WorkShop 11 : Neo-liberal reforms, local elites, and accountability in public service provision in the MENA region
Neo-liberal reforms, local elites, and accountability in public service provision in the MENA region
This workshop aims to explore how neo-liberal reforms have affected the power bases and patronage networks of local elites, and what this means in terms of clientelism and public accountability in public service provision in MENA countries.
It aims to fill a knowledge gap by combining public policy and management theories with those on patron-client networks and public accountability at the local level. The wider conceptual framework employed and critiqued in this workshop is that of ‘good governance’ and its inherent contradiction between on the one hand enhancing pluralism and political accountability, and managerial efficiency and technocratic reform on the other.
The workshop aims to address four major themes and sets of questions. First, what is the impact of neo-liberal reforms in service provision on local elites and their patron-client networks? And how can citizens (if the notion of citizenship still applies) and communities hold providers to account in the context of “contract accountability” between (local) governments and providers? The workshop also aims to address these questions from a gender perspective. Second, given the weak state of devolved (political) decentralization in most MENA countries, do neo-liberal reforms in fact strengthen deconcentrated state structures (i.e. the line ministries), thereby further marginalizing local governments? Third, what is the potential for such reforms to stimulate the emergence of (developmentally) good patrons that are constructively engaged in providing links between “government” and “the public”? Fourth, what is the role of international actors and institutions in pushing the neo-liberal reform agenda, and to what extent are they aware of its local governance effects?
The workshop invites contributions that are based on extensive fieldwork and employing a diverse array of research methods and sources from academics, policy makers in local and national governments, as well as development practitioners dealing with local public service provision in the region.
This workshop aims to explore how neo-liberal reforms have affected the power bases and patronage networks of local elites, and what this means in terms of clientelism and public accountability in public service provision in MENA countries. Linking reforms in public service provision at the local level to the national and international neo-liberal discourses, this workshop invites papers that focus on how such discourses are translated and adapted at the local level, and how they re-shape local power structures. While there is some existing research on the topic (e.g. the contributions in Kienle, 2003), most discussions of neo-liberal reforms in the area of public service provision are based on purely technocratic and managerial perspectives, drawing on the literature of New Public Management. This workshop thus aims to fill a knowledge gap by combining public policy and management theories with those on patron-client networks and public accountability at the local level. Surprisingly, at least when compared to the literature on other developing and transition countries in Latin America and Africa, the literature on local manifestations of patronage and clientelism in the MENA region is still limited. This workshop would thus build on and go beyond the successful 2009 MRM workshop entitled ‘Spaces for Change? Decentralization, participation, and local governance innovations in the MENA Region’ (also co-directed by Sylvia Bergh and in which Ulas Bayraktar participated). The 2009 workshop attracted significant interest and concluded that more research on this topic, as well as the establishment of knowledge networks, are very much needed.
Following Zemni and Bogaert (2009), the present workshop considers neo-liberal reform not as a single comprehensive policy framework with a unitary logic, but rather as a messy and often contradictory plurality of practices and ideas that aim to incite institutions and individuals to conform to market logic. Such reform entails not so much the rolling back of the state but rather its political, institutional, and geographical reorganization (Brenner and Theodore 2002). New forms of governance are thus emerging that are referred to as arrangements of governing-beyond-the-state, i.e.: ‘[…] arrangements of ‘governing’ which give a much greater role in policymaking, administration and implementation to private economic actors on the one hand and to parts of the civil society on the other in self-managing what until recently was provided or organized by the national or local state’ (Swyngedouw 2005, p. 1992).
The workshop thus aims to explore the new configurations of power that are embedded within patterns of regulation between state, market and society, and assess their impact on local power structures and accountability mechanisms in public service provision at the local level. The wider conceptual framework employed and critiqued in this workshop is that of ‘good governance’. The World Bank MENA development report states that, ‘governance in the MENA-region is about […] ensuring that the process of choosing, renewing, and changing leadership, as well as conceiving, debating, designing, and implementing such policies, will give the people – as citizens and clients – an opportunity to express their preferences, to participate in the dialogue, and to hold the government accountable for acting in their best interest’ (World Bank 2003b, p. 15). However, as Zemni and Bogaert (2009, p. 100) point out, ‘looking at the track record of MENA countries, it is hard to see why and how there should be a greater participation of the population in terms of accountability and inclusiveness (representation) if the policies implemented are in the first place focused on the State defined as a ‘managerial’ entity.’ There is thus a possible contradiction between aspects of good governance and democratic government. On the one hand, good governance entails enhancing pluralism and political accountability, while on the other hand it stresses the importance of managerial efficiency and technocratic reform which potentially reduces pluralism and democratic control (Rousseau 2003).
Neo-liberal reforms in the MENA region promote new forms of public-private interactions, but despite a pervasive rhetoric of decentralization, local empowerment, and the importance of participation by civil society organizations, political forms of representation and organization are in practice discouraged. There is also a striking absence of social conflicts or political interests in the good governance rhetoric, even though the former are on the rise in many MENA countries (e.g. the series of demonstrations against the continuous increase in water and electricity prices witnessed in Morocco since 2006). Despite increasing popular protests, neo-liberal reforms in the MENA region could be said to have expanded state power, rather than weakened it, by promoting the interests of its capitalist class. The ‘modernising elites’ of modernisation theory are now redefined as the instigators – ‘moderate Arab reformers’ – of neoliberal theories. Positioning themselves as the mediators, these economic elites are empowered by international agencies as the managers of the new standardised packages of reform (Zemni and Bogaert 2009, p. 104).
The overall objective of this workshop is thus to “re-politicize” the debate on neo-liberal reforms in the MENA region by assessing their impacts on the power bases of local elites and public accountability mechanisms in the area of public service provision.
Themes and Research Questions
Neo-liberal reforms in the MENA region include the privatization of public services (often to foreign multinationals, as is the case of Veolia in Morocco), the contracting out of such services (either to the private sector or NGOs), innovative ways of co-production, and the creation of special (quasi-autonomous) agencies and zones (e.g. Special Economic Zones such as in Aqaba, Jordan), along with the setting up of new regulatory agencies. The adoption of New Public Management reforms has led to market-type mechanisms that are based on the separation of the “purchaser” (that keeps being the guarantor of the satisfaction of public needs) from the “provider” role (responsible for delivering the services). This workshop aims to test the hypothesis that while such reforms have limited the space for local politicians to directly distribute favors to clients in return for political loyalty and other services, they have led to the emergence of a new class of patrons among the local economic elite who collude with politicians in getting contracts and keeping the clients dependent. A key question here is, ‘how are patterns of resource allocation as well as of inclusion and exclusion at the local level changing as a result of new forms of public service provision?’. The workshop also wants to examine how these reforms affect public accountability. For example, do the performance standards and requirements in public service contracts constitute a new form of “contract accountability”, and if so, how is this type of accountability affecting the potential for public accountability in the traditional sense? In other words, can citizens and communities hold providers to account (via the “short route of accountability”) or do they have to rely on influencing their (national and local) policymakers to in turn influence the providers (via the “long route of accountability”; see World Bank 2003a)? Indeed, what do such reforms mean for the notion of citizenship? If citizens are increasingly considered as “clients” who are required to pay user charges for services in water, health and education, what are the implications for local democracy? The workshop aims to address these questions also from a gender perspective.
A second cluster of issues relates to the role of local governments in implementing public service reforms (in a pro-poor way) and monitoring the performance of (and disciplining) private sector and NGO providers. Given the weak state of devolved (political) decentralization in most MENA countries, do neo-liberal reforms in fact strengthen deconcentrated state structures (i.e. line ministries), thereby further marginalizing local governments? Here, big urban investment projects are good examples of neoliberal re-organizations of space on the local scale. ‘Neoliberal development discourse justifies itself through an appeal to “the global’. [. . .] Somewhat paradoxically, however, it is the local scale that has been singled out as a particularly useful vehicle for global ambitions’ (Parker 2009). For example, The Bou Regreg project in Morocco is a large construction project situated between the twin-cities of Rabat and Salé and occupying the Bou Regreg estuary. The territory of the valley of the Bou Regreg has been lifted out of the territories of the representative municipalities of Rabat and Salé and been assigned to a managerial entity that is officially public but is functioning without public accountability as the directors are only summoned by the King (see Zemni and Bogaert 2009, p. 98). This workshop thus invites papers that critically examine how regime power is being rearticulated at sub-national units of political organization (regions or cities), and whether this undermines the efficacy of existing national political institutions and opens the door to managerial/techno-political styles of government (see Brenner 2004).
A third set of questions is aimed at stimulating a more nuanced view of local elites. Here, the workshop follows Leftwich’s (2007, p. 28) call and examines whether ‘the informal political institutions of patronage [can] sometimes contribute positively? Might there be good (developmentally) patrons and is there any way, politically, that they can be used to promote pro-poor growth?’ Such research would distance itself from the assumption that the presence of political society is always a negative one, but instead conceive of local political society as a set of institutions, actors and cultural norms that is often constructively engaged in providing links between “government” and “the public”, as well as in brokering deals and forming patterns of authority that hold these deals in place (Corbridge et al 2005: 190-191; and Mosse and Lewis 2006). A related question is to examine how poor people themselves experience or evaluate clientelistic practices (see the contributions in Kitschelt and Wilkinson [eds.] 2007).
Finally, this workshop also invites contributions on the role of international actors and institutions like the World Bank, IMF, World Trade Organization, the EU and the US in pushing the neo-liberal reform agenda in the MENA region. To what extent are they aware of its effects on local governance?
Expected papers and participants
We particularly welcome papers on the workshop themes that are based on extensive fieldwork and employing a diverse array of research methods and sources. These could include in-depth interviews with elites and non-elites, archival research, content analysis of public service provision contracts and other materials, public opinion data, original survey research, spatial analysis, and secondary source literature. (Comparative) case study approaches, both in rural and urban areas, are also very much encouraged.
Given that the workshop themes straddle the boundaries between public policy and management studies, organizational analysis, as well as political science and (political) anthropology, we invite a wide spectrum of participants. This includes, but is not limited to, academics working in the above fields, policy makers at the municipal and governmental levels in MENA countries, as well as development practitioners and staff at donor agencies dealing with local public service provision in the region.
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Corbridge, S., G. Williams, et al. (2005). Seeing the State: Governance and Governmentality in India. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Kienle, E. ed.(2003). Politics from Above, Politics from Below: The Middle East in the Age of Economic Reform. London: Saqi
Kitschelt, H. and S. I. Wilkinson, Eds. (2007). Patrons, Clients, and Policies: Patterns of Democratic Accountability and Political Competition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Leftwich, A. (2007). The Political Approach to Institutional Formation, Maintenance and Change: A Literature Review Essay. Discussion Paper Series Number Fourteen, October. Manchester, Research Programme Consortium on Improving Institutions for Pro-Poor Growth.
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World Bank (2003a). World Development Report 2004: Making Services Work for Poor People. Washington D.C.: The World Bank and OUP.
World Bank, (2003b). Better governance for development in the Middle East and North Africa. Enhancing inclusiveness and accountability. Washington, DC: The World Bank.
Zemni, S. and Bogaert, K. (2009). Trade, security and neoliberal politics: whither Arab reform? Evidence from the Moroccan case. The Journal of North African Studies,14 (1), 91- 107.
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