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Is there a "Governance Gap" in MENA?



There has been a lot of discussion in academic and popular circles about the so-called “governance gap” in MENA. 


A complex, multifaceted concept, governance is difficult to collapse into a few empirical measures that can be compared across countries. Various efforts to do so have sought to identify critical dimensions of what governance is, ranging from the rule of law, to controlling corruption, to public sector efficiency, to citizen voice, to “democracy.” Many of the measures are based on observer perceptions and opinions, making the measures subjective. And the lack of data on the quality of governance in this region compounds the difficulty of measuring governance empirically. Even so, the analysis in this book supplements the qualitative assessment and allows comparisons among countries worldwide by drawing on past work and by aggregating the available empirical data into broad indices of governance,.


The quantitative picture reveals a gradation in the quality of governance in MENA, thus reflecting the region’s diversity, which makes generalizations difficult. But on close examination, some robust regional patterns emerge.


For the most part, the quality of governance in the region increases with incomes—a worldwide pattern that has been found in every study on governance. In terms of the overall index of governance quality used in this book (based on 22 indicators with comparable data for most countries), upper-middle-income countries around the world, as well as in MENA, have average governance quality about twice that of lower-income countries. Any study of governance needs to take account of variations in income.


When compared with countries that have similar incomes and characteristics—the main competitors in the global marketplace—the MENA region ranks at the bottom on the index of overall governance quality (figure O.2).


That overall governance gap has two components: an index of the quality of administration in the public sector and an index of public accountability. The first measures the efficiency of the bureaucracy, the rule of law, the protection of property rights, the level of corruption, the quality of regulations, and the mechanisms of internal accountability. On this index, MENA countries largely track their counterparts worldwide, typically running only slightly lower. With few exceptions, they have individually and on average lower levels of the quality of administration in the public sector than would be expected for their incomes (that is, they are below the income-adjusted world average in figure O.3), with the gap tending to be worse for countries that have higher incomes that rely on oil resources.


The index of public accountability measures the openness of political institutions and participation, respect of civil liberties, transparency of government, and freedom of the press. Here, the MENA region falls far short. In the rest of the world, the quality of public accountability increases as incomes increase, but not in MENA (as shown by the flat line for MENA in figure O.4). For some of the richer MENA countries, the gap is particularly wide when compared with similar countries worldwide. Moreover, not a single country in MENA appears above the world average for the quality of public accountability, whether adjusted for income or not. Individually and collectively, the region lags on measures of public accountability, and the richer the country, the worse the gap.


Within MENA, there is a stark difference in the quality of public accountability between the countries that have very little or no oil or gas (the Arab Republic of Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, and Tunisia) and those that do (figure O.5).  This is because the high incomes of the latter depend less on good environment for business activity (as, say, is not the case for some of the richer East Asian countries such as the Republic of Korea and Singapore) than on the exploitation of oil and gas resources.


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