Promoting private sector development in Tanzania: Don't ask the firms what they want!

From AfricaCan End Poverty Fri Jan 4 2013, 15:25:32

If you are raising your children by focusing on giving them what they want, don't read this blog. Today most governments want to help the firms operating in their country. But because this task is a complex one, their strategy has been to ask businessmen directly. In Tanzania, almost every week, there is a new survey reporting firms' concerns or wishes. If this has proved useful to understand better the entrepreneurs' motivation, in my view it may have led to some misguided policy actions, at least in the formulation of priorities, by the authorities.

Allow me to illustrate. According to the entrepreneurs operating In Tanzania, electricity is their major constraint (85 per cent) followed by access to finance (52 per cent), taxes (37 per cent), and administrative red tape (25 per cent). Source: World Bank. Investment Climate Assessment, 2009. Surprisingly, labor and transports costs are only at the bottom of their concerns (less than 10 per cent). According to this ranking, the priority should be therefore given to reducing electricity costs, increasing access to finance and reducing taxation.

A closer look at the firms' financial balance sheets provides a different picture. In reality, electricity counts for a marginal share of firms' operating costs in Tanzania (see Figure). For example, it is equivalent to only 3 per cent for a standard firm operating in the apparel sector. In other words, a decline, say, of 50 per cent in electricity prices would only reduce its costs by 1.5 per cent - hardly a high number for such a big effort. By contrast, transport and labor costs are equivalent to 41 per cent and 38 per cent of its total operating costs. This means that reducing transport costs by only 4 per cent would achieve the same gains for the enterprise than cutting by half its energy costs.

Operating Costs of Tanzanian firms

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