Is Competition Always the Answer? A Case Study of Vietnam’s Power Sector

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Since 2001, the Vietnamese government has acknowledged the need to increase generation capacity in the electricity sector. With unprecedentedly growing demand of 14% per annum, the electricity industry, however, commonly fails to deliver, especially during peak hours and dry seasons. It is reported that ‘in the whole country there were 3,000 blackout incidents due to system overloading during the first 7 months of 2008’, equivalent to ’14 blackouts a day’ (Nguyen and Dapice, 2010). As a way to mitigate this chronic electricity shortage, the industry’s biggest player, Electricity Vietnam (EVN) has to buy in all that is produced domestically and import from neighbouring countries such as Laos and China. Yet, not only cannot EVN satisfy its primary objective of ensuring a secure electricity supply, but it also suffers significant annual financial losses of hundreds of million dollars. EVN claims that too low average pricing of electricity is the cause of this loss. In addition, audit reports reveal that EVN’s diversification policy had caused further losses.

The inefficiency in infrastructure investment and inadequacy in organizational management have caused anger amongst the public, creating an extremely negative attitude towards the traditional monopoly structure of the electricity sector. Utilising a popular measure, policy makers therefore choose to apply the ‘marketisation’ or liberalization model that is, in theory, similar to the liberalization model that has been implemented in the UK and EU since the 1990s. The main reasons behind the policy are: 1) to assist the government in infrastructure investment; 2) to expose EVN to competitive forces through encouraging private and foreign investment which would force it to improve its financial and operational performance; and 3) to provide affordable and stably-priced electricity. These 3 major objectives are thought to be the outcomes of introducing competition to the traditional monopolistic market structure. This causal link is, however, usually assumed rather than discussed and tested.Read More »

Human rights are not losing traction in the global South

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An indigenous Filipino woman sells bracelets. Source: Flickr/Andy Enero

Stephen Hopgood’s The Endtimes of Human Rights and Eric Posner’s The Twilight of Human Rights Law have set off an important debate about whether human rights have run out of steam as a force for human progress. Other commentators such as Sam Moyn have argued that human rights no longer have the power to mobilize international condemnation and moral pressure against totalitarian regimes. Posner argues, for example, that the rapid expansion in the ratification of human rights treaties since the 1990s has had no impact on the respect for human rights. Further, since the end of colonization, human rights movements such as the right to self-determination, the civil rights act in the US, and overall equality in the US have run out of steam.

On closer reading and reflection, these arguments tell a very partial story about human rights.  They are limited to human rights as civil and political rights to end brutal authoritarian rule, as law in international treaties to be enforced by the UN human rights system, and as a mission of international institutions embodied in international treaties and bodies, both inter-governmental and non-governmental.  Indeed, these opinions reflect a view of human rights as a civilizing mission of the Western world by the use of law and political power—a vision of the dominant human rights scholars and organizations.

Yet there are other ways of understanding the process of human rights progress. As Michael Ignatieff forcefully argued at a recent conference at Kings College, human rights is not about international law but about politics: “moral politics expressed as or clothed in law”. And the politics is not just about foreign policy goals of powerful states.Read More »

The New Secretary-General, and the Next: Reforming International Appointments

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The UN selected António Guterres as its new Secretary-General this week. Economics Professor Sanjay Reddy offers his thoughts on the deficiencies in the selection process, reform possibilities, and the future trajectory of a UN led by Guterres. Drawing on his experience as a member of the UN Economic and Social Council’s Independent Team of Advisers, Reddy argues that the UN system needs much more than the ‘fine tuning’ that Guterres has in mind.

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The announcement that the new Secretary-General of the United Nations will be Antonio Guterres of Portugal brings to an end a process of making this important appointment which has been more transparent than ever (as it included such innovations as a public debate between declared candidates). However, despite the credentials of the new Secretary-General and his laudable intentions for the organisation, the process has highlighted the continued deficiencies in the selection process, including but not confined to lack of full transparency, in particular on the basis of the final decision.

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On the Blogs: Lack of Good Governance at the World Bank

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The process of selecting a new World Bank president has started. Pundits are already criticizing the process for being rushed, closed, and favoring the re-selection of the current President Jim Kim. This serves as a reminder of how political the international financial institutions are, although they often present themselves as being technical and apolitcal.

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Why Isn’t The World Bank’s Choice of Chief Economist More Controversial?

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By Ingrid Harvold Kvangraven

This week it became clear that the World Bank has chosen Paul Romer as its next Chief Economist. As Chief Economist he’ll have the overall responsibility of the Bank’s research program and be able to shape the developments of the highly influential development institution. Commentators have named the choice of Chief Economist impressive, great, huge news, bold, and forward-thinking. The choice of World Bank Chief Economist rarely garners this much attention – so, why the fuss?

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Global Development Goals: If at All, Why, When and How?

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By Ingrid Harvold Kvangraven

Last week, the “Sustainable Development Goals” (SDGs) were launched at the UN in New York. This is the outcome of two years of consultations, lobbying, and debate about what the “post-2015” agenda should look like. The assumption has been that the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were a huge success and that we, therefore, must proceed with a new round. Unfortunately, this assumption is not backed by empirical evidence.

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