I am a Senior Fellow and the Chief of Data & Analytics at Renewing the Centre, a new policy unit within the Tony Blair Institute. I am also a Visiting Fellow in the Development Strategy and Governance Division of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in Washington, D.C. My primary interests are in democratic quality, citizen-state relations, and political economy of development, with a regional focus on Southeast Asia. I received my Ph.D. in Political Science from Columbia University in 2015.
Comparative Political Institutions
This article examines the role played by local governments in shaping resistance to reforming fiscally and environmentally disastrous fuel subsidies. Shifting from universal-access social programs, like fuel subsidies, to targeted programs requires vesting authority with local politicians and bureaucrats, whom the state relies on to identify poor households and to deliver benefits. Where local governments are corrupt, citizens find promises to replace fuel subsidies with targeted spending less credible and resistance to reform is higher. Using household survey data from Indonesia, this article finds that corruption in the implementation of targeted transfer programs increases resistance to fuel subsidy reform among the poor citizens who consume the least fuel and who stand to benefit the most from targeted programs. Findings suggest that improving capacity within subnational governments to deliver social programs is important in developing public support for reform.
We explore the impact of allowing for outsourcing service delivery to the private sector within Indonesia’s largest targeted transfer program. In a field experiment across 572 municipalities, we find that allowing for outsourcing the last mile of food delivery reduced operating costs, without sacrificing quality. However, the prices citizens paid were lower only where we modified the bidding rules to encourage more bidders. Higher rents are associated with greater entry despite elites' efforts to block reform. In this context, the option to outsource and sufficient competition generated significant benefits relative to public distribution.
Redistribution programs in developing countries often "leak" because local officials do not implement programs as the central government intends. We study one approach to reducing leakage. In an experiment in over 550 villages, we test whether mailing cards with program information to targeted beneficiaries increases the subsidy they receive from a subsidized rice program. On net, beneficiaries received 26 percent more subsidy in card villages. Ineligible households received no less, so this represents substantially lower leakage.
In developing countries, low state capacity frequently is blamed for poor and uneven service delivery. Yet, since state capacity manifests unevenly across space and sectors, identifying which elements of capacity are more likely to enhance service delivery is not straightforward. We examine how subnational variation in capacity affects access to agricultural extension in rural Nepal. We explore six dimensions of state capacity using original household survey data and interviews with local bureaucrats. We find that local knowledge and motivation of bureaucrats play a significant role in shaping service access. By contrast, traditional capacity indicators—including resources, professionalization, and autonomy—matter surprisingly little. These findings suggest that bureaucrats working with fewer but more motivated staff who spend more time in a district are more likely to facilitate citizens’ access to agricultural extension. Placebo tests add confidence that relationships are not driven by unobservables. Scholarship on state capacity traditionally has been unable to measure capacity disaggregated by geography and sector, and, as a result, has struggled to link empirically different elements of capacity with service delivery. This paper begins to address this gap and in doing so, offers broader implications for the dynamics of rural development.