Information, Incentives, and Commitment: An Empirical Analysis of Contracts between Government and State Enterprises
47 Pages Posted: 20 Apr 2016
Date Written: June 1997
Written performance contracts, widely touted as a way to help state-owned enterprises improve performance, seem to fail. Why? Because information asymmetry, lack of government commitment, and lack of managerial commitment lead to weak incentives and shirking.
Shirley and Xu analyze experience with written performance contracts between developing country governments and the managers of their state-owned enterprises. Such contracts have been a vogue since the mid-1980s, and substantial resources have been sunk into their design and enforcement, yet the few assessments to date show mixed results.
Using a simple agency model, they identify how problems of weak incentives stemming from information asymmetry, lack of government commitment, and lack of managerial commitment can lead to shirking.
They apply the model to a sample of 12 contracts with monopoly enterprises in six developing countries (Ghana, India, the Republic of Korea, Mexico, the Philippines, and Senegal). All suffer from serious contracting problems. They find no pattern of improved performance that can be attributed to the contracts.
Only three of the 12 case-study companies showed a turnaround in total factor productivity after contracts were introduced, six continued past trends, and three performed substantially worse under contracts than they had before. Labor productivity improved at a faster pace in four cases, and deteriorated in none, but the improvement predated the contract.
Performance contracting assumes that government's objectives can be maximized, and performance improved, by setting targets that take into account the constraints placed on managers. For this to occur, the principals must be willing to explicitly state their objectives, assign to them priorities and weights, translate them into performance improvement targets, provide incentives to meet those targets (or monitor the agents without incurring significant costs), and credibly signal their commitment to the contract. These conditions failed to materialize.
Why would governments adopt contracts to which they were not committed or that were politically unrealistic? Sometimes because it enabled them to get foreign assistance.
How explain the managers' lack of commitment? Not surprisingly, managers with information advantages and bargaining power, and with no strong incentives or commitment from the government, used their advantages to manipulate the targets so as to ensure that their performance would be judged satisfactory.
Shirley and Xu outline the conditions under which performance contracts might succeed in improving performance.
This paper - a product of the Finance and Private Sector Development Division, Policy Research Department - is part of a larger effort in the department to analyze the role of institutions and incentives in public sector management, as well as in the private sector. The study was funded by the Bank's Research Support Budget under the research project The Changing Role of the State (RPO 678-69).
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