The 2017 World Development Report (WDR), a yearly World Bank flagship report, was launched in Freetown on Thursday, February 9. This year’s report, Governance and the Law, sheds light on how a better understanding of governance can bring about more effective policy interventions to achieve sustainable improvements in development outcomes.
The report, based on extensive research and consultations conducted in many countries over the past 18 months, draws attention to the importance of commitment, coordination, and cooperation as the three core functions needed to ensure that policies yield their desired outcomes. It finds that functions are often difficult to achieve because certain groups in society who gain from the status quo may be powerful enough to resist the reforms that are needed to break the political equilibrium. It also offers a helpful framework for approaching and resolving the challenges faced by development partners, and specifically explores how policies for security, growth, and equity can be made more effective by addressing the underlying drivers of governance.
Lead Governance Specialist, World Bank, Deborah Isser, one of the authors of the report, presented the key findings of the document, which examines the gap between development policies and intended results. The report explores how unequal distribution of power in a society interferes with policy effectiveness. Power asymmetries help explain, for example, why model anti-corruption laws and agencies often fail to curb corruption, why decentralization does not always improve municipal services; or why well-crafted fiscal policies may not reduce volatility and generate long-term savings.
The report further notes that when policies and technical solutions fail to achieve intended outcomes, institutional capacity often takes the blame. However, it finds that countries and donors need to think more broadly to improve governance so that policies succeed. It defines better governance as the process through which state and non-state groups interact to design and implement policies, working within a set of formal and informal rules that are shaped by power.
According to the report, unequal distribution of power can lead to the exclusion of groups and people from the rewards and gains of policy engagement, capture of policies to serve narrow interests, and clientelist relations that favor short term private goods over long term public goods. Yet meaningful change is possible with the engagement and interaction of citizens, through coalitions to change the incentives of those who make decisions; elites, through agreements among decision makers to restrict their own power; and the international community, through indirect influence to change the relative power of domestic reformers.
The presentation was followed by discussions led by the Commissioner of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), Ady Macauley, and a representative from the Sierra Leone Bar Association (SLBA), Francis Ben Kaifala.
ACC boss Macauley observed that most times laws and policies are put in place without engaging with the people who are going to make them work and those they will affect. This, he said, sometimes makes people not cooperate with such laws and policies as they do not regard them as legitimate.
He said people, as drivers of change, need to be engaged at all levels of policy formulation and that the approach should be from the top to the bottom. He frowned at the practice of donors crafting policies which often do not reflect the practical realities on the ground, and therefore called for a change of attitudes on the part of the international community as such policies being foisted on the government often fail.
Francis Ben Kaifala from the SLBA said his association considered the report as a good diagnosis of the problems besetting policy formulation and implementation in Sierra Leone. He said policies should not be formulated with the focus that they will serve only for the term of the government in power. He said the report raises serious governance issues, which the government and all other actors must be committed to address.
He also emphasized the point that people for whom policies and laws are made must be involved in their formulation so as to ensure compliance with them.
Mrs. Memunatu Pratt of the Peace and Conflict Studies Department at Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone, said social norms and the political patronage system sometimes affect the implementation of policies, and called for proper management of public policies to ensure their effectiveness and results. She said suspicion and lack of trust lead to policy failure.
“We need to take this discussion to civil society, academia, and to the local councils and see how we can work with the government to ensure laws and policies work in the interest of the population,” she urged. “We need to look at what political processes affect policy implementation and try to correct them.”
Senior Deputy Financial Secretary in the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, Prince E.O. Cole, described the report as an excellent piece of work by the World Bank which captures all issues relating to policy formulation, and how such policies can be effectively implemented.
He said the ministry was honored to have hosted the launching of the report and hoped its contents will be effectively utilized by both state and non-state actors to initiate a positive change in policy formulation and implementation regime.
World Bank Country Manager, Parminder Brar, observed: “The report highlights one fundamental issue – viz. that many countries have wonderful laws in their books but there is a major disconnect when it comes to implementation. This is due to the persons who are benefitting from the status quo. The question is: what needs to be done? Country ownership of reforms is absolutely critical. Decision makers in the country need to build on the lessons learnt from their successes and change incentive structures to move the reform agenda forward.