Day III of ERF 20th Annual Conference: Emerging lessons from Arab countries in transition

The third and final day of the ERF 20th Annual Conference started with discussions around lessons emerging from the experience of Arab countries in transition. Chaired by Noha El-Mikawy (Ford Foundation), plenary session 3 gathered a number of distinguished economists: Gouda Abdel-Khalek (Cairo University); Georges Corm (Georges Corm Consulting Office); Paul Salem (Middle East Institute); and Zafiris Tzannatos (International Labor Organization).

DSC_6980

In his presentation on ‘Social Justice: lessons of experience for Egypt‘, Gouda Abdel-Khalek (Cairo University) examined the meaning behind ‘bread, freedom and social justice’, which became the main slogan of the uprising in Egypt. He discussed how tricky it is to establish social justice in times of political unrest. To support his argument, Abdel-Khalek referred to social injustice indicators that Egyptian society has been witnessing since January 25th, including decreasing wage share to GDP, rising unemployment (youth unemployment over 30%), rising poverty, increasing urban/rural divide, poor access to water and child undernutrition. It seems very little has been done to achieve the slogan of the revolution; therefore, Abdel-Khalek stressed on the need for reforms touching upon taxation systems and subsidizing agricultural producers.

Read more on ERF blog

Read more of this post

Costly squabbles: The solution to Tunisia’s economic problems lies in political consensus

This post was written by Niveen Wahish (ERF Communications Officer)

In three years of transition, the Tunisian economy has suffered tremendously, mainly because of the political situation. This message was at the heart of a policy seminar, organized by the Economic Research Forum (ERF), on “The Performance of the Tunisian economy in light of the ongoing political transformations”.

Moez Labidi (University of Monastir)

Moez Labidi (University of Monastir)

According to Moez Labidi (University of Monastir), Tunisia’s growth rate has dropped to around 2.5-3 per cent in 2013 compared to 5.6 per cent in 2010. In his presentation titled “Tunisia’s Macroeconomics; waiting for political stability and structural reforms,” Labidi listed the number of problems faced by the Tunisian economy during the transition and since the revolution in early 2011. To start out, the pressure on the local currency prompted the Central Bank to use the foreign reserves in order to stabilize the exchange rate. Reserves today are sufficient for only 103 days of imports compared to 2010 when they were sufficient for 147 days of imports. Unemployment is at 15.9 per cent; and this figure doubles among university graduates. Over and above, Labidi highlighted the fact that policy makers were being faced with social challenges, which involved an urgent need for jobs and investment, and the high expectations of Tunisians; while in reality the government had limited resources. The government sought refuge in easy solutions that caused deterioration in fiscal balances. As a matter of example, massive spending on wage increases, public sector hiring and bailing out the businesses after the revolution are factors, among others, that led to a major growth of public expenditures in 2013. On the other hand, poor governance in the democratic transition process resulted in what Labidi called “distrust shock”, which affected negatively the structural reform agenda. He acknowledged that while the transition governments succeeded in avoiding a credit crunch, they failed in creating what he called a “confidence shock”. The latter would have urgently allowed for reforms, thus creating more flexibility for public finances and positive consequences on the structural reform agenda, and accordingly the investment agenda.

Read more of this post

ERF 18th Annual Conference on “Corruption and Economic Development” kicks off in Cairo

Economic Research Forum (ERF) kick-started its 18th Annual Conference today with its first plenary session, featuring an impressive line-up of speakers. The focus was on the issue of measuring corruption and its consequences, framing the discussion that will be further explored at the plenary sessions over the next two days of the conference.

ERF 2012 Conference - Opening and Plenary session 1

ERF 2012 Conference - Opening and Plenary session 1

Following the opening remarks of Ahmed Galal, ERF Managing Director, and Abdlatif Al-Hamad (Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development), Professor Paul Collier highlighted how the costs of corruption are hard to measure and greater than it is possible to imagine. He provided examples of both ‘grand’ and ‘petty’ corruption and contrasted commercial public sector corruption with the type found in the private sector.

Daniel Kaufmann (Brookings Institution) discussed the many different measures of corruption and their relationships, underlining the importance of the interactive relation between transparency, freedom of speech and association, democratic accountability and the fight against corruption. According to him, transparent countries do better in terms of fighting corruption. However, the impact remains limited when the rule of law is weakly implemented. “One does not fight corruption by ‘fighting corruption’, voice and democratic accountability matters” he stated.

Finally, Serdar Sayan (TOBB University of Economics and Technology) underscored new approaches to gauging corruption in different parts of the world, using survey-based measures to assess perceptions.

A pre-Conference workshop exploring aspects of the Arab awakening took place yesterday in an attempt to assess where the Arab mass movements came from, understand the changes that have emerged in the region over the past year and identify lessons learned from other countries/regions which experienced a political transition in the recent years.

Panel session 1: Political Economy Settlements

Panel session 1: Political Economy Settlements

Videos interviews with workshop speakers and participants are available on ERF blog and ERF 2012 playlist onYouTube