Session 6: Governance

Dilip Mookherjee (IGC India-Central) chaired the sixth and last session, which explored new perspectives and policies relative to governance issues. Mushfiq Mobarak (Yale and IGC-Bangladesh) used a recent study on a sanitation programme in Bangladesh to address an extremely debated question: Does development aid undermine political accountability? Empirical evidence shows that voters respond to exogenous shocks, such as unexpected climatic episodes, by rewarding or punishing politicians that happen to be in charge. From this perspective, foreign aid represents an exogenous positive shock to the livelihood of the targeted population, from which politicians might earn underserved consensus. An international debate hence flourished on whether aid might ultimately lead to decrease in policymakers’ effort and accountability. Mobarak questioned this theory of “irrational voting behaviour” by assuming and providing evidences of political endogenous responses to shocks. In the context of the Bengali intervention, politicians reacted to the programme by increasing their presence in targeted villages. This renewed effort reduced the distance between governing institutions and constituencies, leading to a more active dialogue on village specific needs. In addition, when direct intervention is replaced with information programmes, citizens’ political satisfaction decreases, with significant improvements in terms of accountability.

The second speaker, Adnan Khan (LSE and IGC), extended the debate on governance by presenting preliminary results on a four year research project in Punjab, Pakistan. The programme aimed at providing different types of performance-based incentives to local tax offices, gauging the impact on tax assessment and collection. The well-designed scheme attracted several questions from the audience as the debate could be extended to a wide range of civil servants. The success of the project encouraged the Pakistani Government to extend the scheme over the entire Punjab region and for an additional year, where new sets of incentives will be tested. In particular, the authors designed a more cost-effective incentive based on relocation and posting preferences. Additionally, the programme will include incentives towards tax payers’ satisfaction in order to improve willingness to comply, interaction with institutions and accountability.

The discussions that followed the two presentations were enriched by comments from Amitabh Behar (National Foundation for India). Bridging the gap between the two papers, Behar explored the distinctions between political and administrative accountability, stressing the need for more subsidiarity in the deployment of aid flows and further decentralisation. The debate then extended to the topic of civil servants’ intrinsic motivation and communities’ ethical-fabric, with the audience providing comments on self-selection into the public administration, cost effectiveness of incentive schemes and issues related to the scaling up of programmes.