POLICY PROPOSAL: INCREASING ACCESS TO MICROFINANCE FOR DISABLED WOMEN IN KENYA

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by Gabriella Fleischmann
Contributing Writer

A policy proposal directed towards Mrs. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of the United Nations Women Africa

Executive Summary

I propose that the UN Women Africa make a partnership with the Kenya Women Microfinance Bank (KWFT) to ensure that their services are extended to disabled women in Kenya. Targeted efforts need to be made to reach and educate disabled women about how to access and successfully use microfinance. Disabled women are particularly vulnerable, and have less economic security than non-disabled women. While there has been an emphasis on using microfinance as a tool to empower women, disabled people have been left out of the promise of microfinance to uplift disadvantaged groups. The UN Women Africa should partner with microfinance institutions that serve women, beginning with the KWFT as a flagship program, to implement the following policies: (i) incentivizing the KWFT to hire qualified disabled women as credit officers, (ii) ensuring that the KWFT provide disability-friendly materials and services, (iii) partnering with disabled women in the community to provide leadership training and to understand the needs of disabled women, and (iv) outreach to disabled women to help them understand how they can take advantage of microfinance.

Statement of Issue/Problem

Microfinance is a type of banking in which small amounts of money are made available, often in the form of low-interest loans, to poor people and businesses who usually would be denied credit. Microfinance has been identified as a possible mechanism for poverty alleviation in Kenya by allowing recipients to participate in the economy, smooth income and consumption shocks, and grow businesses (Kiiru, 2007). Making microfinance available for disadvantaged groups has increased the opportunities for disadvantaged people to participate in the economy (Ibid). Many MFIs have directed their efforts and services towards women in particular, including the Kenya Women’s Microfinance Bank (KWFT). However, disabled people are still largely excluded from microfinance, due largely to discrimination by MFIs or self-exclusion due to low self-esteem (Mersland and Martinelli, 2010). The heightened vulnerability of disabled women, and their continued exclusion from markets, has received very little attention from women’s organizations. Nowhere on the websites of UN Women Africa or the KWFT are disabled women acknowledged. Many microfinance institutions seek to empower women, but need to recognize that disabled women are further disadvantaged compared to non-disabled women. It will take a concerted effort to help integrate disabled women into the economy.

Microfinance institutions have made a pointed effort to extend their services to women for several reasons. Women often are excluded from market participation, and thus giving them credit through microlending gives them an opportunity to participate in the economy and in some cases “increases their bargaining power in the household” (Vonderlack and Schreiner, 2002). This is both beneficial from a social justice standpoint and an economic standpoint. Secondly, women are more likely to invest loans in household and family consumption, such as food, health and education, and have better rates of loan repayment (Sooryamoorthy, 2005; Brana, 2013).

While microfinance in Kenya has made efforts to include other disadvantaged groups that often are “excluded from the traditional banking system,” such as the poorest people and rural-dwellers, it has done little for disabled people (Brana, 2013; “The Link Between”). Labie et al. (2015) found that disabled people were more likely to be discriminated against by MFIs. Many may argue that disabled people are less capable than non-disabled people and thus are unable to pay back loans and are not worth the risk (Martinelli and Mersland, 2010). However, there is evidence that disabled people are able to leverage microfinance successfully, save regularly, and overcome obstacles to running their businesses in creative ways (Bwire, Mukasa and Mersland, 2009; Martinelli and Mersland, 2010; Lewis, 2004).

It is imperative that women’s organizations recognize the heightened discrimination and vulnerability that disabled women face. A United Nations document on the link between poverty, gender and disability proposes microfinance as a possible method of integrating disabled women into the economy. Bwire, Mukasa and Mersland (2009) found that influencing MFIs to work with disabled people required individualized partnership, and disabled people often were misinformed about MFIs. Thus, in order to successfully reach out to disabled women in Kenya, the United Nations Women Africa should partner with the KWFT to promote outreach and education as well as eliminate discriminatory practices. While limited access to microfinance for disabled women is an issue in Africa in general, partnering with the KWFT in Kenya can serve as a valuable flagship program.

Origin/History of the Problem and Current Context

Disabled women are multiply disadvantaged, experiencing discrimination for both their gender and disability. Compared with disabled men, they experience higher rates of unemployment and less access to services such as education and rehabilitation (Parnes et. al, 2009). Compared with non-disabled women, they are less likely to get married or receive inheritance (Ibid.). Disabled girls are the most likely to be abandoned by their families, the last to get family resources, and last to be employed (Lewis, 2004). However, both the United Nations Women Africa and the KWFT currently do not have an agenda for reaching and empowering disabled women.

Martinelli and Mersland (2010) define microfinance as “the supply of financial service to micro-enterprises and poor families” (218). This can take the form of microcredit (or small loans) as well as savings, insurance, and other services (Ibid.). Many MFIs are convinced of the potential of microfinance to empower women, rural-dwellers, and other disadvantaged groups, and have a socially benevolent mission. The KWFT website claims that the bank’s mission is the “empower” and “uphold the dignity” of women (“Kenya Women”). The Kenyan government has even acknowledged the potential of microfinance to uplift disadvantaged groups, first providing credit to a struggling agricultural sector, and then broadening to provide credit to “individuals involved in both small and micro- enterprises like handcrafts and home based business” (Kiiru (2007), 2). However, disabled people have largely been left out of microfinance, due both to self-exclusion (disabled people are less likely to seek microfinance services) and exclusion from communities and institutions (Martinelli and Mersland, 2010).

Lewis (2004) asserts that “[microfinance lenders] assume that, by virtue of their disability, women with disabilities are not appropriate for microcredit or business services, or that they are adequately and better served by rehabilitation programmes and charities” (31). Martinelli and Mersland (2010) further that many MFIs argue that lending to disabled people is too great a risk. Many of the women in Zambia and Zimbabwe whom Lewis (2004) studied reported being denied loans, oftentimes “explicitly on the basis of disability” (34). One woman reported being told that “[a disabled woman] is always a beggar” when she applied for a loan (33). While there has been less research in Kenya about disability-based discrimination in microfinance specifically, there is evidence of disability-based discrimination generally in society in Kenya. In a study of disabled people in Kenya, 86% reported unequal treatment, oftentimes even exploitation from family members, and “80% claimed having experienced segregation, isolation and lack of support for their needs on the grounds of disability” (Parnes et. al (2009), 1177-1178). Thus, it is likely that disability-based discrimination extends to microfinance in Kenya.

The primary stakeholders in expanding access to microfinance for disabled women are the MFIs that will expand their services and the disabled women who will be offered microfinance. Disabled women benefit by being included in the local economy and gaining access to markets. For MFIs, there may be costs associated with expanding their services to disabled women, including translating materials into braille, hiring interpreters, hiring more disabled women, and spending  time and resources finding potential clients whom may be less likely to come to the MFI themselves. Even though disabled women may represent an untapped potential market of capable entrepreneurs, MFIs may not see the benefits as being worth all of the associated costs.

Critique of Policy Options

There have been limited attempts to target disabled women through microfinance. There have been several attempts to use microfinance to target disabled people in general, but this has been largely unsuccessful or unsustainable. Alternate policy options include: partnering with non-profit organizations and disability-focused groups rather than MFIs, and using wage incentives and training to encourage credit officers not to discriminate on the basis of disability. However, both of these policy options are flawed.

Partnering with non-profit or disability-focused organizations makes sense in theory, as helping disabled women is explicitly in line with the goals of these organizations (rather than maximizing profits, the ultimate goal of most MFIs) and thus they may be more receptive or fully invested. Martinelli and Mersland (2010) claim that these attempts were unsuccessful, in fact, because they were carried out by non-profits and disability- focused groups rather than MFIs. These groups had limited understanding of microfinance and could not afford to provide more than one loan; oftentimes the first loan is not enough for an individual to see a marked change in her life (Ibid.). Martinelli and Mersland (2010) argue that the necessary conditions for a disabled person to successfully use microfinance are no different than those for a non-disabled person: a good MFI and sufficient willingness and capacity to repay on the recipient’s part. With full information and no discriminatory biases, a good MFI should be have no reason to turn away a disabled woman who is a good candidate for microfinance, and the disabled woman should not need anything from the MFI that a non-profit or disability-focused organization would provide. Thus, the emphasis should be on eliminating biases from the side of the MFI, and finding and attracting good candidates for microfinance amongst disabled women.

In a study of MFIs in Uganda, Labie et. al (2015) find that credit officers are the most likely staff members to agree that the MFI discriminates based on disability, controlling for belief about the credit risk of a disabled person. Given that credit officers grant loans at their own discretion, Labie et. al conclude that credit officers may be “a key channel through which discrimination may operate” (4). However, they note that even a socially benevolent MFI may not wish to use wages to incentivize credit officers not to discriminate, because the more that is spent on officers’ wages, the less that is available for loans to help the poor. “Aiming for optimal mission fulfillment may drive the MFI to tolerate some discrimination,” and so wage incentives for credit officers may not be an optimal solution (Ibid., 10). Martinelli and Mersland (2010) argue for better training of employees, but this is also costly and could result in continued discrimination for the same reason. Thus, it is likely that investing in employee training or incentivizing client officers not to discriminate through wages would not be cost-effective.

Policy Recommendation

The United Nations Women Africa should partner with the Kenya Women Microfinance Bank to help it extend its services to disabled women in Kenya. If the program is successful, the UN Women Africa should replicate the program with other MFIs, as the problem is widespread. The KWFT is appropriate for a flagship partnership because it is an MFI that has been successful in reducing gender-based discrimination in a country where disability-based discrimination is still a persistent problem (“Kenya Women”; Parnes et. al, 2009). The KWFT is the only bank in Africa specifically for women, and claims 800,000 clients (“Kenya Women”). The KWFT has the institutional knowledge, expertise, and security to implement a program to target disabled women. Furthermore, it understands the needs and special considerations of women that other MFIs may not be as sensitive to. Success can be measured by the number of disabled women who are granted microfinance relative to the current level, their ability to repay loans, and differences in these women’s livelihoods following receipt of microfinance.

Policies need to be in place to ensure that women are not discriminated against on the basis of their disability, and there needs to be better outreach to disabled women so that they know how to take advantage of microfinance. I propose: (i) incentivizing MFIs to hire qualified disabled women as credit officers, (ii) ensuring that MFIs provide disability-friendly materials and services, (iii) partnering with disabled women in the community for leadership training and to understand the needs of disabled women, and (iv) outreach to disabled women to help them understand how they can take advantage of microfinance.

It may be difficult for an MFI to incentivize its credit officers not to discriminate against disabled women if they are biased against disabled women. Thus, hiring qualified disabled women as credit officers may be the most effective method to eliminate discrimination. Most MFIs have less than one percent disabled clients, and many disabled people have reported being denied microfinance on the basis of disability (Martinelli and Mersland, 2010; Lewis, 2004). Ten percent of the world population is disabled, and they are disproportionately in developing countries (Labie et. al, 2015). One in five of those who live on less than one dollar a day are disabled, and Labie et. al (2015) claim that “the low incidence of disabilities among MFIs’ customers cannot be explained by higher credit risk only” (6). As mentioned previously, wage incentives or training for credit officers may not sufficiently eliminate discrimination. D’Espallier et. al (2009) found that female credit officers were more likely to grant loans to other females, and Labie et. al (2015) recommends the same model for overcoming discrimination on the basis of disability: hiring disabled credit officers. As disabled men may have biases against disabled women on the basis on gender, it is imperative to hire disabled women specifically.

However, this model is based on the assumption that MFIs are socially benevolent. Discrimination against disabled women may be happening because MFIs are profit-maximizing and believe that disabled women are too high risk. It is important that MFIs understand that disabled women represent an untapped market, not just a social responsibility. According to Martinelli and Mersland (2010), disabled people should be presented “as resourceful entrepreneurs” rather than as “needy” (240). Lewis (2004) studied disabled women in Zambia and Zimbabwe who were granted loans, and found that they were able to overcome additional difficulties imposed on them by their disabilities in order to repay their loans and grow their businesses. Some of these mechanisms included working from home, forming business collectives in order to pool resources and skills, and rely on family members or hired assistants for services such as transportation. Martinelli and Mersland (2010) found that, in a survey on 841 disabled Ugandan business owners, 74% saved regularly and had a month’s income worth of cash on hand, in contrast to the idea of disabled people as beggars. Profit-seeking MFIs need to be made aware of these facts in order to view disabled women as a potential source of income.

MFIs may unintentionally exclude disabled people by not providing information and services that are accessible to disabled people. Lewis (2004) argues that MFIs should reach out to women with disabilities, particularly leaders of organizations, both to understand their needs and to offer information and services. Simple disability-friendly interventions include making information available in braille and through interpreters, holding meetings in accessible locations with ramps or on first floors, or making low technology adaptations of materials (Ibid.).

MFIs need to make efforts to help disabled women overcome their own self-exclusion. While exogenous discrimination is a serious reason for exclusion of disabled people, many disabled people will not seek out microfinance services in the first place due to low self-esteem. They are often the last to receive services from an early age and “have little chance to develop the confidence and assertiveness required to succeed as a borrower and businesswoman” (Lewis (2004), 32). Thus, it is important to recognize that expanding microfinance services to disabled women may require demand-side interventions – such as making disabled women aware of microfinance opportunities and helping them most effectively leverage them – in addition to supply-side interventions.

Very few disabled women even apply for microfinance because they are unaware of the services or because they do not believe their applications will be accepted. Lewis (2004) advocates for partnerships between MFIs and disabled women in order to provide training, mentorship, and support for disabled women in leadership and capacity-building. By understanding the needs of disabled women and helping them attain positions within organizations, MFIs can better serve disabled women and provide them what they need to effectively use microfinance.

Conclusion

Disabled women are a part of two groups that are frequently discriminated against, but each group is served by different organizations and interests. Rather than being uplifted by microfinance with non-disabled women, they have remained untouched by it with disabled people in general. While women’s groups have acknowledged the multiple disadvantage of the poorest and rural-dwelling women, they have not extended the same understanding towards disabled women. As with other particularly disadvantaged women, special consideration needs to be made for disabled women to ensure that they are able to access services. Extending microfinance to disabled women may have immediate positive impacts by providing these women credit to grow their businesses, and it may also have long-term impacts on the social expectations of disabled women. MFIs are in a unique position to boost the confidence of disabled women: “being trusted by a credit company… can totally change a person’s self-respect. For many disabled persons this is of absolute importance” (Martinelli and Mersland 2010, 237). Implementing the proposed policies through a partnership with the KWFT will be an effective way to increase access to microfinance and uplift disabled women in Kenya.

 

References:

Brana, S. “Microcredit: an Answer to the Gender Problem in Funding?”Small Business Economics, vol. 40, no. 1, 2013, pp. 87–100.JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/23360591.

Bwire, Flavia Nakabuye, George Mukasa, and Roy Mersland. “Access to Mainstream Microfinance Services for Persons with Disabilities – Lessons Learned from Uganda.” Disability Studies Quarterly 29.1 (2009): n. pag. Web. 20 Apr. 2017.

d’Espallier, B., I. Guérin, and R. Mersland (2009), “Women and Repayment in Microfinance”, RUME Working paper 2009-2.

“Kenya Women Microfinance Bank – Our Story.” Kenya Women Microfinance Bank – Banking on Women. Kenya Women Microfinance Bank, 2017. Web. 31 May 2017.

Kiiru, Joy M. “Microfinance, entrepreneurship and rural development: Empirical evidence from Makueni district, Kenya.” Global Poverty Research Group (GPRG) Conference: Oxford University, UK March 18th. Vol. 2007. 2007.

Labie, Marc, Pierre-Guillaume Meon, Roy Mersland, and Ariane Szafarz. “Discrimination by Microcredit Officers: Theory and Evidence on Disability in Uganda.” The Quarterly Review of Economics and Finance 58 (2015): 44-55. Web. 20 Apr. 2017.

Lewis, Cindy. “Microfinance from the Point of View of Women with Disabilities: Lessons from Zambia and Zimbabwe.” Gender and Development 12.1 (2004): 28-39. Web. 20 Apr. 2017.

“The Link Between Poverty, Gender and Disabilities.” United Nations. Web. <http://www.un.org/disabilities/documents/workshops/link-poverty-gender-disability.pdf>.

Martinelli, E. “Microfinance for People with Disabilities.” Poverty and Disability. Ed. R. Mersland. London: Leonard Cheshire Disability, 2010. 215-59. Print.

Parnes, Penny, Debra Cameron, Nancy Christie, Lynn Cockburn, Goli Hashemi, and Karen Yoshida. “Disability in Low-income Countries: Issues and Implications.” Disability and Rehabilitation 31.14 (2009): 1170-180. Web.

Rebecca M. Vonderlack, and Mark Schreiner. “Women, Microfinance, and Savings: Lessons and Proposals.” Development in Practice, vol. 12, no. 5, 2002, pp. 602–612. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/4029405.

Sooryamoorthy, R. “Microfinance and Women in Kerala: Is Marital Status a Determinant in Savings and Credit-Use?” Sociological Bulletin, vol. 54, no. 1, 2005, pp. 59–76. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/23620585.

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BRAZIL’S PETROBRAS SCANDAL: A CASE STUDY OF EXTRACTIVE ECONOMICS

By Evan Carlo
Staff Writer

Once hailed as “an extraordinary triumph for Brazil’s achievement,” the Brazilian energy giant Petrobras is now caught in a corruption scandal that could lead to the very top of the country’s political establishment. For months corruption investigators have dug into Petrobras’ records and discovered illegally diverted funds going out of the company and into the pockets of politicians and party activists. Given that the Brazilian government owns 51 percent of the company’s stock, Petrobras essentially operates as a state-owned enterprise. The government uses Petrobras’ revenue and profits to aid in the country’s social development by requiring the company to invest part of its business in local development. Because of this, many Brazilian citizens are angry over the fact that public funds are being used to enrich the political and economic elite.

The scandal kicked off when authorities arrested Paulo Roberto Costa, Petrobras’ chief of refining from 2004 to 2012, in March of last year on money laundering charges. He confessed that construction companies in his division won contracts by diverting over $3.7 billion dollars to slush funds for politicians, making this the largest corruption scandal in Brazil’s history. His testimony led the indiction of over 30 people, many of whom were members of the ruling Worker’s Party. Recently, the scandal reached new heights with the April 14 arrest of the party’s treasurer Joao Vaccari. Authorities charged him with handling $200 million of funds that were obtained from engineering and construction firms that over-charged Petrobras for their services and used their inflated profits to bribe the company and political officials to accept these contracts.

Given President Dilma Rousseff’s status as head of the Worker’s Party and her former role chairing Petrobras’ board of directors during its years under investigation, she has become increasingly connected to the scandal. President Rousseff has repeatedly denied involvement but that has not stopped calls for her impeachment and declines in her approval ratings. Politically this scandal may bring down her presidency and cost the Worker’s Party and its coalition many seats. But a new ruling coalition will unlikely change the political and economic structure that allowed and incentivized corruption.

This is a problem that we see time and time again in developing countries that operate under an extractive economic system. Political economists Daren Acemoglu and James Robinson extensively developed the idea of extractive economies. An economy is extractive when the ruling political elite exploits whatever economic rents they can from their existing economy to maintain their hold on to their power. This contrasts with an inclusive economic system that diversifies the economy and promotes inclusive growth from other sectors. In an inclusive economy, corruption is less widespread since the rule of law and property rights are strongly enforced. Policy examples of extractive economics include: monopolizing industries, excluding entry into the market, using political power to give an advantage to favored industries over new startups, corruption, the alignment of private and public interests, and more. The point of an extractive economic system is to keep political and economic elites in power and extract excess rents from the population. This system is easier to establish in commodity-based economies that focus mainly on extracting and exporting a basic commodity, which is exactly what is happening in the case of Petrobras.

Now it is a little unfair to call Brazil an extractive economy. Brazil, unlike say Russia or Kuwait, does not fully depend on the petroleum industry for its economic survival. Even in the areas of corruption and the rule of law, Brazil ranks higher than many Latin American countries on The World Bank’s Governance Indicators. Since the democratization of Brazil in the 1970s, the Worker’s Party has tried to develop an inclusive political and economic system to reduce inequality and oligarchy. While conditions in Brazil have improved since the 1970s, Brazil problems with income inequality and corruption persist.

The scandal with Petrobras demonstrates that aspects of the Brazilian economy still operate under an extractive system. Petrobras controls enough of the economy and suffers from enough corruption and inefficiencies to pose an economic threat. Economist Samuel Pessoa estimated that Petrobras and its various subcontractors are responsible for a tenth of Brazil’s economic output. Another study by the FGV Business School predicts that the scandal will cause Petrobras and its subcontractors to decrease spending and investment by $30 billion. The world economy is already beginning to slow down due to slower growth in East Asian and European countries. This poses a severe risk to Brazil, which operates mainly as a commodity exports economy. A slowdown in the petroleum industry combined with exogenous shocks can throw Brazil into a recession.

Even when Petrobras and the Worker’s Party try to pursue inclusive policies by using Petrobras to develop impoverished regions, it is executed in a way that makes Petrobras inefficient. Petrobras has a domestic content requirement to contract a certain percent of the goods and services from local businesses. This prevents Petrobras from contracting more experienced and efficient international companies, raising the cost of business. In addition, the government subsidizes fuel consumption through Petrobras by keeping prices artificially low. These two effects keep costs too high and prices too low for Petrobras to remain profitable. Therefore Petrobras is unable to finance its operations and expand its business without going into debt. Petrobras is now one of the most in debt businesses in the world because of how the government crafts their business strategy. The culmination of these policies turned one of the most promising companies in the world to an economic basket case.

The Brazilian government needs to loosen control over Petrobras and allow it to operate more as a private business. The Worker’s Party can create inclusive economic policies through the government and public policy instead of through a state-owned business. These policies not only make Petrobras inefficient but also incentivize corruption. If Petrobras operates more as a private business there will be a disincentive to accept inflated contracts in exchange for bribes since it must make a profit. Having the government divest more from Petrobras will keep the government out of the decision-making process at Petrobras, preventing private and public interests from aligning.

By allowing more competition in the bidding for Petrobras contracts, the Worker’s Party can fight corruption while still developing a more inclusive economic system. If they don’t reform Petrobras, corruption will continue and the emerging economy will suffer for it. The high debt and economic inefficiencies of Petrobras are preventing it from fully exploiting Brazil’s promising off-shore oil reserves that are estimated to hold 50 billion barrels of oil. With the scandal forcing Petrobras to cut back on investment spending, the company is unable to procure the equipment and skilled labor necessary to develop these oil sources. Because Petrobras is a large part of the economy, if it doesn’t recover quickly from the scandal it can weigh down Brazil’s already weak economic growth. Without these reforms, Brazil’s economy will stagnate for the foreseeable years to come.

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ONE BANK HAS TORN THE WORLD IN TWO


By Kristopher Klein
Staff Writer 

There is a new institution on the financial landscape. It includes five G7 member states and 26 regional member states and carries an endowment just under $100 billion. But there is one big issue that’s causing a stir—the United States refuses to participate even as its closest allies rush to join.

The rise of the China-backed Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) has fed the ‘American decline’ narrative popular among many news outlets. In the past weeks several notable American allies have agreed to join the bank. On March 12, the United Kingdom became the first US ally to announce that it would join the AIIB after originally deciding against membership. Several European countries, including Germany, France and Italy quickly followed. Two weeks later on March 26, South Korea announced that it too would join the AIIB. After three days, Australia and the Netherlands completed the humiliation. In light of these defections, the media remains transfixed to the unyielding opposition of the United States and its increasingly ‘isolated’ stance. When China first unveiled the AIIB, the United States used diplomatic pressure to prevent its allies from signing on to the new bank. However, those efforts failed in recent weeks after China agreed to scrap its veto power over the bank’s decision-making process in order to attract American allies. Despite the criticism directed towards the Obama administration, the strategy employed by the United States is not one of isolationism, nor has the United States been isolated. The United States is refusing to join the AIIB until China has solidified a system of decision-making that guarantees its actions are apolitical and responsible toward sustainable development.

The United States expressed great dissatisfaction when the United Kingdom joined the bank as its first Western member. According to a senior Obama administration official the United States remains “wary about a trend of constant accommodation of China, which is not the best way to engage a rising power.” The United States is concerned, and reasonably so, that the new bank will serve as a tool for the People’s Republic of China to challenge the established international system and the norms that exist within it.

America Is Not Being Isolated, It’s Being Wise.

China has a history of making loans to regimes that refuse to make the reforms necessary to secure a loan from traditional institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank or Asian Development Bank. In the decade from 1998 to 2008, during the worst of the genocide in Darfur, China gave the Sudanese government $1 billion in low or no interest ‘concessional’ loans. In 2004 shortly after Iran announced it would resume uranium enrichment, China agreed to invest $70 billion to develop Iran’s oil fields and to buy the oil they would produce over the next 30 years. Lending habits that place China on the side of abusive and reform-averse regimes have fueled concerns that the AIIB will not uphold existing international requirements to secure loans. In a statement to the UK’s Guardian newspaper, the National Security Council expressed concerns “about whether the AIIB will meet these high standards, particularly related to governance, and environmental and social safeguards.”

In spite of withering criticism, the United State’s decision to withhold support for the AIIB has its merits. It would be unwise for the United States to back an institution that allows China to wield outsized influence over decision-making, particularly when that decision-making could lead to politically, economically and environmentally irresponsible investments. The agreement by Chinese officials to forgo veto power was a step in the right direction. However, more concessions can yet be gained.

Allegations of a hidden Chinese agenda

Concerns that the AIIB will be used to further China’s political agenda were raised last week when China demanded that Taiwan only be admitted to the bank’s membership if it applied with an ‘appropriate’ name. Taiwan, referred to by China as “Taipei, China” and officially known as the Republic of China (ROC), has been in a near constant state of conflict with the mainland since 1949, when defeated Nationalist Chinese forces led by Chiang Kai-shek fled to the island following the Communist Party’s rise to power and the establishment of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The use of Taiwan’s AIIB membership as a chance to bring up the issue of its sovereignty is not only incredibly dark, but indicative of China’s intentions to use its influence in the AIIB to pursue its own political agendas.

Furthermore, Beijing’s maneuvering of its own bank’s role as an alternative to the IMF, World Bank, and the ADB have led to concerns that contracts funded by AIIB investments might favor firms that support Chinese political positions. China must provide credible assurances, that it will not use the AIIB as a tool of its own power before the institution can be considered politically kosher around the globe.

Suggestions have been made to pressure China to address concerns that its new bank will be used as a political tool, but thus far, China has not acted to assuage such concerns. South Korea recommended moving the bank’s headquarters to Seoul in order to alleviate concerns over China’s political intentions. However, China insisted that the headquarters remain in Beijing. South Korea did not attend the signing of the original document laying out plans for the creation of the bank.

All the scrutiny focused on the rise of the AIIB places substantial pressure on China to facilitate a system that dispels these concerns. It is imperative for the survival of the AIIB that China establishes fair guidelines for the bank. If voting structure and day-to-day operations of the bank are seen as being skewed or unfair, all of the progress China has made toward establishing its own alternative institution will be done in vain.

What The United States Should Do

If the United States truly wants the AIIB to adopt standards used by existing international institutions, it must first show China that it is willing to be fair with rules and procedures. In 2010 the IMF proposed changes to its voting structure that would increase the voting power of developing countries by 2.6 percent and redistribute voting power among developing and developed countries from over-represented countries to under-represented countries. Among the countries to gain the most voting share from these reforms are China and India. Though this set of IMF reforms has received backing from the Obama administration, it has not been implemented due to resistance from the U.S. Congress, which must ratify any change in the US’s voting quota. If Congress were to ratify IMF reforms, it could turn the current narrative to focus on the structure of the AIIB and place additional pressure on China to endorse both equitable voting power and stricter standards for lending in the new bank.

The focus of the United States should not be on the maintenance of its own voting power alone, it should be on the improvement of lending standards that it helped create to bring greater efficiency and reform progress to the international financial system. In order for the current regime of international standards to survive, the United States must show a willingness to allow its role within that structure to evolve. The perfect way of sending that message would be to ratify IMF reforms, while continuing to pressure China into accepting existing norms. Until the AIIB can prove itself to be impartial and responsible, the United States should limit its interactions with the institution.