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What matters to African firms ? the relevance of perceptions data


  • Gelb, Alan
  • Ramachandran, Vijaya
  • Shah, Manju Kedia
  • Turner, Ginger


Can perceptions data help us understand investment climate constraints facing the private sector? Or do firms simply complain about everything? In this paper, the authors provide a picture of how firms'views on constraints differ across countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Using the World Bank's Enterprise Surveys database, they find that reported constraints reflect country characteristics and vary systematically by level of income-the most elemental constraints to doing business (power, access to finance, ability to plan ahead) appear to be most binding at low levels of income. As countries develop and these elemental constraints are relaxed, governance-related constraints become more problematic. As countries move further up the income scale and the state becomes more capable, labor regulation is perceived to be more of a problem-business is just one among several important constituencies. The authors also consider whether firm-level characteristics-such as size, ownership, exporter status, and firms'own experience-affect firms'views on the severity of constraints. They find that, net of country and sector fixed effects and firm characteristics, firms'views do reflect their experience as evidenced by responses to other questions in surveys. The results suggest that there are both country-level and firm-level variations in the investment climate. Turning to the concept of"binding constraints,"the Enterprise Surveys do not generally suggest one single binding constraint facing firms in difficult business climates. However, there do appear to be groups of constraints that matter more at different income levels, with a few elemental constraints being especially important at low levels and a few regulatory constraints at high levels, but a difficult range of governance-related constraints at intermediate levels. Adjusting to a constraint does not mean that firms then do not recognize it-for example, generator-owning firms are not distinguishable from other firms when ranking electricity as a constraint. Overall, firms do appear to discriminate between constraints in a reasonable way. Their views can provide a useful first step in the business-government consultative process and help in prioritizing more specific behavioral analysis and policy reforms.

Suggested Citation

  • Gelb, Alan & Ramachandran, Vijaya & Shah, Manju Kedia & Turner, Ginger, 2007. "What matters to African firms ? the relevance of perceptions data," Policy Research Working Paper Series 4446, The World Bank.
  • Handle: RePEc:wbk:wbrwps:4446

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Benn Eifert & Alan Gelb & Vijaya Ramachandran, 2005. "Business Environment and Comparative Advantage in Africa: Evidence from the Investment Climate Data," Working Papers 56, Center for Global Development.
    2. Wendy Carlin & Mark Schaffer & Paul Seabright, 2006. "Where are the Real Bottlenecks? A Lagrangian Approach to Identifying Constraints on Growth from Subjective Survey Data," CERT Discussion Papers 0604, Centre for Economic Reform and Transformation, Heriot Watt University.
    3. Honorati, Maddalena & Mengistae, Taye, 2007. "Corruption, business environment, and small business fixed investment in India," Policy Research Working Paper Series 4356, The World Bank.
    4. Raturi, Mayank & Swamy, Anand V, 1999. "Explaining Ethnic Differentials in Credit Market Outcomes in Zimbabwe," Economic Development and Cultural Change, University of Chicago Press, vol. 47(3), pages 585-604, April.
    5. George R.G. Clarke & James Habyarimana & Michael Ingram & David Kaplan & Vijaya Ramachandran, 2007. "An Assessment of the Investment Climate in South Africa," World Bank Publications, The World Bank, number 6738, March.
    6. Meghana Ayyagari & Asli Demirgüç-Kunt & Vojislav Maksimovic, 2008. "How Important Are Financing Constraints? The Role of Finance in the Business Environment," World Bank Economic Review, World Bank Group, vol. 22(3), pages 483-516, November.
    7. Biggs, Tyler & Shah, Manju Kedia, 2006. "African small and medium enterprises, networks, and manufacturing performance," Policy Research Working Paper Series 3855, The World Bank.
    8. Sendhil Mullainathan & Marianne Bertrand, 2001. "Do People Mean What They Say? Implications for Subjective Survey Data," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(2), pages 67-72, May.
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    Cited by:

    1. T. Dinh, Hinh & Mavridis, Dimitris A. & Nguyen, Hoa B., 2010. "The binding constraint on firms'growth in developing countries," Policy Research Working Paper Series 5485, The World Bank.
    2. Bouton, Lawrence & Tiongson, Erwin R., 2010. "Subjective perceptions of financing constraints: How well do they reflect credit market conditions?," Emerging Markets Review, Elsevier, vol. 11(2), pages 98-105, June.
    3. Florian Misch & Norman Gemmell & Richard Kneller, "undated". "Business Perceptions, Fiscal Policy and Growth," Discussion Papers 08/10, University of Nottingham, CREDIT.
    4. World Bank, 2009. "The Gambia : An Assessment of the Investment Climate," World Bank Other Operational Studies 12983, The World Bank.
    5. Kinda, Tidiane, 2010. "Investment Climate and FDI in Developing Countries: Firm-Level Evidence," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 38(4), pages 498-513, April.
    6. World Bank, 2007. "An Assessment of the Investment Climate in Botswana : Volume I, Main Report," World Bank Other Operational Studies 7093, The World Bank.
    7. Kenyon, Thomas, 2008. "Tax Evasion, Disclosure, and Participation in Financial Markets: Evidence from Brazilian Firms," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 36(11), pages 2512-2525, November.
    8. Mawhood, Rebecca & Gross, Robert, 2014. "Institutional barriers to a ‘perfect’ policy: A case study of the Senegalese Rural Electrification Plan," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 73(C), pages 480-490.

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    ; Emerging Markets; Microfinance; Governance Indicators; Access to Finance;

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