Good Governance and its Role in Sustainable Development

Good Governance and its Role in Sustainable Development

In their understanding of good governance and its role in sustainable development, Gulf Business addresses this theme only within the business world of the MENA region, specifically within the Gulf area countries. Let us see what it is all about.

 

Insights: Understanding good governance and its role in sustainable development

By Dr Ashraf Gamal Eldin

Good corporate governance fosters fair competition, enables efficient utilisation of resources, increases employment opportunities, and develops domestic and regional capital markets.

 

Dr Ashraf

Dr Ashraf Gamal Eldin

The term ‘governance’ refers to all forms of regulations, including that of institutions, procedures, and practices used to decide on and regulate matters of public concern. In its most basic sense, governance is about providing direction and ensuring that an institution operates efficiently.

Good governance, however, adds a normative or evaluative attribute to this process. In simple terms, good governance refers to the institutional and political outcomes necessary to achieve developmental objectives. The concept has become increasingly important in recent years, emerging as one of the essential components for growth and sustainable development. The key measure of good governance is the extent to which it upholds human rights, including civil, cultural, economic, political, and social indicators. As a result, it is important to understand good governance and its significance in sustainable development.

Good governance reassures stakeholders that an organisation fulfills its obligations to all of its stakeholders, it treats everyone with respect and dignity, by being transparent about its operations, finances, and conduct. In fact, a major indicator of an institution’s quality and excellence is how committed it is to adopt the principles of good governance in all facets of its operations and decision-making. This is even more important, as it significantly supports sustainable development in institutions. It is widely observed that the inability to uphold these principles can have negative effects on welfare, efficiency, and operational excellence, thereby affecting the long-term success of organisations.

The private sector is growing rapidly in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Despite the fact that every country is unique, forward-thinking companies throughout the region see better corporate governance as a competitive advantage in their quest for growth and profitability. Consequently, countries in the MENA region are at various stages of developing unique corporate governance frameworks. This could be further driven by making strenuous efforts to create a national environment that supports and encourages corporate governance in the region. The UAE ranked first in the Middle East and 24th globally on the Good Governance Index 2022, which was released by the Chandler Institute for Governance, a non-profit organisation that works with governments to strengthen their capabilities.

Sustainable development argues that the current use of resources should minimize the level of harm to the future generations’ share of resources. ‘Good Governance’ is capable of common sense and the versatile planning that is required for sustainable development.

A good corporate governance system fosters fair competition, enables more efficient utilisation of resources, increases employment opportunities, and the development of domestic and regional capital markets. With governance playing a crucial role in driving efforts to meet institutional goals, it has been referred to as the fourth pillar of sustainable development alongside social, environmental, and economic factors. As there is a strong emphasis on minimising future harm from the current use of resources, governance will certainly aid in shaping versatile strategies that ensure sustainable development across organisations.

Good governance is not a luxury, it creates a competitive edge for companies and economies.

 

Dr Ashraf Gamal Eldin is the CEO of Hawkamah Institute for Corporate Governance

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The top image above is of the World Economic Forum.

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Financial Approaches won’t Fix the World’s Economic Problems

Financial Approaches won’t Fix the World’s Economic Problems

Financial approaches won’t fix the world’s economic problems, predicts Gail Tverberg in a reasonably comprehensive post.  Up to lately, it was possible to get away with it.

So without further do, here is this post that elaborates on what are the changes as to why financial approaches alone cannot fix the world’s economic problems. 

Why financial approaches won’t fix the world’s economic problems this time

 

Financial Approaches won’t Fix the World’s Economic Problems Gail Tverberg

 

Time and time again, financial approaches have worked to fix economic problems. Raising interest rates has acted to slow the economy and lowering them has acted to speed up the economy. Governments overspending their incomes also acts to push the economy ahead; doing the reverse seems to slow economies down.

What could possibly go wrong? The issue is a physics problem. The economy doesn’t run simply on money and debt. It operates on resources of many kinds, including energy-related resources. As the population grows, the need for energy-related resources grows. The bottleneck that occurs is something that is hard to see in advance; it is an affordability bottleneck.

For a very long time, financial manipulations have been able to adjust affordability in a way that is optimal for most players. At some point, resources, especially energy resources, get stretched too thin, relative to the rising population and all the commitments that have been made, such as pension commitments. As a result, there is no way for the quantity of goods and services produced to grow sufficiently to match the promises that the financial system has made. This is the real bottleneck that the world economy reaches.

I believe that we are closely approaching this bottleneck today. I recently gave a talk to a group of European officials at the 2nd Luxembourg Strategy Conference, discussing the issue from the European point of view. Europeans seem to be especially vulnerable because Europe, with its early entry into the Industrial Revolution, substantially depleted its fossil fuel resources many years ago. The topic I was asked to discuss was, “Energy: The interconnection of energy limits and the economy and what this means for the future.”

In this post, I write about this presentation.

Slide 3

The major issue is that money, by itself, cannot operate the economy, because we cannot eat money. Any model of the economy must include energy and other resources. In a finite world, these resources tend to deplete. Also, human population tends to grow. At some point, not enough goods and services are produced for the growing population.

I believe that the major reason we have not been told about how the economy really works is because it would simply be too disturbing to understand the real situation. If today’s economy is dependent on finite fossil fuel supplies, it becomes clear that, at some point, these will run short. Then the world economy is likely to face a very difficult time.

A secondary reason for the confusion about how the economy operates is too much specialization by researchers studying the issue. Physicists (who are concerned about energy) don’t study economics; politicians and economists don’t study physics. As a result, neither group has a very broad understanding of the situation.

I am an actuary. I come from a different perspective: Will physical resources be adequate to meet financial promises being made? I have had the privilege of learning a little from both economic and physics sides of the discussion. I have also learned about the issue from a historical perspective.

Slide 4
Slide 5

World energy consumption has been growing very rapidly at the same time that the world economy has been growing. This makes it hard to tell whether the growing energy supply enabled the economic growth, or whether the higher demand created by the growing economy encouraged the world economy to use more resources, including energy resources.

Physics says that it is energy resources that enable economic growth.

Slide 6

The R-squared of GDP as a function of energy is .98, relative to the equation shown.

Slide 7

Physicists talk about the “dissipation” of energy. In this process, the ability of an energy product to do “useful work” is depleted. For example, food is an energy product. When food is digested, its ability to do useful work (provide energy for our body) is used up. Cooking food, whether using a campfire or electricity or by burning natural gas, is another way of dissipating energy.

Humans are clearly part of the economy. Every type of work that is done depends upon energy dissipation. If energy supplies deplete, the form of the economy must change to match.

Slide 8

There are a huge number of systems that seem to grow by themselves using a process called self-organization. I have listed a few of these on Slide 8. Some of these things are alive; most are not. They are all called “dissipative structures.”

The key input that allows these systems to stay in a “non-dead” state is dissipation of energy of the appropriate type. For example, we know that humans need about 2,000 calories a day to continue to function properly. The mix of food must be approximately correct, too. Humans probably could not live on a diet of lettuce alone, for example.

Economies have their own need for energy supplies of the proper kind, or they don’t function properly. For example, today’s agricultural equipment, as well as today’s long-distance trucks, operate on diesel fuel. Without enough diesel fuel, it becomes impossible to plant and harvest crops and bring them to market. A transition to an all-electric system would take many, many years, if it could be done at all.

Slide 9

I think of an economy as being like a child’s building toy. Gradually, new participants are added, both in the form of new citizens and new businesses. Businesses are formed in response to expected changes in the markets. Governments gradually add new laws and new taxes. Supply and demand seem to set market prices. When the system seems to be operating poorly, regulators step in, typically adjusting interest rates and the availability of debt.

One key to keeping the economy working well is the fact that those who are “consumers” closely overlap those who are “employees.” The consumers (= employees) need to be paid well enough, or they cannot purchase the goods and services made by the economy.

A less obvious key to keeping the economy working well is that the whole system needs to be growing. This is necessary so that there are enough goods and services available for the growing population. A growing economy is also needed so that debt can be repaid with interest, and so that pension obligations can be paid as promised.

Slide 10

World population has been growing year after year, but arable land stays close to constant. To provide enough food for this rising population, more intensive agriculture is required, often including irrigation, fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides.

Furthermore, an increasing amount of fresh water is needed, leading to a need for deeper wells and, in some places, desalination to supplement other water sources. All these additional efforts add energy usage, as well as costs.

In addition, mineral ores and energy supplies of all kinds tend to become depleted because the best resources are accessed first. This leaves the more expensive-to-extract resources for later.

Slide 11

The issues in Slide 11 are a continuation of the issues described on Slide 10. The result is that the cost of energy production eventually rises so much that its higher costs spill over into the cost of all other goods and services. Workers find that their paychecks are not high enough to cover the items they usually purchased in the past. Some poor people cannot even afford food and fresh water.

Slide 12
Slide 13

Increasing debt is helpful as an economy grows. A farmer can borrow money for seed to grow a crop, and he can repay the debt, once the crop has grown. Or an entrepreneur can finance a factory using debt.

On the consumer side, debt at a sufficiently low interest rate can be used to make the purchase of a home or vehicle affordable.

Central banks and others involved in the financial world figured out many years ago that if they manipulate interest rates and the availability of credit, they are generally able to get the economy to grow as fast as they would like.

Slide 14

It is hard for most people to imagine how much interest rates have varied over the last century. Back during the Great Depression of the 1930s and the early 1940s, interest rates were very close to zero. As large amounts of inexpensive energy were added to the economy in the post-World War II period, the world economy raced ahead. It was possible to hold back growth by raising interest rates.

Oil supply was constrained in the 1970s, but demand and prices kept rising. US Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volker is known for raising interest rates to unheard of heights (over 15%) with a peak in 1981 to end inflation brought on by high oil prices. This high inflation rate brought on a huge recession from which the economy eventually recovered, as the higher prices brought more oil supply online (AlaskaNorth Sea, and Mexico), and as substitution was made for some oil use. For example, home heating was moved away from burning oil; electricity-production was mostly moved from oil to nuclear, coal and natural gas.

Another thing that has helped the economy since 1981 has been the ability to stimulate demand by lowering interest rates, making monthly payments more affordable. In 2008, the US added Quantitative Easing as a way of further holding interest rates down. A huge debt bubble has thus been built up since 1981, as the world economy has increasingly been operated with an increasing amount of debt at ever-lower interest rates. (See 3-month and 10 year interest rates shown on Slide 14.) This cheap debt has allowed rapidly rising asset prices.

Slide 15

The world economy starts hitting major obstacles when energy supply stops growing faster than population because the supply of finished goods and services (such as new automobile, new homes, paved roads, and airplane trips for passengers) produced stops growing as rapidly as population. These obstacles take the form of affordability obstaclesThe physics of the situation somehow causes the wages and wealth to be increasingly be concentrated among the top 10% or 1%. Lower-paid individuals are increasingly left out. While goods are still produced, ever-fewer workers can afford more than basic necessities. Such a situation makes for unhappy workers.

World energy consumption per capita hit a peak in 2018 and began to slide in 2019, with an even bigger drop in 2020. With less energy consumption, world automobile sales began to slide in 2019 and fell even lower in 2020. Protests, often indirectly related to inadequate wages or benefits, became an increasing problem in 2019. The year 2020 is known for Covid-19 related shutdowns and flight cancellations, but the indirect effect was to reduce energy consumption by less travel and by broken supply lines leading to unavailable goods. Prices of fossil fuels dropped far too low for producers.

Governments tried to get their own economies growing by various techniques, including spending more than the tax revenue they took in, leading to a need for more government debt, and by Quantitative Easing, acting to hold down interest rates. The result was a big increase in the money supply in many countries. This increased money supply was often distributed to individual citizens as subsidies of various kinds.

The higher demand caused by this additional money tended to cause inflation. It tended to raise fossil fuel prices because the inexpensive-to-extract fuels have mostly been extracted. In the days of Paul Volker, more energy supply at a little higher price was available within a few years. This seems extremely unlikely today because of diminishing returns. The problem is that there is little new oil supply available unless prices can stay above at least $120 per barrel on a consistent basis, and prices this high, or higher, do not seem to be available.

Oil prices are not rising this high, even with all of the stimulus funds because of the physics-based wage disparity problem mentioned previously. Also, those with political power try to keep fuel prices down so that the standards of living of citizens will not fall. Because of these low oil prices, OPEC+ continues to make cuts in production. The existence of chronically low prices for fossil fuels is likely the reason why Russia behaves in as belligerent a manner as it does today.

Today, with rising interest rates and Quantitative Tightening instead of Quantitative Easing, a major concern is that the debt bubble that has grown since in 1981 will start to collapse. With falling debt levels, prices of assets, such as homes, farms, and shares of stock, can be expected to fall. Many borrowers will be unable to repay their loans.

If this combination of events occurs, deflation is a likely outcome because banks and pension funds are likely to fail. If, somehow, local governments are able to bail out banks and pension funds, then there is a substantial likelihood of local hyperinflation. In such a case, people will have huge quantities of money, but practically nothing available to buy. In either case, the world economy will shrink because of inadequate energy supply.

Slide 16
Slide 17

Most people have a “normalcy bias.” They assume that if economic growth has continued for a long time in the past, it necessarily will occur in the future. Yet, we all know that all dissipative structures somehow come to an end. Humans can come to an end in many ways: They can get hit by a car; they can catch an illness and succumb to it; they can die of old age; they can starve to death.

History tells us that economies nearly always collapse, usually over a period of years. Sometimes, population rises so high that the food production margin becomes tight; it becomes difficult to set aside enough food if the cycle of weather should turn for the worse. Thus, population drops when crops fail.

In the years leading up to collapse, it is common that the wages of ordinary citizens fall too low for them to be able to afford an adequate diet. In such a situation, epidemics can spread easily and kill many citizens. With so much poverty, it becomes impossible for governments to collect enough taxes to maintain services they have promised. Sometimes, nations lose at war because they cannot afford a suitable army. Very often, governmental debt becomes non-repayable.

The world economy today seems to be approaching some of the same bottlenecks that more local economies hit in the past.

Slide 18

The basic problem is that with inadequate energy supplies, the total quantity of goods and services provided by the economy must shrink. Thus, on average, people must become poorer. Most individual citizens, as well as most governments, will not be happy about this situation.

The situation becomes very much like the game of musical chairs. In this game, one chair at a time is removed. The players walk around the chairs while music plays. When the music stops, all participants grab for a chair. Someone gets left out. In the case of energy supplies, the stronger countries will try to push aside the weaker competitors.

Slide 19

Countries that understand the importance of adequate energy supplies recognize that Europe is relatively weak because of its dependence on imported fuel. However, Europe seems to be oblivious to its poor position, attempting to dictate to others how important it is to prevent climate change by eliminating fossil fuels. With this view, it can easily keep its high opinion of itself.

If we think about the musical chairs’ situation and not enough energy supplies to go around, everyone in the world (except Europe) would be better off if Europe were to be forced out of its high imports of fossil fuels. Russia could perhaps obtain higher energy export prices in Asia and the Far East. The whole situation becomes very strange. Europe tells itself it is cutting off imports to punish Russia. But, if Europe’s imports can remain very low, everyone else, from the US, to Russia, to China, to Japan would benefit.

Slide 20

The benefits of wind and solar energy are glorified in Europe, with people being led to believe that it would be easy to transition from fossil fuels, and perhaps leave nuclear, as well. The problem is that wind, solar, and even hydroelectric energy supply are very undependable. They cannot ever be ramped up to provide year-round heat. They are poorly adapted for agricultural use (except for sunshine helping crops grow).

Few people realize that the benefits that wind and solar provide are tiny. They cannot be depended on, so companies providing electricity need to maintain duplicate generating capacity. Wind and solar require far more transmission than fossil-fuel-generated electricity because the best sources are often far from population centers. When all costs are included (without subsidy), wind and solar electricity tend to be more expensive than fossil-fuel generated electricity. They are especially difficult to rely on in winter. Therefore, many people in Europe are concerned about possibly “freezing in the dark,” as soon as this winter.

There is no possibility of ever transitioning to a system that operates only on intermittent electricity with the population that Europe has today, or that the world has today. Wind turbines and solar panels are built and maintained using fossil fuel energy. Transmission lines cannot be maintained using intermittent electricity alone.

Slide 21
Slide 22

Basically, Europe must use very much less fossil fuel energy, for the long term. Citizens cannot assume that the war with Ukraine will soon be over, and everything will be back to the way it was several years ago. It is much more likely that the freeze-in-the-dark problem will be present every winter, from now on. In fact, European citizens might actually be happier if the climate would warm up a bit.

With this as background, there is a need to figure out how to use less energy without hurting lifestyles too badly. To some extent, changes from the Covid-19 shutdowns can be used, since these indirectly were ways of saving energy. Furthermore, if families can move in together, fewer buildings in total will need to be heated. Cooking can perhaps be done for larger groups at a time, saving on fuel.

If families can home-school their children, this saves both the energy for transportation to school and the energy for heating the school. If families can keep younger children at home, instead of sending them to daycare, this saves energy, as well.

A major issue that I do not point out directly in this presentation is the high energy cost of supporting the elderly in the lifestyles to which they have become accustomed. One issue is the huge amount and cost of healthcare. Another is the cost of separate residences. These costs can be reduced if the elderly can persuaded to move in with family members, as was done in the past. Pension programs worldwide are running into financial difficulty now, with interest rates rising. Countries with large elderly populations are likely to be especially affected.

Slide 23

Besides conserving energy, the other thing people in Europe can do is attempt to understand the dynamics of our current situation. We are in a different world now, with not enough energy of the right kinds to go around.

The dynamics in a world of energy shortages are like those of the musical chairs’ game. We can expect more fighting. We cannot expect that countries that have been on our side in the past will necessarily be on our side in the future. It is more like being in an undeclared war with many participants.

Under ideal circumstances, Europe would be on good terms with energy exporters, even Russia. I suppose at this late date, nothing can be done.

A major issue is that if Europe attempts to hold down fossil fuel prices, the indirect result will be to reduce supply. Oil, natural gas and coal producers will all reduce supply before they will accept a price that they consider too low. Given the dependence of the world economy on energy supplies, especially fossil fuel energy supplies, this will make the situation worse, rather than better.

Wind and solar are not replacements for fossil fuels. They are made with fossil fuels. We don’t have the ability to store up solar energy from summer to winter. Wind is also too undependable, and battery capacity too low, to compensate for need for storage from season to season. Thus, without a growing supply of fossil fuels, it is impossible for today’s economy to continue in its current form.

Tunisia Is Using U.S. Funds to Broaden Its Tourism

Tunisia Is Using U.S. Funds to Broaden Its Tourism

Recently, Tunisia was found to be using U.S. Funds to broaden its Tourism attractiveness. Having gone through ups and downs, it is a matter of how Tunisia is using those U.S. Funds to broaden its Tourism branding.

So, how is Tunisia using U.S. Funds to Broaden Its Tourism? Let us see.

Tunisia recorded two million tourists in 2020, ranking 66th in the world. It generated around $1.01 billion in its tourism sector, corresponding to 2.1 percent of its gross domestic product and approximately 10 percent of all international tourism receipts in Northern Africa.  

 

How Tunisia Is Using U.S. Funds to Broaden Its Tourism Branding

Skift Take

The sustainable planning phase of Tunisia’s destination marketing rebirth — the easy part — is done. Plan implementation is where the real work will begin.

The U.S. government is trying to help Tunisia develop a multifaceted destination brand, one that captures its diverse offerings and incorporates community stakeholders. That journey has come with obstacles from entrenched stakeholders, a historic beach image and developing visitor infrastructure.

In February, the U.S. government injected $50 million into Tunisia’s tourism sector through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) under a five-year project called “Visit Tunisia.”

The project’s aim is to promote the northern African country of 12 million people as a high-quality tourist destination with diverse offerings, increase the number of tourists year-round, and create new source markets. A key objective is to have the country draw 11.5 million tourist arrivals by 2026.

The USAID, an independent agency of the U.S. federal government, doesn’t typically assist global destinations with tourism marketing. In Tunisia’s case, the agency has been investing in its economic and political development since its 2011 Revolution, which overthrew longtime president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. “This was seen as an opportune time to see what Tunisia’s tourism future could look like,” said Visit Tunisia Destination Marketing Team Leader Mackenzie Mackenzie.

Tunisia’s brand has traditionally been a beach destination. “Tunisia has a strong tourism legacy from years of being promoted, especially in the European markets, as a sun and sand destination,” said Mackenzie.

The Tunisian National Tourism Office has offices around the world that lean on this image, Mackenzie said. Travelers on the “budget end of the market” come to the country for its coastal beaches and resorts during the summer season.

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“Unfortunately the biggest number of people coming to Tunisia are coming for the resorts,” said Overseas Adventure Travel Tunisia Country Manger Chaker Abichou.  He expects that 90 percent of tourists that came to the destination this year are here for Sousse and other popular resort towns located on the country’s north and east coast.

USAID’s aim is to expand the number of flexible, independent and younger travelers already exploring the country. “We are looking at what they’re doing and what they are seeing,” Mackenzie said. These travelers go beyond the beach and take on motorcycle tours, camping in the Sahara, hiking adventures, stay in local guest houses and explore local experiences.

The marketing ambition comes as Tunisia bounces back after a rough 11 years since its revolution. In that period, the tourism sector experienced civil unrest, terrorist attacks and Covid-19. “It’s been a triple whammy for the sector,” Mackenzie said.

In 2015, a mass shooting killed 38 people at the tourist resort of Port El Kantahoui, Tunisia has been under a state of emergency since 2015. The security situation has improved greatly in the last decade, said Abichou. He said tourist feedback on safety has been very positive.

Even so, the U.S., UKFrance and Germany have issued warnings to their citizens to be cautious about travel to the country and to explicitly not travel to certain due to terrorist activities.

Tunisia has the untapped potential to attract the flexible, independent traveler market. The destination is home to famous battle sites, well-preserved Roman and other civilizational ruins, filming locations for popular movies like Star Wars, mountains, Sahara, religious sites, a rich culture and more. Communities just need help to leverage these strengths, MacKenzie said.

USAID has sought out attracting tour operators focused on experiential and adventure travel. It has partnered with the Smithsonian Institution to develop the destination’s cultural heritage. Investments in visitor infrastructure for cultural and archaeological sites like better roads, hiking trails and boardwalks throughout the country are also being planned.

The agency has zeroed in on six communities for more focused destination development. “They typically don’t have a destination marketing organization structure,” said Mackenzie. “We are looking at how we work with destinations and innovate and harness the capacity in those communities. If it won’t be a DMO, what will it be?”

Working with industry and community stakeholders to develop sustainable models has eaten up the first year of the project. “Pretty much the first year has been dedicated to stakeholder engagement,” said Mackenzie.

The agency wants to avoid the common mistake international development agencies make of not developing a plan that outlasts their exit. “Often the experts come in, make a plan, off they go and the plan sits around,” said Mackenzie. With stakeholder input, plans have been drawn up to develop visitor infrastructure and promotional efforts.

USAID’s work in the first year underscores the 2022 Skift Megatrend “Communities Are No Longer Spectators in Travel.”

One group of stakeholders that have proven a challenge to work with is the dominant resort community. Many in the group view the attempt at marketing diversification as “turning away from our bread and butter, resort tourism,” said Chris Seek, CEO of Solimar International, a sustainable tourism consultancy which works with USAID on Visit Tunisia.

Resort stakeholders have a lot of influence and power in the country’s tourism industry, said Overseas Adventure Travel Tunisia’s Abichou.

“We have to constantly try to remind them it’s not about turning away,” added Solimar’s Seek. “It’s about making your destination more competitive because you have things that other beaches don’t offer.”

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Read more from Skift’s Tags: beachesgovernmentinternational tourismmiddle easttunisia

 

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How will MENA countries hit FDI targets? 

How will MENA countries hit FDI targets? 

According to the IMF, the Middle East saw a surge in capital inflows, the emerging market investments are shrinking. How will MENA countries hit FDI targets?  Let us see how.

Emerging market investments are shrinking. How will MENA countries hit FDI targets? 

By Amjad Ahmad in Atlantic Council

As the pandemic-fuelled liquidity begins to wane and the reality of inflation and higher interest rates sets in, many economies will face considerable challenges.  Middle East and North Africa (MENA) countries are vying to attract global investors and increase Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).  Yet, capital flows are reversing from emerging to developed markets—specifically in the United States, where interest rates are rising to levels not seen since 2018.  The year 2018 is illustrative: during that time, emerging markets experienced substantial capital outflows as international investors reduced their exposure and consolidated their risk into emerging economies with fewer perceived risks, given their proactive and progressive economic policies.

Attracting foreign investors into emerging market economies has always been difficult.  Nevertheless, thanks to the extended period of near-zero interest rates, emerging markets were blessed with investors hungry for higher returns. The plentiful supply of money coupled with historically low yields in rich countries led investors to explore higher yields in riskier markets across various assets, including public equities, public debt, private equity, and venture capital.  The lower cost of capital allowed investors to finance opportunities that otherwise would have been unfeasible.

Unfortunately, the party is over, and the pain is just beginning.  The US Federal Reserve has started an aggressive interest rate hiking campaign, which will likely be the sharpest rise in interest rates since former chair of the Federal Reserve Paul Volcker’s war on inflation from 1979 to 1982.  Many economists believe this will likely lead to a recession in the world’s biggest economy.

A US economic slowdown or a recession couldn’t come at a worse time for emerging markets, particularly those in MENA, where most are fighting chronic unemployment, especially among youth and women, slowing growth, and higher debt levels.  Large oil-exporting countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) — such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) — are better positioned given heightened commodity prices. However, their lack of interest rate autonomy given the dollar peg limits their ability to deviate their monetary policy from that of the United States.

Additionally, the global demand destruction cannot be ignored as the post-pandemic surge in demand levels off, with consumers beginning to feel the pinch from inflation and rising interest rates.  This may put a damper on global energy demand and tourism. Inflation also impacts global emerging markets, causing a perfect storm for the arrival of tough economic times.  Currency depreciation against the dollar is increasing the cost of imports and repaying foreign currency debts for banks, companies, and governments, many of which racked up significant debt during the pandemic.

Research suggests that the impact of US monetary tightening on emerging markets will vary depending on the factors for the change. Interest rate hikes driven by US economic expansion will likely lead to positive spillover effects that benefit more than hurt emerging markets and, therefore, are neutral on capital flows.  On the other hand, interest rate hikes to fend off inflation will likely lead to emerging markets disruption.  Here, there are two key points to mention.  First, there is a more significant effect on emerging markets from rising interest rates due to inflation than those due to growth.  Second, emerging economies with stable domestic conditions and policies tend to fare better and experience less volatility. In a global economic environment with slower growth, higher cost of capital, and a shrinking capital pool for riskier assets, discerning international investors will consolidate their investments in the highest-quality emerging markets.

The Goldilocks moment experienced in markets over the past couple of years is subsiding.  Geopolitical risk, inflation, and US interest rates are all rising. In addition, two crucial macroeconomic trends will impact the future capital flows to emerging markets.  First, globalization policies that have focused overwhelmingly on cost efficiency and rationalization will now focus on resiliency and values-based investments.  At an Atlantic Council event on April 13, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen articulated a blueprint for US trade policy, stating, “The US would now favor the friend-shoring of supply chains to a large number of trusted countries that share a set of norms and values about how to operate in the global economy.”

Second, Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) issues are gaining more attention with countries and companies putting them on the agenda.  For an indication of what’s to come, consider Total, the French oil and gas giant, marking its shift to renewable energy and rebranding to TotalEnergies, as well as Engine No. 1, a US impact hedge fund, hijacking ExxonMobil’s board to drive a green strategy at the company.  As a result of the confluence of these complex issues on top of challenging macro-economic concerns, investor appetite for emerging market assets is weakening.  It will become more discerning in the coming years.

But all isn’t lost.  There will be divergent outcomes and risks depending on the domestic conditions of each emerging market.  Thoughtful investors will continue to seek opportunities in emerging markets, especially in private markets, where the predominant share of opportunities exists.  However, as financial conditions tighten, differentiation between emerging markets will increase. MENA countries can better position themselves amongst others competing for capital by:

  1. Attracting and empowering strong policymakers to make dynamic and bold decisions that complex changes in the global economy require. Deepening the bench of talented policymakers should be another priority.
  2. Driving policies supportive of private sector development and investment. Reducing government-owned enterprises and providing ample space for private companies to grow and prosper on an even playing field is critical to building a dynamic economy.
  3. Continuing to nurture the nascent entrepreneurial ecosystem. Entrepreneurial economies are consistently more resilient and lead to better outcomes over the long term.
  4. Enhancing regional and international economic integration through bilateral and multilateral agreements with more robust economies. Proactive engagement with multilateral financial institutions will also increase financial stability and resilience.
  5. Standardizing policies according to global norms for greater regional and international integration. Investor appetite is greatly improved in emerging markets that adopt regulations and standards from developed countries.
  6. Increasing transparency and reducing uncertainty around laws and regulations. Investors and companies need more clarity on the game’s rules in order to play it confidently and competently.

Several MENA countries continue to take bold steps to improve their global competitiveness. One such example is the privatization programs of government-owned enterprises in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE to increase liquidity in local capital markets, improve transparency, and expand private sector participation.  Those countries that maintain their momentum will be clear winners in the coming years. History is rich with evidence that economic challenges are followed by periods of historic gains.

Amjad Ahmad is Director and Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council’s empower ME Initiative at the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.  

Twitter: @AmjadAhmadVC.

 

Tackling corruption is focus for MENA in 2022

Tackling corruption is focus for MENA in 2022

The MENA countries where socio-political monopolization is fundamentally due to low levels of democracy and obscure political transparency have generated over the years Corruption. All attempts to strengthen business integrity and fight corruption were in vain. Chatham House‘s post on the subject of Tackling corruption is the focus for MENA in 2022 is worth going through. Here it is.


Integrity is central to the development of competitive and open economies in which growth and opportunities are sustainably and equitably distributed.

To tackle corruption in the MENA region, the international community must prioritize accountability over stability.

Tackling entrenched corruption will be a key focus of the political discourse in the Middle East and North Africa in 2022. International policymakers will look to anti-corruption as a framework that can be used to help stabilize conflict countries, support economic reform, or to pressure adversarial regimes. Pressure to deal with corruption also stems from popular anger in countries that suffer from poor governance as corruption can have very serious – even fatal – consequences, as the deadly hospital fires Iraq suffered last year illustrate.

Corruption can have very serious – even fatal – consequences, as the deadly hospital fires Iraq suffered last year illustrate


Across the region, anti-corruption processes are meant to signal accountability. However, they can also be weaponized by elites to consolidate power and target opponents, particularly in countries where the political system itself is built on politically sanctioned corruption. This makes anti-corruption efforts unlikely to succeed. These dynamics highlight the need for international policymakers to develop strategies that promote accountability and transparency over the long term instead of prioritizing political expediency.

Anti-corruption efforts not what they appear

At first glance, anti-corruption processes underway across the Middle East and North Africa appear to suggest that states in the region are serious about combatting graft. In Libya, a recent wave of arrests by the attorney general has seen two sitting ministers, a former deputy prime minister and a former head of a state-owned investment vehicle detained on charges of corruption. In Iraq, the commission of integrity and the prime minister’s special committee have arrested dozens of former and current officials on charges of corruption.

Across the GCC, governments are seeking to double down on their economic diversification plans. Against the rising tide of nationalism and populism, anti-corruption efforts will feature as part of a good governance agenda that serves a domestic audience by targeting elites and patronage networks. The UAE is the GCC’s most nimble economic player and leads the pack in efforts to stamp out corruption. In Lebanon, political competition and initiatives by members of the judiciary have resulted in investigations of alleged corrupt practices by the heads of major state institutions such as the central bank.

The case of Lebanon has clearly illustrated that appeasing elites does not deliver stability, and countries such as Iraq and Libya could potentially face a similar fate.

But appearances can be deceiving. In none of these countries have anti-corruption efforts led to meaningful change. In Libya, past efforts have petered out and officials have all too rarely faced trial, let alone been convicted. There is little to suggest this round will be any different as the government is unlikely to support the attorney general’s cause. In Iraq, this year’s top story will be the protracted government formation process following last year’s elections – a process rife with politically sanctioned corruption as the usual cast of characters come together to negotiate their share of power and money. Despite the 2019 October revolution that called for reform of Iraq’s ethno-sectarian political system (muhassasa), not much has changed.

Saudi Arabia, which is pushing ahead with its Vision 2030 targets, has an anti-corruption agenda but will face challenges in connecting its legal framework and process, led by the Oversight and Anti-Corruption Authority (Nazaha), with realities on the ground. Many sectors suffer from a lack of transparency when it comes to decision-making, yet the importance of personal and social connections (wasta) remains high in Saudi society.

Weaponizing anti-corruption processes

The darker side of the anti-corruption drive is the weaponization of such processes, whereby corruption allegations can be used to settle political scores, especially by those who are politically dominant. In Lebanon, this can be seen in the growing standoff between the governor of the central bank and Hezbollah and its allies, who see him as a political opponent.

The darker side of the anti-corruption drive is the weaponization of such processes, whereby corruption allegations can be used to settle political scores.

In Iran, under pressure from US-imposed sanctions, President Ebrahim Raisi will continue to promote anti-corruption measures to demonstrate good governance and accountability to help distract from the economic pain of sanctions. However, these efforts will by no means root out entrenched corruption. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and various parastatal entities have used predatory sanctions-busting strategies to ensure their economic survival, while crowding out the private sector. Without meaningful reform of the economic system, the government will likely see more protests and unrest.   

The scale of the challenge facing the international community

There is no doubt that these problems will be difficult to tackle. Corruption stretches far beyond the upper levels of government. Where corruption has become politically sanctioned, such as in Iraq, the elite has shifted its focus away from formal government roles, such as cabinet ministers, who are now by design independent and technocratic, but weak. Instead, the key to state power has become the almost 1,000 senior civil servants under the special grades scheme, who do the elite’s bidding in government ministries and agencies without any transparency or accountability. They may not be the minister in charge, but these director generals and deputies make the decisions when it comes to government contracts and procurement, helping to generate huge sums of money for those whose interests they serve.

Any successful anti-corruption strategy must go beyond sanctions on individuals to address the core of the problem – the economic system of governance.  

The international community have opportunities to address some of these entrenched problems this year. But its record to date is mixed. In Libya, the international community’s credibility on corruption has been greatly damaged by it prioritizing stability over accountability. A long-awaited audit of the Central Bank of Libya drew ‘no conclusion or determination’ over ‘any fraud or misappropriation’, while a UN report into allegations of vote-buying at the UN-created Libyan Political Dialogue Forum that selected the current government has not been made public. These developments have only strengthened the impression that Libyan officials enjoy impunity. As the Libyan political process is reshaped in 2022, measures to ensure accountability and transparency must take a much more prominent place in the architecture of international efforts.

Lebanon is perhaps the greatest test of the international community’s commitment to tackling widespread graft. In need of an economic rescue plan to reverse the severe depreciation of its currency and decline in GDP and foreign reserves, there is hope that a deal with the IMF and international assistance could materialize this year. The IMF and international bodies like the EU insist that any aid will come with conditionality regarding reforms, but there are fears they may soften their stance. They must hold firm. If their current position softens, this will damage both Lebanon and the credibility of the international community.

The international community must prioritize the legitimate grievances of MENA citizens, rather than pleas by entrenched elites to help maintain ‘stability’. The case of Lebanon has clearly illustrated that appeasing elites does not deliver stability, and countries such as Iraq and Libya could potentially face a similar fate.

Any successful anti-corruption strategy must go beyond sanctions on individuals to address the core of the problem – the economic system of governance. 

The image above is of Image — A man checks electrical wires in Baghdad, 13 September 2017. For years Iraqis have denounced the bad management and financial negligence that have stifled the country and let its infrastructure fall apart. Photo: AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP via Getty Images.

Authors:

Tim Eaton, Senior Research Fellow, Dr Lina Khatib, Director, Dr Renad Mansour, Senior Research Fellow, Project Director, Iraq Initiative and Dr Sanam Vakil, Deputy Director and Senior Research Fellow, all of Middle East and North Africa Programme.

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