Colin Bruce: World Bank Keen on Governance

Published on 28th August 2007

Dr. Colin Bruce, Country Director World Bank (Comoros, Eritrea, Kenya, Seychelles and Somalia) shares insights on development, aid, governance and personal life. 

Q. You have worked with the World Bank for sometime now, what do you think would be your top 5 achievements during your term in Kenya? 

A.  After 19 years in the development business and the global experience that has come with it, I have good reasons to be very hopeful about what Kenya can become given the country’s human, physical and other assets. I am ambitious about what Kenya’s partnership with the World Bank can achieve during my tenure.  However, I am also unpretentious about the reality that success will depend on many factors, including the choices made by Kenyans themselves.  As such, I am focusing on a number of things.

To begin with, fostering a mature, respectful and efficient dialogue on development opportunities and challenges with the government, a dialogue that is frank, factual (empirically grounded), and focused on concrete actions and practical results.  This makes me a big fan of quantitative and qualitative research and analysis, results-based management, rapid results initiatives and performance contracting. It also translates into a strong personal commitment to more harmonized, streamlined and predictable interactions between the international donor group, which I chair, and the government. 

Second, encouraging the adoption and implementation of specific development policies and programs that not only stimulate and sustain growth, but also ensure that real benefits accrue to the most vulnerable groups, including poor women, youth and children.  It is important that this should be done in ways that help the vulnerable groups assist themselves rather than become dependent on handouts.

Third, assisting in making good governance in everyone’s business (individuals, firms, organizations, churches, civil society) by promoting increased awareness among the public that each person can make a positive difference, and by supporting practical measures that have a sustained impact well beyond my tenure as Country Director. 

Fourth, improving engagement and communication on development issues between the Bank and key stakeholders (including the non-executive branches of government, private sector, civil society, media, faith-based organizations, youth groups, foundations, and donors) in a spirit of mutual accountability, and continuous and shared learning. 

Lastly, at the personal level, inspiring more Kenyans to enter and remain in public and professional life with a genuine and unshakable commitment to do “well” and to do “good” at the same time, based on broadly accepted standards of integrity. 

Q. We recently featured Mr. James Shikwati, Director of Inter Region Economic Network (IREN), a regional economic think tank, who believes that Kenya and Africa does not need aid to improve its poverty situation. Please comment. 

A. “AID” has become a bad word in some circles perhaps because it is associated, not always correctly, with the imposition of alien ideas, loss of sovereignty, and increased dependency.  The fact is that rich and poor countries need long-term capital to grow and develop, and many African countries simply do not have enough of it.  Some do not even have enough money to meet recurrent expenditures such as salaries and road maintenance.  AID is one source of funding.  For more creditworthy countries, borrowing from international capital markets is another.  To me, the critical issue isn’t whether or not African countries (including Kenya) need AID, since I think the facts speak for themselves.  Rather, it is how well they use development funding, irrespective of the source, to spur growth and to improve the welfare of the population at large.

I am very pleased that Kenyan taxpayers finance most of the government’s spending.  We are also working with the government to see how additional resources can be raised through local capital markets to finance infrastructure.  Another area of collaboration in Kenya and globally is promoting international trade which has considerable potential to spur growth, create jobs and reduce poverty.  However, at present, access to AID remains a necessary complement to all these efforts.    

Q. Is the World Bank’s on-and-off history of supporting the Kenya government in your view justified?

A. The Bank has had a sustained presence in Kenya for over 40 years. Throughout this period, it has been engaged through research and dialogue on development and financial support in different forms.  However, at times, financial support has not been possible in the form of conventional lending because we were concerned that the policy and implementation framework would not allow these funds to be properly used. Our experience, especially in the late eighties and throughout the nineties, was that Kenya was unable to implement critical reforms necessary to free the economy from serious growth constraints.  Important changes taking place in policy selection and implementation will continue to serve as triggers for the level and timing of our lending, as in other countries.

Q. The World Bank fights for good governance and anti-corruption. How do the recent high-level challenges involving the immediate former President impact on the World Bank’s agenda? 

A. The fight for good governance and anti-corruption will continue with greater determination and perhaps, greater humility given our recent experience which exposed previously known and unknown vulnerabilities. Mr. Zoellick, our new President, has indicated that both internal and external governance is among his highest priorities.   

In the case of Kenya, our increased attention to governance and anticorruption began in May 2005, before Mr. Wolfowitz became President, as part of our efforts to better align our programs with the priorities of the Kenyan people. In March 2007, we passed another milestone: our authorizing body, the Board of Executive Directors reviewed our experience and lessons to date, including progress and setbacks. They also discussed the suggestions of reformers within and outside of government.  At the end of their deliberations, our Board gave us permission to pursue an even broader agenda on governance and anticorruption with counterparts in Kenya who wish to see further progress on the ground. 

This broader approach fits within the Bank Group’s legal mandate and is also aligned with the government’s Governance Strategy for a Prosperous Kenya which was discussed with us in January 2007. The governance and anti-corruption agenda is here to stay because it is central to Kenya’s development, and we are aiming to provide ever more practical, effective and sustained support for it.

Q.  Is poverty an early warning for bad governance or where does the third world poverty largely stem from?

A. Reducing poverty requires human and financial resources.  Good governance ensures that these resources, when available, are used for this purpose.  In many cases, failure to make progress in reducing poverty stems from bad governance. Empirical evidence shows that good governance and controlling corruption are fundamental to ensuring that economies not only grow but that the benefits of that growth are shared widely.  

Q. With Kenya's national budget increasingly becoming independent of the development partners' (external) support, what will be the new World Bank's strategy in Kenya? 

A. Kenya has made good progress in financing its regular budget from internal sources.  Indeed, the Government now finances about 96% of the Budget, while development partners provide only 4%, equivalent to 1% of GDP.  However, Kenya needs much more to achieve Vision 2030 which seeks to transform the economy from low to middle income status.  There are still large gaps between Kenya’s resources and its investment needs.  In the medium term, these activities will continue to be financed by the Government in partnership with the private sector and development partners.

Thus, the Bank’s strategy, as updated in March 2007 for the period to June 2008, is to support Kenya’s strategic priorities by investing in areas that will stimulate private and social entrepreneurship, accelerate economic growth, increase people’s access to economic opportunities, and improve governance.  These priority areas are at the crux of our partnership with the Government and people of Kenya.  Beyond June 2008, we expect to provide similar support but within the unified framework of the Joint Kenya Assistance Strategy which will be launched by all of Kenya’s major multilateral and bilateral development partners. 

Q. To what extent will a World Bank Country Director appear fair to the Government and the civil society especially when their governance priorities and structures seem parallel to each other? 

A. I believe that the Country Director’s fairness should be judged against two criteria.  The first is somewhat philosophical.  My experience in Kenya so far has reinforced my long-held belief that legitimacy and respect in one’s professional life are earned through patient and consistent personal conduct that is based on the highest principles of integrity.  There is also no evidence to suggest that any single stakeholder group is inherently more fair than the other. That applies to civil society, the government, and the World Bank.  Thus, none of us should be viewed as ‘fair’ simply because of our organizational affiliation.  We have to earn that designation through our public and private conduct.  

The second criterion is more bureaucratic and structural.  The terms of our engagement in Kenya are clearly laid out in public documents that are prepared in a consultative and transparent manner.  On the Bank’s side, the document is the Country Assistance Strategy (CAS). Ours was updated in March 2007 after consultations with the Government of Kenya and other Kenyan stakeholders including civil society.  The CAS in turn supports the priorities of Kenya as outlined in the Economic Recovery Strategy (ERS) for Wealth and Employment Creation.  The Country Director’s fairness should be judged based on his effectiveness in implementing the CAS. 

Q. What makes you such a successful manager of hundreds of staff in Comoros, Eritrea, Kenya, Seychelles and Somalia?

A. I’m a bit tickled by the premise of the question but the answer probably lies in what I read on Friday, 20th July 2007 when I received my annual performance report: as a manager Colin is ‘transparent, firm and compassionate.’  So there you have the answer from my superiors, peers and subordinates, all of whom routinely contribute to the performance assessment of managers.  However, you cannot measure success only in terms of what people think of you.  There has to be measurable results in terms of helping staff realize their professional aspirations and even more importantly, helping clients, in governments and society as a whole, realize practical developments goals such as better schools, health services, roads, jobs and so on.

Q. What is the opportunity cost of your current job? What do you think you are missing by being at the World Bank? Any personal mentor for you and why? 

A. In my current job finding time for all that I would like to do is quite a challenge, and is further compounded by frequent international travel.  For example, so far in 2007 I have traveled on official business to Washington, DC six times (that’s where the World Bank is headquartered) and made additional official trips to France, Japan, Netherlands, Seychelles, South Africa, Switzerland, Tanzania, and the UK.  In truth, throughout my career at the World Bank, a challenge has been to find more time for hobbies like playing the piano, leisure reading and going to the gym, and for extra-curricular activities with youth groups at churches that my family and I attend.

Most important of all, I am a husband to a wonderful lady who has had a very demanding professional life, and a father to a daughter and a son whose company I also enjoy and treasure tremendously.  In addition, my sister and I live on different continents thousands of miles away from my mother.  She is 87 years old and has now outlived our father by 9 years.  Thankfully, she is in good health and has been able to visit us in Kenya.  But she is back in Guyana and deserves our continued attention. I must admit though that my personality life is such that if I were not at the World Bank, I would probably still face similar challenges because of my tendency toward intensity in whatever I do. In general, I admire greatly people who seem to be able to find the right balance between professional and personal commitments. 

Q. If you were allowed to rate Kenya's urgent needs, what would they be? 

A. Kenya has great potential for development because of its human and natural resources, and its dynamic private sector.  To realize this potential, it must make faster progress in governance and anticorruption, and in addressing deficiencies in infrastructure.  This requires concerted efforts by Kenyans in all walks of life including the Executive branch of Government, Parliament and the Judiciary, the private sector, professional bodies, faith-based groups and civil society.  There are excellent opportunities to build on the large body of ongoing work in all these areas, and to reap huge returns in the form of direct foreign investment which to date, is still falling short of expectations and Kenya’s potential.  Internal insecurity is a serious constraint as well.  It needs to be addressed with candor and resolve, and through more comprehensive measures that target the root causes.  We in the World Bank Group stand ready to work with Kenya in all these areas.

Q. Finally, your advice to the youth who intend to hold such a position as yours. 

A. Take pride in doing ‘small’ tasks with excellence and you will earn the privilege of taking on greater responsibilities.  

First published in The KARA weekly Newspaper issue 130

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