Caveat emptor: the Graduation Approach, electronic payments and the potential pitfalls of financial inclusion

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By Paulo L dos Santos and Ingrid Harvold Kvangraven

The Graduation Approach to poverty reduction is inextricably bound up with programmes promoting financial inclusion. Proponents for the approach see it guiding a series of interventions that encourage poor households to ‘graduate’ into ‘mainstream development programmes’ which are centred on the provision of credit and other financial services (BRAC 2014). Indeed, the approach has been presented as a way to address the needs of those “too poor for microfinance services” (UNHCR 2014). The presumption is that the development and poverty reduction needs of ‘graduates’ will be well served by financial inclusion initiatives.Read More »

Small and Medium Enterprise Development: A Case of Hamlet without the Prince

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Towards the end of 2016, something remarkable happened in the relationship between the private sector and state in South Africa. In an effort to keep the big three rating agencies from downgrading the country’s the sovereign credit rating to “junk status” the CEO Initiative was convened at the request of the President and his Deputy and led by the then Minister of Finance. The initiative’s initial goals were to prevent a sovereign rating downgrade and to stimulate inclusive and sustainable growth. To achieve this, three work streams were established: a fund for small and medium sized enterprises (SME), a youth employment scheme, and an investment intervention team. This post critically assesses the theoretical basis for SME development as a tool for inclusive growth.Read More »

An Economic Strategy for The Gambia?

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I was privileged recently to spend a little time in The Gambia, whose people recently overthrew a megalomaniacal, authoritarian and in many respects vicious President, Yahyeh Jammeh, in an extraordinary democratic moment, due to their courage and the timely supportive action of other countries in West Africa (and very little if at all due to support from major powers, apart from their role in placing some effective limits on prior abuses and eventually supporting a Security Council resolution that helped to legitimize the ECOWAS action).

I was able to observe a moving event in which members of the country’s diaspora, from Alaska to Taiwan and from Cape Verde to Sweden, most of whom were active in opposition (and quite a number of whom were highly educated professionals successful in the countries to which they have departed) assembled to meet the new President and to express their pleasure at the New Gambia as well as their sincere hopes for the future. Conversations with ordinary Gambians reveal general relief and enormous optimism. Arguably, the current juncture provides the first opportunity since the country’s independence in 1965 for a broad ranging public conversation on the ends and means of development.Read More »

Hazards of a Tourist Boom

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by Silla Sigurgeirdottir and Robert H. Wade

Iceland is surfing a tourist boom. From 440,000 tourists in 2008, numbers started surging in 2011 to reach 1.3 million in 2015 and 1.8 million in 2016. The resident population is 330,000 in an area over 40% that of the United Kingdom. Having experienced the sharpest crash of all the OECD economies in 2008-2009 Iceland regained the pre-crash level of average income by late 2014. GDP grew super-fast at over 6% in 2016, and forecasts suggest annual growth of almost 5% between 2017 and 2019, one of the fastest in the OECD.

Pre-tax salaries rose nearly 10% a year in both 2015 and 2016. Foreign exchange reserves are ample. Inflation is low, at less than 2% through 2016. Household debt to income is low. The state is paying down public debt fast; the current level is around 50% of GDP. The banks have passed stringent stress tests, with unusually low leverage ratios, low loan to value ratios, strong liquidity positions (especially in foreign currencies) and high capital ratios (close to 30%). A repeat financial crash is very unlikely.

So what is not to like? Given what is happening in Europe and the United States, political leaders elsewhere would love to have Iceland’s problems. Still, those problems could develop badly for the population at large.Read More »

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 »