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Is Doing Business Really Dead?

The World Bank’s recent decision to stop publishing its annual Doing Business report is an understandable initial reaction to revelations of data manipulation in favor of certain countries. But the Bank should use this interruption to develop a better report, rather than ending it for good.

ITHACA – Recent days have brought me a storm of emails and calls about the collapse of the World Bank’s most widely watched annual report, Doing Business (DB), which ranks countries by how easily and efficiently small businesses can operate in them. On September 16, the bank announced that it would discontinue the report after an independent investigation by the law firm WilmerHale revealed the Bank’s sordid efforts, starting in 2017 (I left the Bank in 2016, I hasten to add), to manipulate data in order to improve China and Saudi Arabia’s DB rankings. The Bank had suspended publication of the index last year, owing to “irregularities” in its data.

As the head of the World Bank division that produced DB from 2012 to 2016, I found the WilmerHale report disturbing to read. Yes, countries have always lobbied and jostled to improve their rankings. But I never gave in to any of that pressure. Nor, to the best of my knowledge, did any of my predecessors.

It was deeply disappointing to read about how this subsequently changed and what happened inside the Bank, including accounts of junior staff being “publicly threatened” and feeling “powerless to object to carrying out the data improprieties being requested by senior bank management.” This is the kind of behavior one expects under an authoritarian government, not at a premier Bretton Woods institution.

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