The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region will be unable to envisage a strong and sustainable recovery following the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, unless there is a strong governance framework.
The remarks were made by Jihad Azour, Director of the Middle East and Central Asia Department at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), during the “Improving Governance and Fighting Corruption for Inclusive Growth in the Middle East and North Africa” virtual panel discussion.
Improving governance and fighting corruption are key to addressing the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. They are also important to building forward better for a sustainable and inclusive recovery, the IMF has said.
Stronger control of corruption in the MENA region is associated with higher domestic revenue, increased public investment efficiency, and better education outcomes such as improved access to education.
“Look at governance as a pyramid. At the top you have institutions, and we saw that a certain number of countries have improved on their institutional setup, and have introduced new laws to make their central banks more independent,” Azour said.
He noted, however, that there are certain issues to be addressed in order to strengthen the role of institutions, which are important due to their being entities that hold the trust between citizen and state.
Azour said that the second layer is what he would call the “operating model”, or the operating system. These reflect the rules, regulations, and procedures in place, which is where the biggest diversity among countries is seen.
He also said that this diversity can be addressed by tackling risks of corruption, by improving the effectiveness of laws and regulations.
This will, in turn, allow countries in the MENA region to improve revenues, to provide better services to their citizens, and to provide additional stability in terms of investment. At the same time, it will also increase the level of investments available and job creation.
Azour referred to a recently published stidu by the IMF which outlined where the priorities are in terms of combating corruption, and how countries need to tackle it.
“The third layer is the transparency and accountability part, what the citizen needs to see, and this is an area where there are certain gaps that can be filled very quickly,” he said, “This is in terms of transparency in the budget, in terms of the level of information statistics that are being published, and the accuracy and independence of those who provide them.”
He highlighted that this is an important aspect, as it affects how countries read their real economy, and reflects how the economy is performing. It is also how countries provide to their citizens with information on the way the resources have been utilised.
Azour said that addressing corruption is an important issue down the line that will allow institutions to operate in a way that allows for integration between public procurement and the way information is being shared.
“The last two dimensions that will even more important for the period after the COVID-19 crisis, includes the need to participate,” Azour said, “Here, there are a certain number of initiatives that took place in the last few years in terms of increasing the level of citizen participation in budget setting.”
The final dimension at play here, according to Azour, is technology. He said that technology has proven its vast importance during the COVID-19 crisis, having helped several countries deal with the global health crisis and provide additional support for citizens.
“I see these two elements as an important dimension, going forward in the future,” he concluded, “What we’ve tried to do also in this study is to be as quantitative as possible, trying to use a multiplicity of indicators in order to help countries measure their performance and set clear and practical objectives in improving the level of governance and fighting corruption.”