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IDB to boost lending for state reform in Latin America and Caribbean

The Inter-American Development Bank plans to boost its lending for state reform programs to around $6 billion over the next few years to support the modernization of the public sector in Latin America and the Caribbean, IDB President Enrique V. Iglesias said today.

Speaking at a luncheon the IDB hosted for delegates to the International Conference on Reinventing Government, Iglesias noted that Western Hemisphere countries seem to have reached a consensus on the direct link between the quality of government and successful development.

"The debate on the state has lost the ideological bitterness of the past. Today the issue is not whether we need more or less state intervention but about the quality of government. It is not a matter of ‘downsizing' but rather of ‘rightsizing'," he said.

This is particularly true in the case of Latin America and the Caribbean, where state institutions have traditionally been too weak to maintain the right conditions to stimulate prosperity.

Over the past decade, the IDB has worked with Latin American and Caribbean countries in an increasing variety of programs aimed at improving their public sectors in order to promote stronger economic growth and investments, as well as greater social equity.

The Bank has devoted $5 billion in loans for programs to reorganize, streamline or decentralize key government agencies and services in borrowing countries over the past four years. Perhaps more importantly, it continues to provide its clients sound expert advice on how to conduct reforms.

While the job is far from finished, there have been some encouraging results in turning once-bumbling and corrupt bureaucracies into increasingly efficient and modern tools of government.

To pick an example in the executive branch, the IDB supported Peru's successful customs reform. By enforcing integrity rules, professionalizing its staff and working with the private sector to unclog bottlenecks, the Peruvian government turned its customs service into one of its most widely admired state agencies. Not only does it clear shipments within hours, it also has increased its revenues nearly fivefold in six years.

As borrowing countries strive to build stronger democracies, the Bank has delved into new areas such as financing judicial reforms, which seek to offer citizens greater and speedier access to justice. In Guatemala, it is supporting a program that will establish judiciary units in rural areas to serve indigenous groups.

The IDB also encourages its clients to use technology to improve the quality of essential government services such as education. It is assisting Mexico's efforts to expand its successful Telesecundaria distance education program, upgrade its television and satellite equipment, provide more training for its teachers and improve its evaluation standards and procedures.

In his speech to participants in this two-day conference organized by U.S. Vice President Albert Gore, Iglesias pointed out that political consensus has proven to be a fundamental ingredient in all successful state reforms. A shared vision of the role of the government, the limits of its actions and where changes should be made is one of the most precious assets any society can forge.

The IDB, he added, is ready to support its borrowing members as they strive to improve their public sectors. Besides its ongoing programs, Iglesias said the IDB would undertake the following actions:

(i) In the second half of 1999 the Bank will sponsor a conference on Reinventing Government in the Information Age, to identify and pursue projects based on new technologies that can improve state services.

(ii) In cooperation with the Latin American Center for Public Administration, it will develop a website with detailed information on government modernization activities and "best practices" in the region, creating a network of expertise for those working on state reform.

(iii) To build its own expertise, it will establish an Informatics Office charges with following these activities and to support other Bank operations in the area of state reform.

(iv) The Bank will continue to support the initiatives of the Regional Roundtable on Assessment of Public Administration Outcomes, a forum that has allowed Latin American governments to share innovations in methods to modernize the public sector.

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