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Four Arab Countries Among World’s Top 10 Business Climate Improvers

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Economies in the Middle East and North Africa region implemented the most reforms on record to ease doing business for domestic small and medium-sized enterprises and hosted four of the countries that improved the most world-wide, according to the World Bank Group’s Doing Business 2020 study.

Economies of the region put in place 57 business regulatory reforms in the 12 months to May1, up from 43 during the previous 12-month period covered by the study. Thirteen of the region’s 20 economies carried out reforms and the region’s average ease of doing business score improved by 1.8.          

Economies of the Gulf region have been particularly active, implementing 35 business-climate-improving measures in the past year.

This year, the region hosts four of the world’s top 10 improvers: Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain, and Kuwait. These countries account for almost half of the region’s reforms. The United Arab Emirates remained the strongest performer overall in the region, placing 16th (out of 190) on the ease of doing business rankings.

“It is a year of records for economies in the Middle East and North Africa, and we are committed to continuing our support to all countries in the region ” said Ferid Belhaj, World Bank Regional Vice President for the Middle East and North Africa.The next generation of reforms should focus on transparency, fair competition and good governance to make MENA open for business and attract investments needed to create jobs for youth and women.”

Jordan joins the top reformers for the first time – with three reforms. The economy strengthened access to credit by introducing a new secured transactions law, amending the insolvency law and launching a unified, modern and notice-based collateral registry, among other measures.

Bahrain, with nine reforms, led both the region and the world in number of reforms implemented. The country recently introduced a new bankruptcy law, strengthened the rights of minority shareholders and revamped the process of obtaining building permits through a new online platform. Enforcing contracts was also made easier by creating a specialized commercial court, establishing time standards for key court events and allowing electronic service of the summons.

Saudi Arabia, this year’s top improver (based on the increase in its overall ease of doing business score), carried out a record of eight reforms in the past year. It established a one-stop shop for company incorporation and eliminated the requirement for married women to provide additional documentation when applying for a national identity card. It also made importing and exporting faster by enhancing the electronic trade single window, enabling risk-based inspections, launching an online platform for certification of imported goods, and upgrading infrastructure at Jeddah Port. Other reforms led to improving access to credit, strengthening minority investor protections and facilitating the resolution of insolvency.

Kuwait also earned a spot in the top 10 improvers for the first time with seven reforms. Building permitting was streamlined by integrating additional authorities into the electronic permitting platform and enhancing inter-agency communication. The country also made trading across borders easier by enhancing the customs risk management system and implementing a new electronic clearance system.

Morocco carried out six reforms: strengthening minority investor protections; reducing the corporate income tax rate; and introducing e-payment of port fees. The United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Oman implemented four reforms each. All three strengthened the rights of minority investors, streamlined business registration processes and made it easier for businesses to import and export goods.

Collectively, the region’s economies focused their reforms on getting electricity and protecting minority investors, with 40% of the countries in the region reforming in these areas (eight reforms in each).

Overall, the region performs the best in the areas of paying taxes, getting electricity, and dealing with construction permits. Obtaining a building permit takes on average 124 days, 28 days less than among OECD high-income economies. Similarly, entrepreneurs in the region need to complete 16.5 payments on average to comply with their fiscal requirement compared to 23 globally. Bahrain is the best performer globally in tax compliance time, requiring just 22.5 hours per year to file and pay taxes.

However, some economies in the region still fall short. Libya has not implemented any reforms since the inception of Doing Business, while Iraq has improved on only four indicators. Lebanon has made one reform to improve its business climate in the last five years and seven reforms since the first launch of the Doing Business study in 2003. It ranks 143rd globally, and especially underperforms in the areas of starting a business and dealing with construction permits.

Getting credit in the Middle East and North Africa remains harder than anywhere else in the world, partly due to insufficient protections for lenders and borrowers in collateral and bankruptcy laws. The region also underperforms in the areas of trading across borders and resolving insolvency. The cost of complying with border requirements for exporting averages $442 and takes 53 hours, three and four times more than the averages among OECD high-income economies. In bankruptcy, the average recovery rate in the region is 27 cents on the dollar, compared with 70 cents in OECD high-income ones.

Doing Business finds that barriers against women are still widespread in the Middle East and North Africa, with 13 of the region’s economies imposing additional procedures for female entrepreneurs to start a business.

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Africa Today

World Bank to support reconstruction plan for Cabo Delgado in Mozambique

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The World Bank will provide US$100 million (€86 million) to support the Mozambican government in the reconstruction plan for Cabo Delgado, a province affected by incursions by armed groups since 2017, an official source announced Monday.

“With the recently reconquered areas, we have realised that there are many people who want to return to their areas of origin. But they cannot return without the basic conditions being in place. As a result, we have an additional 100 million dollars for support,” said Idah Pswarayi-Riddihough, World Bank Country Director for Mozambique.

She was speaking to the media, moments after a meeting between the Mozambican prime minister, Carlos Agostinho do Rosário, and heads of diplomatic missions to discuss the Cabo Delgado Reconstruction Plan.

According to her, the new World Bank support comes on top of a first donation (also totalling US$100 million), announced in April and which was earmarked for the Northern Integrated Development Agency (ADIN), which is promoting social and economic projects for youth inclusion across northern Mozambique.

In the new donation, which is expected to be disbursed in January, the World Bank wants the money to be invested in the reconquered areas in the north of the province, and psychosocial support, reconstruction of public buildings and restoration of basic services are among the priorities.

“The idea is to give the affected people a decent place to live after the traumas they have suffered,” she said.

The Reconstruction Plan for Cabo Delgado, approved in September by the Mozambican government, is budgeted at US$300 million (258 million euros), of which almost US$200 million (172 million euros) is earmarked for the implementation of short-term actions, which include restoring public administration, health units, schools, energy, water supply, amongst other aspects.

According to the deputy minister of Industry and Trade, Ludovina Bernardo, the priority of the executive is to ensure a gradual and safe return of the inhabitants to the reconquered areas, at the same time as basic conditions are created.

“We want to make interventions on the ground, but safeguarding security. Our forces are on the ground and as soon as they ensure that the return of families to their areas of origin is possible, the process will begin”, he said, pointing, as an example, to the return of families from Palma, which has already begun.

The United Nations resident representative in Mozambique, Myrta Kaulard, also gave assurances that the organisation would continue to support the Mozambican government in the process, highlighting the importance of the “classic interventions” of the entity in cases of humanitarian crises.

“I would like to remind you that on the humanitarian side, international partners have contributed, in the year 2021 alone, a total of 160 million dollars (137 million euros). It is important to continue with this humanitarian support, while promoting reconstruction,” she stressed and highlighted the importance of creating a working group among international partners to combine actions and broaden appeals in the face of the humanitarian crisis in Northern Mozambique.

Cabo Delgado province is rich in natural gas but has been terrorised since 2017 by armed rebels, with some attacks claimed by the extremist group Islamic State.

The conflict has led to more than 3,100 deaths, according to the ACLED conflict registration project, and more than 824,000 displaced people, according to updates from Mozambican authorities.

Since July, an offensive by government troops with support from Rwanda, later joined by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), allowed for an increase in security, recovering several areas where there was rebel presence, including the town of Mocímboa da Praia, which had been occupied since August 2020.

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Millions of Moscow residents manage their everyday lives through their smartphones

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The creators of My Moscow, a mobile application of the Russian capital’s urban services, have analysed how and why Muscovites use it. It turned out that, more often than not, the city’s residents prefer to pay bills and submit water and electricity meter readings via their smartphone.

The mobile app appeared in the Russian capital at the beginning of 2019, and its first functions allowed to solve the simplest housing and utility services: to enter meter readings and pay bills. Since its launch, the app has already been downloaded more than three million times. Now it can be used to make an appointment with a doctor or for a COVID-19 test, get a referral for an antibody test and coronavirus vaccination, get information on children’s school performance and even check the history of a car in Moscow before buying it. Muscovites appreciated the convenience of paying bills through the app service – in August 2021, the number of payments made online using a smartphone doubled. People pay utility bills, car fines, children’s extracurricular activities – payment takes only a couple of minutes, and the Russian payment system allows making these transfers without commission. In addition, the My Moscow app has recently introduced a charity service, through which every user can donate money to verified foundations. Muscovites do not ignore the opportunity to help: since the launch of the function in the app, users have transferred 245,000 rubles to charity.

The city services app is constantly being updated: not only does it change the design or add new functions, but also integrates new technologies. In the near future, a voice assistant will be added to the My Moscow service. It is currently available to 40% of users in test mode, but by the end of the year, it will work in smartphones of all app owners. Voice assistant knows how to show homework and children’s school schedule, dates of scheduled hot water outages, helps cancel a doctor’s appointment, and answers popular questions, such as how to transfer a child to another school or get an international passport. The assistant is being actively trained, and by the end of the year it will help Muscovites to view electronic medical records, look at children’s school grades, pay fines, receive data on utility and educational bills.

In October 2020, My Moscow mobile app won the silver prize in the Smart Sustainable City Awards of the World Organisation for Smart Sustainable Cities (WeGO) in the Government Efficiency category. In Russia, people actively use digital services to resolve everyday issues, and the experience of using the My Moscow app showed that 60% of city residents prefer to use these features specifically from a smartphone. Every month, app users access the digital city services more than 500,000 times, which is efficient and saves time in managing everyday life in the rhythm of the megacity.

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Africa Today

Nigeria becomes the first country in Africa to roll out Digital Currency

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The Central Bank of Nigeria joined a growing list of emerging markets betting on digital money to cut transaction costs and boost participation in the formal financial system.

“Nigeria has become the first country in Africa, and one of the first in the world to introduce a digital currency to her citizens,” President Muhammadu Buhari said in televised speech at the launch in Abuja, the capital. “The adoption of the central bank digital currency and its underlying technology, called blockchain, can increase Nigeria’s gross domestic product by $29 billion over the next 10 years.”

The International Monetary Fund projects GDP for Africa’s largest economy to be $480 billion in 2021.

The issuance of the digital currency, called the eNaira, comes after the central bank earlier in February outlawed banks and financial institutions from transacting or operating in cryptocurrencies as they posed a threat to the financial system.

Since the launch of the eNaira platform, it’s received more than 2.5 million daily visits, with 33 banks integrated on the platform, 500 million c ($1.2 million) successfully minted and more than 2,000 customers onboarded, central bank Governor Godwin Emefiele said at the launch.

Central bank digital currencies, or CBDCs, are national currency — unlike their crypto counterparts, such as Bitcoin and Ethereum, which are prized, in part, because they are not tied to fiat currency. The eNaira will complement the physical naira, which has weakened 5.6% this year despite the central bank’s efforts to stabilize the currency.

“The eNaira and the physical naira will have the same value and will always exchange at one naira to one eNaira,” Emefiele said.

The digital currency is expected to boost cross-border trade and financial inclusion, make transactions more efficient as well as improve monetary policy, according to the central bank.

“Alongside digital innovations, CBDCs can foster economic growth through better economic activities, increase remittances, improve financial inclusion and make monetary policy more effective,” Buhari said. Digital money can also “help move many more people and businesses from the informal into the formal sector, thereby increasing the tax base of the country,” he said.

The Central Bank of Nigeria in August selected Bitt Inc. as a technical partner to help create the currency that was initially due to be introduced on Oct. 1.

Nigeria joins the Bahamas and the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank in being among the first jurisdictions in the world to roll out national digital currencies. China launched a pilot version of its “digital renminbi” earlier this year. In Africa, nations from Ghana to South Africa are testing digital forms of their legal tender to allow for faster and cheaper money transactions, without losing control over their monetary systems.

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