x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

UAE backs World Bank report

The UAE has defended the value of the World Bank's Doing Business report after a review recommended scrapping the country rankings component of the initiative.

Jim Yong Kim, the World Bank president, says he is
Jim Yong Kim, the World Bank president, says he is "committed to the Doing Business report, and rankings have been part of its success". Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg News

The UAE has defended the value of the World Bank's Doing Business report after a review recommended scrapping the country rankings component of the initiative.

The Emirates Competitiveness Council (ECC), the government agency tasked with improving the country's competitiveness, said the rankings were a "powerful way" to highlight areas of business reforms to improve the economy.

"Rankings will always be a powerful tool to attract the attention of high-level policymakers on areas that have an issue over some other," said Faysal Mokadem, an adviser in the strategy and policy department of the ECC.

"While one can understand the frustration of lower-ranked economies in reports, eliminating rankings altogether would part with a powerful way to attract much- needed attention to certain areas of business regulations."

His comments were in response to the findings of an independent panel about the Doing Business report, an annual index comparing 185 nations across 10 different criteria such as average number of days to start a business and ease of securing credit and electricity. The review, commissioned by the World Bank last year, said the overall rankings were misleading.

The rankings can wield huge clout with governments. The UAE, which ranked 26th in this year's Doing Business report, and several other GCC states use the index as a tool to guide policymaking. Abu Dhabi, for example, in March launched a one-stop business centre aimed at stripping away red tape for entrepreneurs starting a business.

Mr Mokadem said the value of the Doing Business report and the rankings were that they delved deep into the details of different regulations.

"In turn, it becomes easier to devise policies aimed at improving the areas or sectors which the report covers," he added.

But the panel found the rankings could too easily be influenced by small factors and were sometimes not objective.

"The panel believes the bank should make a clean break with this practice," it said in a report.

"It is important to remember that the report is intended to be a pure knowledge project. As such, its role is to inform policy, not to prescribe it or outline a normative position, which the rankings to some extent do."

China has been among those critical of the Doing Business report, saying the World Bank should not rank its members. The world's second-largest economy was ranked 91st in the most recent report, prompting suspicions its objection was motivated by its lowly score.

Speaking generally, John Sfakianakis, the chief investment strategist of the Riyadh-based investment firm Masic, said reports with rankings were a "useful tool" to help formulate opinion but should be complemented by field knowledge.

"Indices are important and they do tell a certain part of a story, but problems could arise when one or two indices are used to tell the entire story of a country or a theme, be it good or bad," he said.

The World Bank, which produces the report in tandem with its private sector investment arm the International Finance Corporation, is not obliged to accept the findings of the panel.

This month Jim Yong Kim, the World Bank president, welcomed the panel's work but said he was "committed to the Doing Business report, and rankings have been part of its success".

 

tarnold@thenational.ae