Connect with us

Economy

The reforms and the current situation of the State budget and accounts

Published

on

As we have all realized, since the COVID-19 epidemics broke out the number of regulations enacted – especially by the Italian Presidency of the Council of Ministers – has literally sky-rocketed.

 The starting date of the sequence of regulations is certain. It is, in fact, January 31, 2020 with the declaration of the state of emergency connected to the onset of diseases resulting from transmissible viral agents, pursuant to Article 7, paragraph 1, sub-paragraph c) of Legislative Decree No. 1 of 2018 (Civil Protection Code).

 The Prime Minister’s Decrees, the many Guidelines, Directives and Ministerial Orders, as well as the many Orders of the Head of the Civil Protection Department and, finally, the many Regional and even Municipal Orders have added to the Emergency Ordinances and the many – probably too many – decree-laws to be quickly converted into laws after the Parliament’s vote, pursuant to the Constitution.

 There has never been an exception to the eternal rule – mathematical, at first, and then legal – according to which the greater the number and complexity of rules, the greater the indecision and misunderstanding inherent in their implementation.

 Even in such a severe and complex situation, the messy regulatory system created with the Emergency Ordinances and Decrees for the COVID-19 infection is, therefore, a source of ambiguity, indecisiveness and potential conflict between State apparata and Local Administrations.

 This is the reason why, even in the State administration, the old maxim of medieval logic, simplex sigillum veri, should apply.

 Hence which is the final criterion for solving the inevitable regulatory ambiguity? The criterion is Politics, seen as Alexander’s Sword cutting the Gordian Knot immediately.

  This is, in fact, the real function of democratic representation, in a highly-regulated context, as is the case in every modern Western country.

 Parliament is always the decision-maker, together with the Government and the Presidency of the Republic, responsible for both budget items and the hierarchy of rules, which should be as simple as possible, as already taught us by Beccaria.

 Reverting – after this example – to the issue of Italy’s current Budget Law, what is it, in fact?

 As is well-known, the Budget Law is the legislative instrument, provided for by Article 81 of the Constitution, which lays down how the Government – with a preliminary accounting document – communicates to Parliament the public expenditure and revenue forecast for the following year, pursuant to the laws in force.

 At first, it should be noted that much of the expenditure is bound to be fully hypothetical – as happens also in private budgets – and cannot be completely organized by means of a single old or new rule. Finally, some budget items depend on cash flows and expenses which can never be fully predictable in the budget.

 Again pursuant to Article 81 of the Constitution, unlike what currently happens for the Stability Law, the law for adopting the State Budget cannot introduce new taxes and new expenses.

 The structure of the State Budget, namely the network of fixed items, must be only that one.

 The reason is obvious but, given this asymmetry, it is difficult to put together the Budget Law and the Stability Law in a reasonable way.

 It should be recalled that the Stability Law, also known as Finance Act or Budget Package, is the ordinary law proposed by the Government, which regulates the economic policy of the State (and also of civil society) for three years.

 Well, but in three years, as they say in French, chosir son temps, c’est l’épargner.

 In three years everything is done and everything can be destroyed or change, especially with the kind of international economy we are dealing with now.

 The Stability Law has been so called, almost officially, since 2009 mainly as a result of the introduction of “fiscal federalism”, implemented with the constitutional reform of 2001, which requires that the activity of the “central” State is coordinated with the local one, which has autonomous and different assets – albeit not always – from the “central” State finance.

 I believe that the famous “federalism” has been a long-standing illusion from which the sooner we wake up the better.

 The distribution of revenue among the Regions – increasingly eager for money, especially after the reckless “Reform of Title V” of the Constitution, invented by the leftist governments in the belief they could take votes away from the Northern League Party – has been detrimental. It has made the Local Authorities increasingly powerful, and therefore large and very expensive, with an efficiency that, except for the Northern regions, which would have been efficient anyway, has plummeted throughout the rest of Italy.

Again as a result of the Treaty of Maastricht – a city previously unknown except for the French siege of 1673, in which D’Artagnan stood out – the Stability Law must comply with the requirements of economic and financial convergence between the EU countries, but also with the criteria regarding the rules of coordination between the local, regional and State levels of public finance of the various EU-27 Member States. Sicily will coordinate with the economy of Finland, all based on cellulose and mobile phones, while Piedmont, with its precious white truffles, will coordinate with the Tayloristic and low-cost factories of the Czech Republic.

 Beyond a certain level, the economies are incomparable with one another and there is no single currency that can put them in communication.

 If anything, we would need public accounting like the one that is implemented – even at European level – with the Power Purchasing Parity criteria.

 For the first time, in the 2009 Stability Law, an additional instrument was added on welfare – which currently, in the European bureaucratic jargon, also means “Health” – in which there are regularly also rules on labour, social security and competitiveness, which have little to do with Welfare and is drafted according to a deadline of missions, multi-year programs and functions, which is very hard, if not impossible, to monetize.

Furthermore, pursuant to Law No. 234/2012, the Stability Law has also provided that, as from 2016, the Stability Law shall be a Consolidated Act together with the Budget Law.

 This is anomalous, considering that the latter can regulate and create new taxes and duties, while the former cannot.

 However, the Reform of the State Budget, implemented with Law No. 163/2016 adopted on July 28, 2016, was definitively approved with over 80% of votes in Parliament.

 The Stability/Budget Law must be submitted by the Government to Parliament every year by October 15 and Parliament must adopt or amend it otherwise by December 31 of the same year. It is too short a lapse of time. Beyond the initial deadline, Article 81, paragraph 2, of the Constitution provides for the subsequent deadline of April 30 – a term which, however, shall be authorized by law.

 The Stability Law shall mandatorily include: a) the net balance to be financed; b) the balance of the recourse to market instruments, i.e. the final amount of money in the annual or three-year cycle for which to resort to loans (and this is certainly a vulnus, because the speculative markets know in advance the amount that can be financed); c) the amount of the special budget funds – and this is another vulnus, since all the other countries know how much the Services, the Special Operations, the Off The Record actions, etc. will cost; d) the maximum amount for renewing the public employment contracts – another vulnus, because this allows to calculate the industrial policy and, therefore, the possible effects of the labour cost on public and private markets, with obvious advantages for the E.U. competitors; e) the appropriations for refinancing the capital expenditure already provided for by the laws in force, and hence also the three-year stop of subsequent capital expenditure; f) the long-term expenditure forecasts.

 This is another vulnus since this allows to infer the sum available to a State for any E.U. military or foreign policy program, or for any other strategically important program.

 Not to mention the reserves for mergers and acquisitions of strategically important companies within the European Union, or even outside it, but permitted by the other European partners.

 A “mutualization” of the public budget which creates many dangers, but corresponds to the mental level of many E.U. accountants.

 This structure of the Stability Law leads to a situation in which only two choices are possible. Either the so-called austerity policy, when it comes to restoring possible balance to public funds (but this is always decided by others). We may think that a cyclical austerity policy must also be able to spend more on certain budget items, but much less on the others, while here the amount that counts is only the final one, which automatically determines the market behaviour. The only thing that markets have in mind, like conscripts, is the purchase of our public debt instruments at the best price and with the best interest rate, often carrying out trading operations, as also happens to certain States that profit from the difference – often completely rhetorical – between their debt instruments and ours.

 Or there is also the possibility of expansionary spending, which resorts always and only to deficit public spending – i.e. by issuing more public debt instruments – which can be “Keynesian” if it regards investment, but simply expansionary if rents, annuities and current expenses are privileged, in addition to investment.

 Sometimes even this may be necessary.

 The British economist, however, maintained that public spending applies above all to new investment, while for the “old markets” – as he called them – the self-equilibrium of private enterprises is also good.

 The childish idea underlying this conceptual duality is that you can be either “big spenders” (especially if “you come from the South”) or “strict” (especially if you are self-controlled and you come from the North), but this is just a vaudeville skit, not a serious economic policy idea.

 Thinking – as many people within the EU institutions believe – that “family” rigour has an impact on the State budget is a “paralogism” – just to use an ancient philosophy concept.

The equivalence between households and States – a concept often reiterated by unexperienced economists – would be fine only if households could issue face value money, which could be spent immediately according to their needs. These needs, however, would be linked to the credibility of their private “money”.

 People believe in these fairy tales, especially within the European Commission.

 However, the European constraints of any Stability Law are the following: 1) a 3% ratio between the actual and the forecast public deficit and the national GDP – a fully specious and abstruse ratio, even in a phase of restrictive policies; 2) 60% of the ratio between public debt and GDP, another bizarre figure, which may also regard non-Keynesian policies when – for example – a “mature” sector has to be restructured or investment must be made in new and promising areas; 3) the average inflation rate, which cannot exceed by over 1.5 percentage points the one of the three best performing Member States in the sector during the previous three years. Are EU experts aware that there is also ‘imported inflation’?

 This happens when the prices of goods and services purchased abroad rise – although this formula is already quite wrong.

 Inflation is imported when the costs of imported products increase and obviously countries like Italy, which are processing economies, are also great importers. God knows – in these economic phases – how import-related inflation (just think of oil products) is important for the European economies.

 Furthermore, the EU has no strategic, military, geoeconomic and financial ability to change the oil and gas producers’ treatment towards it. The same holds true for the other particularly important raw materials.

 Let us now focus on constraint 4): compliance with the long-term Nominal Interest Rate, which must not exceed by over 2 percentage points the one of the best performing Member States in terms of price stability.

 This is the Taylor Rule. As the U.S. Treasury Secretary Taylor said in 1993, it is an equation in which the interest rate is a dependent variable, while inflation and national income are regressors.

The rule is the following:  ii = i*+α(πi- π*) +βγ+εi

The long-term inflationary target is π. It is the inflation rate that will prevail in the long term. Taylor here assumed that the long-term inflation rate should be 2%, as often happens in the United States, but the current interest rate is π that, only for the USA is a GDP deflator. If we were all just stockbrokers, it might also be true.

 But there are costs that are included in the GDP and are neither predictable nor changeable from outside.

 The actual nominal interest rate in the equation is γ. The rest is easily calculable.

 Hence what does the Taylor Rule mean? When inflation starts reawakening the rates are expected to rise.

 This is not at all implicit in the Maastricht rules, which also stem from these formulas.

 As the Taylor Rule also shows, the increase in interest rates reflects a decrease in the supply of real monetary rates.

  Not necessarily so because there may be many balances available, but with a less “attractive” monetary composition.

Again according to Taylor, investment is inversely correlated with interest rates, but this holds true for the economies that live on loans, not for many of our entrepreneurs who use – almost exclusively – “own resources” or bank loans to secure own resources.

 Because of this pseudo-mathematical sequence of events, if investment decreases, the national income and also unemployment increase – which is here the only cure for inflation. But where did these guys study?

 Another theory resulting from the Taylor Rule is that when the economic activity slows down, the medium-term interest rate must fall.

 This has never happened, not even in the recent U.S. history. Just think of the 2006-2008 crisis.

 It is also strange – and I say so from a purely analytical viewpoint – that the purpose of economic theory is only to reduce inflation, considering that – as already pointed out above – it does not depend solely on the excess of public spending, of the availability of low-cost capital (which, instead, is considered in the Taylor Rule) and the use of “moderate” budgets, according to the theories of the ignorant economists à la page.

 Let us revert, however, to the procedure of the Italian Stability Law.

 According to the procedure known as European Semester, the EU Member States must submit their budgets to the European Commission and the European Council by the end of April, which ipso facto limits our legislation, which also provides for a budgetary role until December 31 of the same current year.

 For the time being, the penalties envisaged for some delays can be reduced, at most, to the single penalty equal to 0.2% of GDP for the year under consideration.

 The principles of the State budget and the related Stability Law are again the traditional ones established by Law 468/1978, including specification, whereby all budget items must be defined analytically so as to avoid ambiguities in their intended use; truthfulness, whereby no revenue overestimations or expenditure underestimations are allowed and, finally, publicity, whereby the budget must be made known with the most suitable means.

 There is also the issue arising from the adoption of Law No. 1/2012, which amended Article 81 of the Constitution, thus enshrining the principle of “balanced budget” in the Constitution.

 It is a laughing matter: since the invention of the double-entry accounting by Frà Luca Pacioli – Leonardo da Vinci’s friend and sometimes drinking companion – all budgets “break even” by definition.

 Otherwise they are not budgets.

 In fact, the term “break even” is never used in the rule. The more cryptic term “balanced budget” is used. We all know that, in physics, the balance can also be unstable.

 As already noted above, it is an unintended funny rule.

 What could we do if the Vesuvius erupted – an event which may be sure in the future, but unpredictable? Would we issue debt instruments, but for ten years at least, so as not to disturb or offend the E.U. accountants and their search for a liquid monetary base for an improbable and incorrectly calculated immediate fiscal liquidity to support debt instruments?

Hence are millions of homeless people to be left in the city of Naples, possibly in the Vomero and Pietanella neighbourhoods, or in the Sanseverino Chapel, waiting for these accountants to decide to study economics and political economy on the right handbooks?

 This is a rule that should not only be deleted, but should also be mocked by some famous comedian, better if with some knowledge of political economy.

 In addition to the “balanced budget” requirement, as from January 1, 2014, Law 243/2012 provided for the establishment of the “Parliamentary Budget Office”, with the task of carrying out “analyses, verifications, checks and evaluations” – thus replacing the role of politicians who should be the sole ones responsible for distributing the resources available and the forecast ones among the most suitable budget items.

 Moreover, in the summer of 2016, Legislative Decrees No. 90 and 93, as well as Law 164, were enacted, which amended Law 243 in relation to the Local Authorities’ balanced budgets.

 Another mistake, albeit a partial one: Local Authorities live on a complex mechanism – on which we need not to elaborate here – of remittances and transfers from the Central State and of sums partially withheld by these Authorities, which are then recalculated by the Central State, again in a too complex way that need not be explained here in great detail.

 In this case, how can we repay the local administrations’ colossal debt? Just think that the European Court has already condemned us for these matters. If the current legislation remains in force, there is no way out.

 In short, the “European cure” on the State Budget has worsened its ambiguities. It has depoliticized the selection of budget items, thus often moving it away from voters’ and citizens’ real needs. It has not allowed a modern solution to the Local Authorities’ financial crisis. It has also devised the funny mechanism of the “balanced budget”, which literally means that there is no longer a provisional budget (hence how can the real items be calculated?). Finally, it forces us into a debt cycle that is both excessive and, at times, burdensome, but always uncontrollable.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

Continue Reading
Comments

Economy

World Order Is Old Order: New World Order Is No Order

Published

on

The grand hallucinations: When there is any order, it always becomes visible as an orderly progression, when it is supposed to be a secret or an invisible order, then it is grand hallucinations for a cult of illusionists. Observe how the World Order is an old order, and notice how the new world order is no order. The random engagements in illusionary cultish acts of chaos sold as order. Fakery sold and resold as victory, illusions pushed as hallucinations of success. Courage is needed to see the big magical acts of grand hallucinations.

The feel of afternoon-high: Across the world, free economies are already bent, twisted or broken, while procedures, policies and laws, everything on sale for the right price. Mighty-money, delivered crisply stacked, shrink-wrapped as freshly printed solutions, to buy more chaos, spread misery and create the economic hallucinations and stage the smoke and mirrors, all without any totals, balances or columns. Sold to feel a real afternoon-high.

The interchange: When integrity gone, fakery dominates, when real value-creation gone value-manipulation regulates, when vision gone illusions thrives, when national economics gone hallucinations declared as great success and reality interchanges to fakery.  

The elasticity left: Needed across the free economies of the world, no further proof required, a total change, no further verification needed, as political power no longer economical power, no further help needed, as most nations in need of basic diaper change. Visible damage to skills and competency, inability to understand and articulate the real problems with grassroots solutions is now a big tragedy of our times. Nations already stretched via rubber band economy, some with elasticity left before going bust.

The truth: Which nation has the capacity to face the truth? Which nation can fix itself not just top reshuffle, but rather from top to bottom to the real core? Which nation can uplift its citizenry to stand up to global age skills and cope with global speed and competitiveness? Which nation is capable of understanding and has the right to mobilize its hidden national entrepreneurialism and provide a future for the next generation?

No electricity and missing bulbs: Is there any value left in the most cherished Machiavellian style political power without ever creating any economic power? Is there any remaining value in economic power play of today without entrepreneurial growth models? What good are economies when stuck in waste paper baskets still without digitization like a nation being without electricity? What real economic value is created when odd mindsets playing with economic development procedures like creating light but with no bulb?  

Welcome to cold facts and warm realties.

The branded nations: Why each and every single nation of our planet is now branded every single day of the year? Like it or not, agree with what is said, disagree with what gossiped, simple fact of the day,  each nation is branded, between each sunrise and sunset. Here is some advanced level insight for the national leaderships on global corporate communication challenges, as what may be altering their efforts on global affairs, what might mold their global trades as the deep undercurrents of global ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’ from the global populace shape their national global image and rate of popularly and any level of respect on world stage.

The global opinion: Observe how fast the world changed, how the ocean of “global opinion” is now drowning ponds of “national opinion”. Notice, nations already intoxicated, in joy over the popularity of their own national opinion, while having just an opposite global opinion on the world stage. What does this mean to a nation’s image supremacy, how does this translate into economic impacts? Why is any global opinion of any kind important anyway? Be cautious, if such important topics are not discussed in your boardrooms, check out the restrooms.

The fabric of humankind. Every huge, little, deadly, serious or funny incident of any kind, becomes ‘alive’ in global social media, where despite all controls its is processed with common sense with common emotions, commented and circulated around the world, many times, registered, measured, analyzed, criticized and humanized as good, bad or ugly in the minds of the global populace.  No one can stop it. Facing truth is now a new global challenge of moral strength, something that increasingly demands insight and awareness. Shunning, arguing or defending and fighting has little or no power, as the real power hidden is in critical thinking to solve common good, humankind issues.   

The 200 nations, now under their own global digital spell, responding, and adjusting their own feedback and updating reality checks, influenced by the five billion, connected populace driving the world opinion.  The voices are no longer the big old-media, as they have already lost their credibility and power,  but across the world the new known and unknown big and small clusters of people sharing their thoughts amongst their local and global connectivity and surroundings. The truth rises, because this is how the critical needs for common good and social justice advances. The fabric of humankind stretches, starts to cover all nations.

Weaponization of Ideologicalism:  Why are most nations increasingly unable to control their restless citizenry? How much more will the citizens of these nations, continuously influenced by the global opinion, facing common sense, chasing truth, turning internal tribalism, into cultural wars defining limits of ideologies, as Weaponization of Ideologicalism slowly ripping local social fabric and crushing economies. Where are the repairmen, where are the solutions, which leadership is ready to articulate and bring national mobilization of entrepreneurialism as an untapped national treasure. Which nation is ready to face reality and show their advanced skills?

The aimless directives: When nations appear aimlessly drifting into hallucinations, the lack of vision, absence of social justice, unable to control internal tribalism, cultural wars move to ideological wars. Nations fragmented and splintered, now facing street by street mental wars. The visible lack of skills at the top management, lack of speed of execution at middle level and the absence of any motivation at remaining workforces now seriously limits all new options.

The coming revolution: The next global revolution, driven by economic chaos based on social failures, while the middle classes already disappeared, may not be about the mobs of commoners with broom-sticks but most likely the imploding calm and silent systemic collapse of bureaucratic administrative blockades and fall of economic intellectualism for destroying the fabric of humankind.

The absence of dialogue, only proves lack of real pragmatic solutions, skills and competence. Electioneering, sloganeering and fakery of wars to remain in power with no real economic solution, in global opinion a colossal failure.  Therefore, “Self Mastery” urgently needed to differentiate between a mesmerized mind with an enlightened one will possibly be a way to face the new challenges. Economies will only improve when old methodologies declared broken

The new world order: No other time in the history of civilization, so many globally connected will hold responsible the so few in power for destroying the remains of world order and bringing the world to a nuclear war.  A war, suggested to eliminate five billion people. It is possible, the coming revolutions to be less about anarchy but more about establishing real meritocracy. The need to search, find and strive for real value creation to answers grassroots prosperity affairs and eliminate lingering bureaucracies with fermented layers of incompetency. How soon will the five billion connected reach a critical point to select the right players with right policies and declare common good the new ultimate goals? This may eventually lead to a new world order. Pandemic was just a sneeze, economy, now like a hole in the empty pocket, leadership like a circus show, while billions looking up. Acquire mastery. Get ready for major global shifts of major economic behaviorism. The rest is easy. 

Continue Reading

Economy

Mosul’s recovery moves towards a circular economy

Published

on

Five years since the end of the ISIL(so-called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) conflict in 2017, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Iraq and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), with funding from the Government of Japan, has established a debris recycling centre in Mosul. After its initial use, the centre has now been handed over to Mosul Municipality for its continued, sustainable operation.

“On behalf of the Iraqi Government, the Ministry of Environment expresses its gratitude to the Government of Japan for generously supporting this important project and to UNEP and IOM for enabling the sustainable management of the huge quantities of conflict debris and restabilization of the liberated areas in an environmentally sustainable manner,” said Iraq’s Minister for Environment, Dr. Jasim Abdulazeez Humadi.

The handover of the Mosul debris recycling centre marks a significant step in the sustainable management of the huge volumes of debris — an estimated 55 million tonnes — created by the ISIL conflict. It also opens the way for the recycling of routine construction and demolition waste, contributing to ‘building back better’ and an increased circularity in Iraq’s development.

UNEP West Asia Regional Director, Sami Dimassi, emphasized that “by reducing waste, stimulating innovation and creating employment, debris recycling also creates an important business opportunity.” Indeed, construction companies in Mosul have expressed interest in purchasing the recycled aggregate, thereby underscoring the longer-term sustainability of debris recycling.

“This project supports recovery and livelihoods by drawing on principles of a circular economy, wherein waste and land pollution is limited through production processes that reuse and repurpose materials for as long as possible,” explained IOM Iraq Chief of Mission, Giorgi Gigauri. “Collaboration and sustainability are key priorities in IOM’s work toward durable solutions to displacement, and we are pleased to have partnered with UNEP and the Government of Japan so that this is represented not only in the function of the plant itself, but also in its functioning, by supporting local authorities to be prepared to effectively operate the plant moving forward.”

On 28 July 2022, Mosul Municipality hosted an event to officially hand over the debris recycling centre, attended by senior government officials and academia, as well as representatives from IOM, UNEP and the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI).

Masamoto Kenichi, Charge d’Affaires, Embassy of Japan to Iraq stated: “We are glad to know that the project funded by the government and people of Japan has contributed to cleanup of debris and reconstruction of Mosul. We would like to commend UNEP, IOM and the city of Mosul for their tremendous efforts of turning the legacy of ISIL’s devastation into building blocks of reconstruction”.

Through the rubble recycling project, nearly 25,000 tonnes of debris have been recovered and sorted, of which around half was crushed into recycled aggregate. Material testing of the recycled aggregate endorsed by the National Center for Structural Tests of the Ministry of Planning confirms its compliance with the Iraqi State Commission for Roads and Bridges design standards for road foundational layers and its suitability for several low strength end-use applications such as concrete blocks and kerbstones.

The project created 240 much-needed jobs through cash-for-work schemes targeting vulnerable persons, including 40 women.

Building on this experience, IOM has set up two other debris recycling operations in Sinjar and Hamdaniya in Ninewa Governorate, and a third in Hawija in Kirkuk Governorate, where a pilot phase using a mobile crusher was implemented in al-Buwaiter Village in 2021. In addition, two other conflict-affected governorates — namely Salah al-Din and Anbar — have  also shown a high-level of interest in replicating and scaling up debris recycling in their own regions. 

UNEP has been supporting Iraq in cleaning up the huge volumes of debris created by the ISIL conflict since June 2017. Initially, this included carrying out technical assessments and planning workshops with UN-Habitat, and subsequently designing and implementing debris recycling pilot projects to support returns in Mosul, Kirkuk and other conflict-affected areas in cooperation with IOM.

UNEP

Continue Reading

Economy

Digital Futures: Driving Systemic Change for Women

Published

on

Authors: Erin Watson-Lynn and Tengfei Wang*

As digital technology continues to unlock new financial opportunities for people across Asia and the Pacific, it is critical that women are central to strategies aimed at harnessing the digital financial future. Women are generally poorer than men – their work is less formal, they receive lower pay, and their money is less likely to be banked. Even when controlling for class, rural residency, age, income, and education level, women are overrepresented among the world’s poorest people in developing countries. Successfully harnessing digital technology can play a key role in creating new opportunities for women to utilise formal financial products and services in ways that empower them. 

Accelerating women’s access to the formal economy through digital innovations in finance increases their opportunity to generate an income and builds resilience to economic shocks. The recently issued ESCAP guidebook titled, Harnessing Digital Technology for Financial Inclusion in the Asia Pacific, highlights the fact that mechanisms to bring women into the digital economy are different from those for other groups, and that tailored policy responses are important for women to fully realise their potential in the Asia-Pacific region.

Overwhelmingly, the evidence tells us that how women utilise their finances can have a beneficial impact on the broader community. When women have bank accounts, they are more likely to save money, buy healthier foods for their family, and invest in education. For women who receive Government-to-Person (G2P) payments, there is significant improvement in their lives across a range of social and economic outcomes. Access to safe, secure, and affordable digital financial services thus has the potential to significantly improve the lives of women.

Despite the enormous opportunity, there are numerous constraints which affect women’s access to financial services. This includes the gender gap in mobile phone ownership across Asia and the Pacific, lower levels of education (including lower levels of basic numeracy and literacy), and lower levels of financial literacy. This complex web of constraints means that country and provincial level diagnostics are required and demands agile and flexible policy responses that meet the unique needs of women across the region.

Already, across Asia and the Pacific, governments are implementing innovative policy solutions to capture the opportunities that come with digital finance, while trying to manage the constraints women often face. The policy guidebook provides a framework to examine the role of governments as market facilitators, market participants and market regulators. Through this framework, specific policy innovations drawn from examples across the region are identified which other governments can adapt and implement in their local markets.  

A good example of how strategies can be implemented at either the central government or local government levels can be found in Pakistan. While central government leadership is important, embedding tailored interventions into locally appropriate strategies plays a crucial role for implementation and effectiveness. The localisation of broader strategies needs to include women in their development and ongoing evaluation. In the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, 50,000 beneficiary committees comprising local women at the district level regularly provide feedback into the government’s G2P payment system. The feedback from these committees led to a biometric system linked to the national ID card that has enabled the government to identify women who weren’t receiving their payments, or if payments were fraudulently obtained by others.

In Cambodia and the Philippines, governments have implemented new and innovative solutions to support remittance payments through public-private-partnerships and policies that enable access to non-traditional banks. In Cambodia, Wing Money has specialised programs for women, who are overwhelmingly the beneficiaries of remittance payments. Creating an enabling environment for a business such as Wing Money to develop and thrive with these low-cost solutions is an example of a positive market intervention. In the Philippines, adjusting banking policies to enable access to non-traditional banking enables women, especially those with micro-enterprises in rural areas, to access digital products.

While facilitating participation in the market can yield benefits for women, so can regulating in a way that drives systemic change. For example, in Lao People’s Democratic Republic and India, different mechanisms for targets are used to improve access to digital financial products. In Lao People’s Democratic Republic, the central government through its national strategy, introduced a target of a 9 per cent increase in women’s access to financial services by 2025. In India, their targets are set within the bureaucracy to incentivise policy makers to implement the Digital India strategy and promotions and job security are rewarded based on performance.

These examples of innovative policy solutions are only foundational. The options for governments and policy makers at the nexus of market facilitation, participation and regulation demands creativity and agility. Underpinning this is the need for a baseline of country and regional level diagnostics to capture the diverse needs of women – those who are set to benefit the most of from harnessing the future of digital financial inclusion.

*Tengfei Wang, Economic Affairs Officer

This article is the second of a two-part series based on the findings of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) Policy Guidebook: Harnessing Digital Technology for Financial Inclusion in Asia and the Pacific, and is jointly prepared by ESCAP and the Griffith Asia Institute.source: UNESCAP

Continue Reading

Publications

Latest

Trending