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Democracy vital for prosperity and sustainable development

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In so far as the MENA region countries are concerned, Democracy being vital for prosperity and sustainable development or the lack of it, has been demonstrated over and over the millennia. Let us see what it means in today’s world for the rest of the world with Androulla Kaminara.

The above image is for illustration and is of the FDSD.

Democracy vital for prosperity and sustainable development

Transparency and reliability of how elections are carried out are key to ensuring that the winners enjoy legitimacy.

On 15 September, we are marking International Day of Democracy. Since the pillars of democracy around the world are threatened as new challenges emerge, this day is perhaps more pertinent than ever. Democracy is a dynamic concept that has evolved over time, as have the challenges facing it. To those challenges, new challenges have been added of late, including by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic deepening existing inequalities, spreading disinformation and distrust, and undermining women’s rights. In addition, the fast evolution of new technologies and their impact on all walks of life has also had a profound impact on democratic processes around the world.

As the world took emergency measures to address the Covid-19 crisis, concerns began to emerge that these actions could infringe on civil and human rights of citizens. Covid-19 also highlighted and aggravated inequalities within societies, including in social protection, increased discrimination and violence against women as well as disinformation. The pandemic was accompanied by a global infodemic that poses a direct threat to one of the pillars of democracy: the right to access to information.

The answer is — ‘to build back better’ — to build a society that works for all and that represents the will of the people is the objective. Democracy is built on inclusion, equal treatment and participation — is a fundamental building block of a progressive, stable and peaceful society that enables sustainable development, human rights and economic justice for all.

Democracy is one of the core values of the European Union, together with human rights and the rule of law. The EU is taking steps to safeguard and strengthen democracy inside our Union since no democratic system is perfect and continuous efforts are need for improvement. In the EU, we practise our rights, also through regular elections both at individual Member State level — local, regional and national elections — as well as at the European Union level. The elections to the European Parliament are one of the largest democratic exercises in the world, with over 400 million citizens being represented.

The European Union also takes a leading role in promoting democracy around the world through the implementation of relevant projects and through Electoral Observation Missions (EOM).

In 2019, cooperation projects in support of democracy amounted to €147 million in 37 countries. Over the last 7 years, the EU has implemented projects of €618 million in Pakistan and currently, the EU supports the National Assembly, Senate and four provincial assemblies by strengthening their functioning in terms of capacity, transparency and accessibility as well as accountability towards Pakistani citizens with a project of €9 million.

Since 2019, the EU deployed over 20 observation missions globally as part of its commitment to democracy, human rights and the rule of law across the world and these offer a comprehensive and impartial assessment of electoral processes. In addition, EOMs publish recommendations aiming to improve future elections and strengthen democratic institutions.

In Pakistan, the EU so far has deployed four observation missions since 2002 upon the invitation of the respective governments. The EOM of 2018 put forward a set of thirty recommendations for electoral processes and framework reforms. It is encouraging to note that several of these recommendations are reflected in the 3rd Strategic Plan of the Election Commission of Pakistan.

However, other recommendations are still pending. Among those is the need to ensure a full level playing field for women: registration of women voters and women representatives in parliaments as well as in the media. In Pakistan, there are 63 million registered male voters and 50 million female voters, clearly indicating that about 13 million women voters are missing. The report argues that stronger involvement of women in political decision-making leads to more accountability, better use of public resources, as well as stability and peace. The fact that a large number of women are not eligible to vote leads to alienation of a significant part of the population. Ensuring their inclusion in the electoral process as well as adequate representation for marginalised groups is key to a more inclusive and fair democratic system.

We recognise the difficulties in implementation of some of the EOM’s 2018 recommendations which are public. Nonetheless, as Pakistan is approaching its next general elections, it is paramount to keep the reform momentum and maintain efforts to further strengthen the electoral system and practice. In this context, the role of a fully functioning Election Commission of Pakistan supported by all is crucial.

The experience within the European Union and elsewhere shows that for democracy to work, trust in the democratic process, including the electoral mechanism, is vital. Transparency and reliability of how elections are carried out are key to ensuring that the winners enjoy legitimacy and support from the electorate. Without democracy, peace and stability, sustainable development and prosperity cannot exist.

The EU continues to be committed to safeguarding and strengthening democracy within its borders and across the world, and we work with all our partner countries including Pakistan in this endeavour.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 15th, 2021.

Calls on World Citizens to Help Shape a Prosperous Post-Covid Era

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‘Let’s Lessen The Gap’ Calls On World Citizens To Help Shape A Prosperous Post-Covid Era For Vulnerable Communities

The Big Heart Foundation (TBHF), a UAE-based global humanitarian charity dedicated to helping refugees and people in need worldwide, has made an impassioned call to citizens around the world to generously support its 2021 Zakat and general donations drive during Ramadan.

These fundraising activities under the“Let’s Lessen the Gap” campaign are part of a comprehensive long-term programme that TBHF has launched. In partnership with four leading UN agencies, namely, UNHCR, UNDP, WHO and UNICEF, the foundation is addressing humanitarian development challenges exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic amongst vulnerable populations in the MENA region.  

Furthering TBHF’s ongoing response efforts to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 worldwide, the programme will set the blueprint for TBHF’s COVID-response strategies in the long term. Evidence and research-based findings from the programme will enable TBHF and partnering UN agencies to identify the most pressing needs of the region, and subsequently aid the designing of sustainable and long-term interventions. The programme will also encompass advocacy campaigns aimed at bridging the gaps in vital sectors of Protection, Livelihoods, Healthcare and Education, which have been heavily impacted by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Announcing the launch of “Let’s Lessen the Gap”, TBHF revealed the programme would address both the critical health and non-healthcare needs of marginalized populations to allow for a return to normalcy in the MENA region. As COVID-19 continues to shape the lives of individuals and societies around the world, TBHF is appealing to people worldwide to act on their humanitarian instincts and support in lessening, and eventually closing the gap between vulnerable communities and their access to the tools and resources they need to become enablers for building a prosperous MENA region of tomorrow.

To know more about how you can get involved and make your contribution, visit www.lessenthegap.org. Contributions can also be made via SMS by sending the word ‘sadaqa’ to the Etisalat numbers: 7857 to donate AED 10; 7859 to donate AED 50, 7788 to donate AED 100, or 7708 to donate AED 500. For Du: 9965 to donate AED 10; 9967 to donate AED 50, 9968 to donate AED 100.

Zakat contributions can also be deposited directly into Zakat Fund account no: 0011-430430-020 at the Sharjah Islamic Bank (International Bank Account Number ‘IBAN’: AE040410000011430430020).

COVID-19 hastens diverse humanitarian challenges in MENA

The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified many decades-long developments and humanitarian challenges in the MENA region such as high youth unemployment, inequitable development pathways, resource scarcity, gender discrimination, restricted access to services, and the devastating effects of ongoing conflict in some countries.

According to reports by UNESCWA, unemployment surged in the region with rates reaching up to 26.6% for youth compared to 13.6% globally. An estimated 25 million Arab youth are not in formal education, employment or training.

Further, the COVID-19 pandemic has deepened the learning crisis, disrupting education at an unparalleled rate across the region. A 2020 UNICEF report states that approximately 40% of students, accounting for 37 million children and young people across the region, were not reached by digital and broadcast remote learning.

The pandemic has also posed severe challenges in fragile and conflict-affected nations in MENA, overwhelming weak and overcrowded existing healthcare systems. A UNICEF study titled ‘The Potential Impact of Health Care Disruption on Child Mortality in MENA Due to COVID-19’ draws up a scenario highlighting a particularly bleak reality for children aged 0 – 5. It predicts that a protracted reduction in the supply and demand of primary health care services for children could potentially increase their mortality by nearly 40 percent, compared with a baseline scenario without the COVID-19 virus.

Additionally, refugees and displaced populations in the MENA region and across the world have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Exclusion, discrimination, and inadequate access to health services have heightened protection risks and tested international standards of refugee protection.

UN partners in four sector-specific areas

The “Let’s Lessen the Gap” campaign and post-COVID programme will see TBHF collaborating with multiple UN agencies working on the ground in MENA to implement long-term strategies and initiatives in the fields of Protection, Livelihoods, Healthcare, and Education to assist those who are least likely to have access to these essential services.

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is a global organization dedicated to saving lives, protecting rights and building a better future for refugees, forcibly displaced communities and stateless people. UNHCR will partner with TBHF to empower, protect, and improve the lives of refugees and internally displaced people affected by COVID-19 in the MENA region.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which works in 170 countries and territories to bridge gaps in inequalities and exclusion, will join hands with TBHF to support youth livelihoods, develop capacity and skills, and accelerate structural transformations to advance the sustainable development agenda in the targeted nations. 

To build a better, healthier future in a post-COVID world, TBHF will partner with the World Health Organization (WHO) along with other global organizations coordinating vaccine efforts to roll out vaccination programmes that give highest priority to vulnerable populations.

The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), which works in some of the world’s toughest places to build a better world for the most disadvantaged children, is TBHF’s partner in improving access to learning and education opportunities for children of marginalized communities across the region.

Fundraising for “Let’s Lessen the Gap” commences in April 2021

Appealing to the public, high net worth donors, and the private sector to honour the spirit of giving embodied in the obligation of Zakat, Mariam Al Hammadi, Director of The Big Heart Foundation, said: “At TBHF, we believe in our collective ability to support the most vulnerable communities in the region through these difficult times and beyond by steering efforts towards inclusive programmes that address the economic and social consequences of the crisis.”

Al Hammadi added that although 2020 was an extremely challenging year, it also demonstrated collective resilience as schools, offices, and essential services continued to operate without fail. “Unfortunately, this only represents the reality of the world some of us live in. In many communities and countries that The Big Heart Foundation supports, solutions are still being sought to aid the response and recovery process. It is this gap that we aim to address and bridge through your support this Ramadan, and in the coming months.”

Fundraising activities of the programme have commenced with TBHF’s Zakat 2021 campaign. To know more and make your contributions, visit lessenthegap.org.    

Ensuring a Stronger and Fairer Global Recovery

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Mohamed A. El-Erian writes that ensuring a Stronger and Fairer Global Recovery is required for a better and more satisfactory tomorrow. The two ginormous economies of the World would lead it that way. Here is what he says about that.

Ensuring a Stronger and Fairer Global Recovery

2 April 2021

Although tough trade-offs are sometimes unavoidable, there is a way for policymakers to maintain a robust global economic recovery in 2021 and beyond while simultaneously pulling up disadvantaged countries, groups, and regions. But it will require both national and international policy adaptations.

CAMBRIDGE – An old joke about tricky trade-offs asks you to imagine your worst enemy driving over a cliff in your brand-new car. Would you be happy about the demise of your enemy or sad about the destruction of your car?

For many, the shape of this year’s hoped-for and much-needed global economic recovery poses a similar dilemma. Absent a revamp of both national policies and international coordination, the significant pickup in growth expected in 2021 will be very uneven, both across and within countries. With that comes a host of risks that could make growth in subsequent years less robust than it can and should be.

Based on current information, I expect rapid growth in China and the United States to drive a global expansion of 6% or more this year, compared to a 3.5% contraction in 2020. But while Europe should exit its double-dip recession, the recovery there will likely be more subdued. Parts of the emerging world are in an even tougher position.

Much of this divergence, both actual and anticipated, stems from variations in one or more of five factors. Controlling COVID-19 infections, including the spread of new coronavirus variants, is clearly crucial. So is distributing and administering vaccines (which includes securing supplies, overcoming institutional obstacles, and ensuring public uptake). A third factor is financial resilience, which in some developing countries involves preemptively managing difficulties from the recent debt surge. Then come the quality and flexibility of policymaking, and finally whatever is left in the reservoirs of social capital and human resilience.

The bigger the differences between and within countries, the greater the challenges to the sustainability of this year’s recovery. This reflects a broad range of health, economic, financial, and socio-political factors.

In a recent commentary, I explained why more uniform global progress on COVID-19 vaccination is important even for countries whose national immunization programs are far ahead of the pack. Without universal progress, leading vaccinators face a difficult choice between risking the importation of new variants from abroad and running a fortress economy with governments, households, and firms adopting a bunker-like mindset.

Uneven economic recoveries deprive individual countries of the tailwind of synchronized expansion, in which simultaneous output and income growth fuels a virtuous cycle of generalized economic well-being. They also increase the risks of trade and investment protectionism, as well as disruptions to supply chains.

Then there is the financial angle. Buoyant US growth, together with higher inflation expectations, has pushed market interest rates higher, with spillovers for the rest of the world. And there is more to come.

European Central Bank officials have already complained about “undue tightening” of financial conditions in the eurozone. Rising interest rates could also undermine the dominant paradigm in financial markets – namely, investors’ high confidence in ample, predictable, and effective liquidity injections by systemically important central banks, which has encouraged many to venture well beyond their natural habitat, taking considerable if not excessive and irresponsible risks. In the short term, high liquidity has pushed cheap funding to many countries and companies. But sudden reversals in fund flows, as well as the growing risk of cumulative market accidents and policy mistakes, could cause severe disruptions.

Finally, uneven economic recovery risks aggravating the income, wealth, and opportunity gaps that the COVID-19 crisis has already widened enormously. The greater the inequality, particularly with respect to opportunity, the sharper the sense of alienation and marginalization, and the more likely political polarization will impede good and timely policymaking.

But, whereas the old joke hinges on the unavoidability of tough trade-offs, there is a middle way for the global economy in 2021 and beyond – one that maintains a robust recovery and simultaneously lifts disadvantaged countries, groups, and regions. This requires both national and international policy adaptations.

National policies need to accelerate reforms that combine economic relief with measures to foster much more inclusive growth. This is not just about improving human productivity (through labor reskilling, education reforms, and better childcare) and the productivity of capital and technology (through major upgrades to infrastructure and coverage). To build back better and fairer, policymakers must now also consider climate resilience as a critical input for more comprehensive decision-making.Sign up for our weekly newsletter, PS on Sunday

Global policy alignment also is vital. The world is fortunate to have benefited initially from correlated (as opposed to coordinated) national policies in response to the COVID-19 crisis, with the vast majority of countries opting upfront for an all-in, whatever-it-takes, whole-of-government approach. But without coordination, policy stances will increasingly diverge, as less robust economies confront additional external headwinds at a time of declining aid flows, incomplete debt relief, and hesitant foreign direct investment.

With the US and China leading a significant pickup in growth, the global economy has an opportunity to spring out of a pandemic shock that has harmed many people and, in some cases, erased a decade of progress on poverty reduction and other important socio-economic objectives. But without policy adaptations at home and internationally, this rebound could be so uneven that it prematurely exhausts the prolonged period of faster and much more inclusive and sustainable growth that the global economy so desperately needs.

MOHAMED A. EL-ERIAN, President of Queens’ College, University of Cambridge, is a former chairman of US President Barack Obama’s Global Development Council. He was named one of Foreign Policy’s Top 100 Global Thinkers four years running. He is the author of two New York Times bestsellers, including most recently The Only Game in Town: Central Banks, Instability, and Avoiding the Next Collapse.

MENA countries weighed down by pandemic debts

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ARAB NEWS‘ article on the MENA countries weighed down by pandemic debts as these have already registered the advent of this pandemic inadvertently hit some declines in real GDP growth from their oil exports reduction. Since the beginning, these had difficulty coping with COVID 19 pandemic prevention for many reasons that are of a logistics nature but structural.

MENA countries weighed down by pandemic debts will struggle to grow – World Bank

  • Average MENA debt to GDP rose 9 points since 2019 to 55% in 2021
  • Countries with low external debt can still borrow cheaply
In early March UAE had the highest percentage of its population vaccinated, at 63.5%. (File/Reuters)Short Url

WASHINGTON, D.C.: The outlook for the Middle East and North Africa has worsened considerably over the past year as countries accumulated debt to pay for pandemic relief measures, leaving them with less to invest in post-pandemic economic recovery, according to the World Bank.

Average debt to GDP in the MENA region rose by 9 percentage points since the end of 2019 to 55 percent in 2021, the World Bank said in a report Living with Debt: How Institutions Can Chart a Path to Recovery in the Middle East and North Africa released on Friday. Debt among the region’s oil importers is expected to average about 93 percent of GDP this year, it said.

MENA economic growth will rebound by 2.2 percent in 2021 after contracting 3.8 percent in 2020, but will be 7.2 percentage points, or $227 billion, lower by the end of this year than it would have been had the pandemic not happened, the World Bank estimates. Real GDP per capita will be 4.7 percent lower in 2021 than in 2019.

“The MENA region remains in crisis, but we can see hopeful signs of light through the tunnel, especially with the deployment of vaccines,” said Ferid BelHajj, World Bank vice president for the Middle East and North Africa. “We have seen the extent to which MENA governments borrowed to finance critical health care and social protection measures, which saved lives and livelihoods, but also boosted debt.”

As of the first week of March, the UAE had the highest percentage of its population vaccinated, at 63.5%, followed by Bahrain at 30% and Morocco at 12.2%, then Qatar at 11.4%, World Bank data shows. Saudi Arabia had a 2.2% vaccination rate.

MENA countries will need to keep on borrowing this year to prop up their citizens’ finances but will face high borrowing costs, particularly those with high debt and low growth, the bank said. However, those with low levels of public external debt, such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Morocco, could issue debt at lower rates, it said.

The remedy for the increasingly precarious situation of many of the region’s economies is faster growth that makes it easier to roll over existing debt, the World Bank said. Those that cannot roll over debt face potentially painful restructurings and should enter into negotiations before they hit crisis point, the report advised.

Of benefit to the whole region would be enhanced debt reporting transparency and financial market vulnerability monitoring, it said. MENA countries should reveal all their borrowing, including those from China, as should debt become exposed during periods of distress it will be added to the public tally just as they are negotiating with lenders, the report said.

“Economic growth remains the most sustainable way to reduce debt,” the report said. “Boosting economic growth requires deep structural reforms to raise the productivity of the existing workforce and to put idle working-age people in jobs. Many MENA countries that have characteristics associated with ineffective fiscal stimulus, such as high public debt and poor governance, could consider fiscal reforms early in the recovery from the pandemic.”

E-governance for sustainable development in MENA countries

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The Forum ERF elaborated on how E-governance for sustainable development in MENA countries by  Iyad Dhaoui are typically perceived as technical support activities and not as a core strategic component of public sector activities.

March 23, 2021

Efforts to create digital government in the Middle East and North Africa are typically perceived as technical support activities and not as a core strategic component of public sector activities. As this column explains, the alternative would be that e-governance is value-driven instead of technology-driven: it should become an enabler of sustainable development.

In a nutshell

While digital technologies have spread rapidly in MENA countries, the broader development benefits from using them – the ‘digital dividends’ – have lagged behind: the opportunities offered by e-government are much wider than current usage.

Digital technologies are no shortcut to sustainable development: the digital economy also requires strong analogue components consisting of regulations, skills and institutions. Not undertaking necessary reforms in terms of digital complements will raise the opportunity cost.

The full benefits of the digital revolution will not be realised unless MENA countries continue to improve their business climate, invest in education and health, and promote good governance through strong institutions.

Both electronic governance (e-gov) and good governance have been widely discussed in the national and international arena. Digital technologies are some of the most transformational factors of our time, including their impact on effective governance and the process of sustainable development.

Public digital transformation has considerable potential for modernising public administration, improving public service delivery and promoting good governance. It may contribute to achievement of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the United Nations. In that regard, e-government initiatives remain an important driving force for realising this transition (EGOV4SD). It is becoming a viable alternative to the traditional bureaucratic means of public service delivery as it promotes open governance.

Digitalisation underpins every aspect of our daily life. Digital technologies – the internet, mobile phones and all the other tools to collect, store, analyse and share information digitally – have spread quickly and we find ourselves in the middle of the greatest information and communications revolution in human history (WDR, 2016).

The Covid-19 pandemic, which requires social distancing and quarantine measures such as lockdowns, has accelerated the role of digital government both in conventional delivery of digital services as well as new innovative efforts in managing the crisis. Digital solutions have become vital to address isolation and keep people informed and engaged (UN, 2020). E-governance ensures the delivery of services remotely, thereby reducing the economic, social and environmental costs associated with service delivery to the public.

Developing countries, including in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), have made efforts to leverage information and communications technologies (ICTs) over the past decade. Concerted efforts have been made to digitalise (fully or potentially) government services to the public.

But digital government efforts in the MENA region are still perceived as technical support activities and not as a core strategic component of public sector activities (OECD, 2017). The alternative would be that e-governance is value-driven instead of technology-driven.

Some stylised facts

In the MENA region, the level of achievement of SDGs, governance system performance and investment in advanced technologies are different from one country to another, including sometimes within the same state.

In terms of achievement of the SDGS, the region is facing many challenges in creating decent jobs, building constructive social dialogue and improving social justice. The uprisings in half a dozen countries in the region brought to light key challenges that had existed for some time such as low job creation, pervasive corruption and lack of accountability and transparency. The uprisings and their truncated aftermath raise many important questions about political reforms, especially in terms of institutional structures. Individuals are seeking to become active citizens.

Recently, the pandemic has exposed serious vulnerabilities in MENA societies, institutions and economies. The consequences of the pandemic are likely to be deep and long lasting and the region’s economy is expected to contract by 5.7% (UN, 2020).

In terms, of governance system performance, adequate governance for innovation, and specifically ICTs, is severely lacking in most MENA countries (Göll and Zwiers (2018). There is a substantial cross-country variance in the related indicators, as well as variance in the responses to each of the indicators for individual countries.

Figure 1: Worldwide Governance Indicators (percentile rank*)

*Percentile rank (0-100) indicates rank of country among all countries in the world. 0 corresponds to lowest rank and 100 corresponds to highest rank.

Source: Worldwide Governance Indicators (WGI).

Corruption remains a central challenge despite the work of many governments across the region to focus their national priorities on fighting corruption and increasing transparency. The corruption perceptions index, which ranks countries by their perceived levels of public sector corruption according to experts and business people, uses a scale of 0 to 100, where 0 is highly corrupt and 100 is very clean. With an average score of 39, the MENA region falls behind both the Americas and Asia Pacific regions (score: 44) and does only slightly better than Eastern Europe and Central Asia (score: 35) and sub-Saharan Africa (score: 32).

In terms of e-governance, the MENA countries are characterised by large public sectors and complex regulatory structures. The implementation of ICTs to modernise public institutions has emerged and is growing. But dividends seem to be limited. Digital and data skills are also still scarce and unevenly disrupted across territories. The budgetary constraint is another challenge for the implementation of digital government strategies (OECD, 2017).

The difference in levels of digital development in the MENA region is significant (Thunert 2009, UNDP 2012, ESCWA 2015, Chambers 2015). Indeed, the region encompasses a wide variety of trajectories within the economy (general preconditions, differences between oil-exporting countries and oil-importing countries, outsourcing, start-up cultures, etc.). Factors such as the distribution of basic infrastructure, enabling business culture, and supportive economic and education policies are very different between as well as within most countries (Göll and Zwiers, 2018).

According to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), internet use ranges from 30% to 80% across the region, and there is a gender gap in favour of men in many countries. The gap is also between rural and urban areas in almost all countries of the region.

High-speed internet penetration is low compared with emerging regions in Europe and Asia. With the exception of Gulf countries, where internet access is available to broad segments of the population, in many countries of the Arab world fewer than a quarter of households have access to this essential tool. Millions of people cannot afford internet services and are therefore excluded from the ICT revolution that is shaping the modern world (Gelvanovska et al, 2014). Table 1 highlights the state of e-governance development by geographical region.

Table 1: Breakdown of EDGI* per geographical region (2020)

Europe continues to lead e-governance development as indicated by the highest EGDI (0.817) it enjoys, followed by the Americas (0.634), MENA countries (0.616), Oceania (0.511) and sub-Saharan African countries (0.376) respectively.

The Human Capital Index (HCI) is the highest contributing sub-index in MENA countries while the Telecommunication Infrastructure Index (TII) and online service (OSI) are the lowest. This suggests that the main hindrances to the further growth of e-government in the region are still the lack of infrastructure and the digital divide.

The question now is which of the three sub-indices the rise in EDGI in MENA countries comes from?

Figure 2: Contributors to the EDGI improvements

Source: Compiled by author.

Figure 2 indicates that the largest component of the rise in EDGI in the region comes from the improvement in TII. This implies that investment in telecommunication infrastructure is the fastest means of improving a country’s EGDI rankings. It is worth noticing also the importance of online services and human capital in the long run. Indeed, although improvements in both infrastructure and human capital have been slower, they are equally important for a healthy and functioning e-government system.

E-governance as an enabler of sustainable development

The issue now is how e-government initiatives can help MENA countries to achieve better results in their governance and therefore their development policy goals (EGOV4SD)?

EGOV4SD has been defined as the ‘use of ICT to support public services, public administration, and the interaction between government and the public, while making possible public participation in government decision-making, promoting social equity and socio-economic development, and protecting natural resources for future generations’ (Estevez and Janowski, 2013).

Policy-makers have two options: apply this strategy with or without implementation of good governance.

Figure 3: E-government, good governance and sustainable development nexus

Source: developed by the researcher.

The huge public investment in ICTs, in the absence of a good governance framework that embodies accountable institutions, enlarges the voice of the elite, which in turn can result in policy capture and greater state control. This situation can hinder the business climate by raising natural monopolies and therefore creating more concentrated markets.

In the absence of institutional reform, technology will fail to deliver the expected benefits in the region. E-government reforms face the risk of failure to be adequately embedded in public sector reform. As a result, progress on tacking social and environmental divides may be limited. E-government will exert an adverse effect on various aspects of sustainable development instead of being a catalyst for progress.

The digital governance framework in MENA countries still faces institutional difficulties despite the great achievements accomplished to date. Digital transformation also faces complex challenges from economic issues, social and political matters, to technology innovation and its diffusion patterns. These challenges remain heavily dependent on the development stage of each organisation and each country.

A conclusion that may emerge here is the inadequate impact of e-government on sustainable development in MENA countries (Dhaoui, 2020). Digital government efforts in the MENA countries are still perceived as technical support activities and not as a core strategic component for development corpus. As result, the impact of e-government initiatives on sustainable development will be limited in the region.

According to many studies and reports, and although ICTs have spread rapidly in much of MENA countries, digital dividends – that is, the broader development benefits from using digital technologies – have lagged behind. In many countries, the full potential of digital technologies is not being used. In many cases, e-government projects have enlarged opportunities and get better service delivery. But their aggregate impact has fallen short and is unevenly distributed. This proves the deficits in the adoption of new technologies in the MENA region vis-à-vis the major factors for success (Göll and Zwiers, 2018).

Adequate governance for e-government projects is severely lacking in most of the MENA countries. The region IS still unable to complement technology investments with appropriate economic reforms that reap digital dividends in the form of faster growth, better public services and adequate environmental management. These challenges are preventing the digital revolution from fulfilling its transformative potential in the region.

Access to ICTs and greater digital adoption is critical, but not sufficient. Thus, digital technologies are no shortcut to sustainable development; they can be an enabler by raising the necessary reforms. The digital economy also requires what the WDR (2016) calls ‘strong analog components’ which consisting of regulations that create vibrant businesses and let firms leverage digital technologies to compete and innovate, skills that allow workers to adapt to the demands of the new economy, and institutions that are accountable and that uses the internet to empower citizens.

Overcoming these challenges will require special awareness, commitment and a particular focus on ambitious and action-oriented strategies that contribute to bypassing e-government constraints and enhancing good governance, which in turn improves sustainable development and more inclusive societies.

Figure 4: Digital governance components

Source: developed by the researcher.

The role of governments is not only to act as facilitators and leaders; but also as enablers and regulators. Given the limited resources of governments, the involvement of stakeholders through transparent cooperation is crucial. Governments are consistently interacting with diverse interest groups across society such as citizens (G2C), employees (G2E), businesses (G2B) and various state agencies (G2G), cohesively.

Figure 5: The various interactions in E-government

Source: Alhassan, 2020. E-governance for sustainable development in Ghana: Issues and prospects.

Roadmap for successful e-government initiatives

In order to achieve economic, social and environmental sustainability for MENA countries, it is crucial to establish good governance by forming an institutional environment capable to enabling the government with more effective and efficient tools for more successful development plans. But the region suffers from a lack of adequate training and knowledge about the technology, access to it, and knowledge of how to best apply it.

Policies on the use of digital technologies need to be adequately embedded in public sector reform. MENA countries should promote competitive business environments, enhance accountability, and upgrade education and skills development systems to prepare people for the jobs of the future. The race is between skills and technology, while the outcome will settle on whether the dividends from ICTs are realised and the benefits widely shared.

Bringing digital technology and governance practices together at the forefront of sustainable development strategies and providing new and innovative technological options leading to improve governance strategies may contribute to achieving sustainable development in all dimensions.

A particular emphasis on building a digitally inclusive society is needed. The increase in access to digital technologies should bring more choice and greater convenience in the region. This can be done through inclusion, efficiency and innovation that are capable to provide opportunities that were previously out of reach to the poor and disadvantaged.

The full benefits of the ICT revolution will not be realised unless MENA countries continue to improve their business climate, invest in education and health, and promote good governance through strong institutions.

Figure 6: Pre-requisites for maximising digital dividends

Source: developed by the researcher.

The challenge is to start adequate reforms to maximise digital dividends and to prepare for any disruptions. The digital economy is changing rapidly. Not undertaking the necessary reforms in terms of digital complements such as regulation, skills and institutions will raise the opportunity cost. Any failure to reform will lead to a situation of falling farther behind those who do reform. Strengthening the interaction between technology and its complements is more urgent than ever before.