonishing 2 million people. The main drivers were the opposition parties, which were reluctant to contest an election with the old, discredited, roll. The exercise was very successful, in the assessment by the Carter Center.

Can the World Bank Pay for Results or Will Critics Make It Impose Conditions?

Recently my colleague Alan Gelb and I attended a consultation at the World Bank’s annual meeting of its proposed “Program-for-Results” (P4R) policy. This is a remarkable step for the World Bank – the first time in 30 years that it is proposing a significantly new lending instrument. For now, the Bank can disburse funds to clients for expenditures on inputs (investment loans) or when those clients have enacted policies (policy loans).

A Constitutional Moment: Oil2Cash in the Arab World

It is thrilling to watch the overthrow of despots and dynasties as people power erupts across the Arab world. But the headiness of the moment can only lead to durable political change and meaningful economic progress if the new governments that emerge find a better way to handle oil revenue and other easy money (rents, in econo-speak) that have corrupted the outgoing regimes.

Ten Zero-Cost Ideas for Development Progress in 2011

A new year calls for a development policy wish list.  My wish list is about what the rich and powerful global actors– mostly but not solely in the United States – can do to improve lives among the poor and vulnerable around the world in the coming year.