Beware the Armenian Guillotine!

When I first heard about this project I conjured up images of the French Revolution, ‘heads rolls down the hill’, of villains and conspirators of the empire and riots and bloody scenes in the streets! But I am in Yerevan, Armenia and this is about the Armenian Guillotine project. This summer, the United Nations Resident Coordinator asked me to meet with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) representatives, who were kind enough to explain to me the essence of the Guillotine!

So what is behind the name and what is the objective of the project? Colleagues at OSCE told me that an American entrepreneur (obviously with a sense of humour), and a former executive at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) regulatory affairs division – designed and developed a methodology and approach to revise, cut, and streamline all unnecessary and useless regulations to help countries create a friendlier environment for national and international business investors.

His idea was to get rid of the refuse that clogs the free market pipes. And yes… you guessed right, the methodology is called the Guillotine!

I was told that his approach has been tested in dozens of countries including:  South Korea, Mexico, Kenya, Serbia, and Montenegro to name a few (See: Effective and Sustainable Regulatory Reform: The Regulatory Guillotine in Three Transition and Developing Countries (pdf)). Croatia received recognition for its successful Guillotine project, which helped entrepreneurs in the country save an estimated $300 million per year in administrative costs alone.

Now cutting red tape is a good thing but how do we go about it? In the case of OSCE, they were cognizant that no organization can undertake this regulatory reform initiative alone. So kudos to them for securing the support of the President of Armenia as well as the Prime Minister.

Then they got the support of the wider Armenian bureaucracy in ministries of finance and economy to agree on the purpose and outcome of the initiative. As for international partners, they have invited the usual suspects to participate. After months of negotiations and discussions the World Bank, USAID, the European Union (EU) and UNDP are all on board. Most have signed up – and have taken responsibility for a specific deliverable(s) of the project.

Through the Guillotine, OSCE and partners are planning to cut 25,000 regulations that are impacting or slowing economic growth – to a manageable size by end of 2012. They will establish a team of local and international experts to put all the regulations through a review and streamlining process.

What is UNDP’s contribution to the project? Here’s where I think we can help:
1. Lead the public outreach and the social media use of the project – to inform and engage citizens, including civil society organization and NGOs, and business groups;
2. Conduct extensive gender-based analysis of all regulations reviewed; and
3. Support the development of capacities of the working teams to ensure that knowledge is institutionalized – in all aspects of the project.

This is a multimillion dollar initiative, spread over 18 months, supported by bilateral and multilateral donors. UNDP’s contribution is modest but, I like to think, strategic.

Of course I had to ask… why the name Guillotine? After a few chuckles, OSCE colleagues explained that such a catchy title is a conversation piece and gets people talking about cutting regulatory red tape. I have to confess, I was a bit skeptical but I realized that I started using the term more and more in my own work. So perhaps there’s something to the idea of renaming development projects (which often come with their unintelligible acronyms!) with more attention grabbing titles that help generate a conversation.

I would have never thought I would utter these words, but here we go: my colleagues in Armenia and I are lined up to support the Guillotine.

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