Newsletter 2015


Inside this Issue

  • Message from the Director
  • CEF Steering Committee
  • Social Safety Nets
  • Financial Programming and Policies
  • Improving Competitiveness
  • Mr. Hazem Beblawi’s Visit
  • CEF Safety and Security Day
  • Who’s Who at the CEF
  • CEF Activities 2015

Dear friends of the CEF,

I have the pleasure to introduce to you the CEF’s first news- letter. It sets out the CEF team’s strategy and vision for the coming years, in addition to some thoughts on Kuwait’s long- standing interest and role in the Arab world’s intellectual ad- vancement. It also aims at giving a feel for the Center’s work and contributions by highlighting recent activities and special events. The final part of the newsletter includes a summary of the CEF activities delivered so far in 2015 and planned in the remainder of the year, which you can also find by visiting our CEF website

In addition to the core courses, the CEF is preparing events on a broad range of timely themes, such as a panel discussion on the economic and social implications of subsidy reforms, in partnership with the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development, and a Global Islamic Finance Conference, orga- nized jointly with the Central Bank of Kuwait and the IMF’s Middle East and Central Asia Department.

As it happens, several changes in management staff took effect since my joining the Center in December 2014. I would there- fore like to take this opportunity to welcome on board Sami Ben Naceur as the Deputy Director, and Raja’a Al-Behaisi our new Office Manager, and express the CEF team’s appreciation to Therese Perlmutter who did a superb job as the interim Office Manager during a very busy period of transition.


We regard the initial issues of this periodical to be experi- mental in spirit, in the sense that they will serve to guide the form and content of a newsletter that best responds to our audience’s interests. Special thanks go to the CEF team in the preparation of the newsletter, in particular to Fatima Keaik for her meticulous and creative work in its design and editing. The CEF team is keen to take on board your feedback and views, by e-mail to and look forward to meeting you soon at the Center. Oussama Kanaan, CEF Director

Fostering an Education and Training Center to Help the Arab World’s Public Servants to Better Tackle New Economic Challenges

The Director’s Perspective

Why in Kuwait?

“Why is this Center located in Kuwait?” is a question I have been asked quite a few times by visitors to the International Monetary Fund-Middle East Center for Economics and Finance (CEF) since I joined in Decem- ber 2014. To those who are unfamiliar with Kuwait’s rich cultural history, traditions and achievements, the answer to that question may not be that straightforward. I had the good luck of having spent some of my elemen- tary school years in Kuwait, between 1974 and 1977. Ku- wait in those years was renowned for its world class ed- ucational institutions and cultural centers that were the primary nurturing and training grounds for Arab schol- ars. It was also a cradle for some of the most respected journals and periodicals, many of which set new stan- dards in the Arab world for analytical rigor and artistic creativity. And even in broader and finer fields, such as football, theater and cinema, Kuwait advanced boldly on the world stage, such as with its submission to the 1973 Academy Awards of the first Kuwaiti film Bas Ya Baher—which so deftly depicts ordinary people’s eco- nomic hardship in the pre-oil era. Kuwait’s intellectual prominence, along with its material wealth, also made it the natural host for centers dispensing development support and economic policy advice throughout the re- gion, such as the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development.

The CEF has been providing education and training in economics and finance to officials from all Arab coun- tries since 2011, with an official inauguration by Kuwait’s Minister of Finance Anas Al-Saleh and IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde in Kuwait City in November 2014. Kuwait, through the Kuwait Investment Author- ity under the leadership of Managing Director Bader Al-Sa’ad, has been generously hosting and financing the Center. This is only one of many steps that Kuwait has taken in recent years toward a broad Renaissance to real- ize and further expand its people’s vast potential, while at the same time advancing its long-standing vision and aspirations in service to the wider Arab community.

The curriculum is geared to helping address core economic policy hurdles

As the CEF team starts the preparation of the 2016 course program, we all bear in mind the Arab world’s pressing economic policy challenges. These challenges, to varying degrees across countries, include rising unemployment and income inequality, weak or fledgling institutions, pressures on public finances and international reserves, weak investor confidence, and an uncertain trade and fi- nancial environment as well as volatile oil prices. Persis-

tence of these difficulties, especially given high people’s expectations, could very well worsen—and in turn be re- inforced by—the already precarious political and social environment that these countries also have in common, notably a rocky path toward inclusive government, ris- ing internal social tensions, and conflict-related spill- overs from one country to another.

The design of the 2016 program is benefiting from sev- eral channels to gain feedback on the kind of training and advice that would best help officials address those challenges. These include regular feedback from par- ticipants in CEF courses and workshops, as well as in discussions with Directors of Training in central banks and ministries throughout the Arab world. Besides the addition of new seminars and workshops, the continual dialogue serves to enrich and fine-tune the content of existing courses. To illustrate, workshops on diversi- fication in oil-producing countries could add sessions dealing specifically with the impact of the decline in the price of oil; training focused on inclusive growth or re- form of the social safety net could include lectures on the consequences of conflict on vulnerable groups; and workshops on public expenditure management would have an added emphasis on good governance and pub- lic sector transparency and accountability. The CEF cur- riculum continues to bring together stakeholders from all strands of society, in addition to high-level economic policy makers to discuss pertinent issues of special in- terest to today’s Arab world. A key event scheduled for November 11, 2015 is the Global Conference on Islamic Finance, one important part of which will explore how Islamic finance could promote inclusive development.

Joint training programs with centers abroad are be- ing enriched

To expand the multi-disciplinary aspect of its work, and to broaden its outreach in the Arab world, the Center will further strengthen its partnership with the Arab Monetary Fund (AMF) in Abu-Dhabi with a steady rise in the number of joint courses, and the introduction of a new venue for some of the courses in Oman. Also, the program for joint training with Bank Al-Maghrib will be built upon with special attention to the capacity develop- ment needs of the North Africa region. We hope that the successful experience with the Arab Monetary Fund and Bank Al-Maghrib will encourage other regional training centers to join hands with the CEF in similar programs.

IMF courses will continue to be enriched through col- laboration with other regional centers whose mandates

complement in important ways the CEF’s vision. In par- ticular, the CEF will expand its joint workshops with the Middle East Technical Assistance Center (METAC). Recent experience has confirmed that there are substan- tial synergies between economics training and technical assistance, and there will be an increased focus on areas in high demand in the region, in particular those tied to public sector policy, governance and transparency.

We will also strive to create synergies with IMF Train- ing Centers in other regions of the world. One important initiative in 2015 has been an arrangement with the Joint Vienna Institute (JVI) aimed at fostering close and regu- lar interaction between CEF and JVI staff, including oc- casional on-site visits. It is hoped that the joint activities, face-to-face interactions, continual exchange of views, and stock-taking of experiences in similar fields will help in sharpening the training centers’ practices especially in the areas of management, teaching, and outreach.

Partnerships focus on timely development issues of interest to Arab policy makers

The CEF’s curriculum will also continue to greatly ben- efit from World Bank courses in areas to which Arab countries’ policy makers are according greater attention such as health and education. One particularly success- ful model of recent collaboration with the World Bank is the recent seminar on Scaling Up Universal Health Coverage and Containing Non-Communicable Diseases, which is in line with CEF’s vision of supporting well- rounded development with adequate social safety nets. Similarly, our joint work with the Organization for Eco- nomic Cooperation and Development (OECD) will have as an important component the “MENA-OECD Initia- tive on Governance and Investment”, with new courses in the macro-financial area and regional investment inte- gration issues. Collaboration with the World Trade Or- ganization (WTO) will include several joint workshops that shed light on the role of external trade in supporting sustainable economic development.

Linkages with economic and scientific centers in Kuwait will be strengthened

The CEF team will strive for the remainder of 2015 and the coming years to strengthen, as much as possible, the linkages between the Center and wider intellectual soci- ety in Kuwait. One channel is to leverage the presence of eminent economists delivering courses at the Center for additional participation in panels and workshops open to the wider public, whenever possible in partnership with local institutions. This is not only to take advan- tage of the logistical and cost advantage of the Center’s location, but also to encourage synergies among the es- tablished universities, think tanks and other leading in- stitutions such as the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development and the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic


Development, the Arab Planning Institute, the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences, the Ku- wait Institute for Scientific Research, and the Center for Research and Studies on Kuwait, to name only a few. A highly successful model for partnering with the public sector is the ongoing collaboration between the CEF and the Central Bank of Kuwait in hosting the “Workshop on Macro-Prudential Policies in the GCC”, which is the main regional forum for the GCC countries’ bank super- visors. Our aim is to apply this model to other public sector agencies, with a view to positioning them in key regional leadership positions, as well as serving the ca- pacity needs of the wider Arab world. In parallel, the CEF will step up its internship program jointly with the Lothan Youth Achievement Center (LOYAC) to provide training opportunities at the Center for young talented students and fresh graduates in economics and finance. As policymakers face ever more pressing challenges on all fronts, our hope is that the above endeavors will con- tribute, even if most modestly, to the adoption of sound economic and financial policies in our member countries. I look forward to your visit and your thoughts on any as- pect of the Center’s work to better serve the Arab world. Oussama Kanaan, CEF Director Oussama Kanaan assumed his responsibilities in Kuwait in December 2014 as the Director of the IMF-Middle East Cen- ter for Economics and Finance. His previous responsibilities in the region have included the positions of IMF Mission Chief or Resident Representative for several Arab countries. He worked on a range of world regions and departments at the IMF, in- cluding the Policy Development and Review, Fiscal Affairs, and African departments. He also served as the Alternate Executive Director at the IMF for the Chair representing countries in the region. He has published in the areas of economic growth, trade and development, and holds a Ph.D. in economics from Yale University.

CEF Steering Committee Meeting

Kuwait, February 18, 2015

Ahmad Bastaki
Executive Director, KIA
  Professor Nabeel Al-Loughani
Kuwait University
  Alan MacArthur
IMF Senior Staff, ICD
  Ray Brooks
IMF Senior, ICD

The CEF’s Steering Committee met on February 18, 2015 to discuss the CEF team’s strategy and vision, and specific goals for 2016.

The Steering Committee meeting included, as prima- ry members, Mr. Ahmad Bastaki, Executive Director, Kuwait Investment Authority (KIA) which finances the Center’s operations; Mr. Nabil Al-Loughani, Sec- retary General, Kuwait University, as well as Mr. Alan MacArthur and Mr. Ray Brooks representing the Man- agement of the IMF’s Institute for Capacity Develop- ment (ICD).

The Steering Committee also includes partner organi- zations’ representatives from the Arab Monetary Fund, the OECD, the World Bank and the WTO.

The discussion was guided by the CEF Director’s presentation in which he set out the CEF team’s agenda and objectives for the remainder of 2015 and next year.

These included actions to ensure that:

• The CEF’s curriculum responds effectively to evolv- ing Arab countries’ policy needs.

• The CEF’s strategic partnerships continue to be strengthened, in particular with the Arab Monetary Fund, OECD, World Bank, and WTO.

• The CEF is renowned as a highly attractive place to work in, with a high-caliber, motivated, and diverse staff.

The meeting discussed the CEF’s forthcoming special events, which include joint activities with leading local institutions such as the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development, as well as the Global Conference on Islamic Finance on November 11. The Committee also welcomed the Center’s initiatives and programs to strengthen direct links with the Arab world, such as the new joint training program in Morocco between the CEF and Bank Al-Maghrib.


Oussama Kanaan, CEF Director, and Sami Ben Naceur, Deputy Director, at the Steering Committee Meeting

Course on Design and Implementation of Effective Social Safety Nets (SSN-MENA)

A News Story by the World Bank staff on a CEF-World Bank joint event
Kuwait, May 10-14, 2015

From left to right: Oussama Kanaan (Director, CEF); Undersecretary of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor, Mr. Mutar Al Mutairi; Firas Raad (Country Manager, World Bank Kuwait); Surat Nsour (Social Protection Specialist, World Bank)

Well-Targeted Social Safety Nets are Critical for Pro- moting Development in the Arab World

Effective, resilient and well-targeted social safety net (SSN) systems can mitigate any adverse impact of subsi- dy reforms in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Senior policymakers, analysts, and government officials met in Kuwait this week to share knowledge and practical experiences about the design and imple- mentation of SSNs.

The week-long course, held for the third consecutive year in Kuwait, was organized by the CEF jointly with World Bank (WB). Participants from Arab League coun- tries discussed challenging SSN issues facing the region and proposed solutions. They joined the World Bank- supported global community of practice to share their main findings and lessons learned.

“This course provides an excellent and timely opportu- nity for practitioners from across the region to discuss not only best practices, but also ideas for implementing them,” said Firas Raad, World Bank Country Manager in Kuwait. “This fruitful dialogue can help improve the effectiveness of social safety net programs in better ad- dressing the specific needs and issues faced by the vari- ous countries of the region.”

The course provided a knowledge-sharing platform and built on practical experiences from around the world, including the latest research findings and operational work of the World Bank and other institutions. Par-

ticipants had the opportunity to discuss the conceptual and implementation issues involved in the set-up, im- plementation, as well as performance monitoring and evaluation of the safety net systems. Participants also addressed then specific issues facing the region, includ- ing: inclusion and resilience of safety nets in a changing political economy; design and implementation of safety nets to mitigate the impact of subsidy reforms; account- ability and governance in service delivery; and, use of SSNs to promote human capital development and labor market activation in various countries.

“The experience of a large number of countries indicates that well-designed social safety net programs are impor- tant for the sustainability of economic reforms, especial- ly those requiring a substantial reduction in the budget deficit,” said Oussama Kanaan, Director, CEF. “Such programs are essential both to protect vulnerable peo- ple from the adverse impact of the reforms, as well as to enable a reallocation of public spending toward health, education, and other areas that are key to inclusive eco- nomic growth.”

“One of the main priorities of the Ministry of Social Af- fairs and Labor is to provide social assistance to various households and social strata, especially vulnerable in- dividuals and households,” said Undersecretary of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor, Mr. Mutar Al Mu- tairi. “Currently, Kuwait, with support from the World Bank, has developed a strategic SSN Framework aimed at high levels of efficiency and effectiveness in the dis- tribution of transfers as well as encouraging social as- sistance beneficiaries to join the labor market, whenever possible, and to contribute to human capital accumula- tion.”


Course on Financial Programming and Policies (FPP)

Kuwait, May 17-28, 2015

Public sector officials from several Arab countries met in Kuwait for a two-week training course to share knowl- edge and practical experience on how to design and implement macroeconomic and financial policies. The course was organized and hosted by the IMF-Middle East Center for Economics and Finance (CEF) in Kuwait. The course consisted of lectures and workshops deliv- ered by staff from the CEF and the IMF’s Institute for Capacity Development (ICD) who drew on their expe- rience in economic surveillance, the design of financial programs, and the provision of technical advice to mem- ber countries. The course was also enriched by discus- sions among the 31 participants on alternative options to address the core economic challenges facing their coun- tries.

The course aimed at extending participants’ understand- ing of the design and implementation of macroeconomic and financial policies, drawing on the IMF’s experience in economic surveillance, the design of financial pro- grams, and the provision of technical advice to member countries.

“I consider this course to be one of the core courses our Center offers for public sector officials who wish to ex- pand their practical knowledge and analytical skills in the design and application of macroeconomic and growth- enhancing policies,” said Oussama Kanaan, Director of the IMF-Middle East Center for Economics and Finance. “Participants have generally found the workshops to be an especially important component of the course, par- ticularly the practical exercises that helped them apply rigorous conceptual frameworks to real country cases of relevance to the economic challenges facing the Arab world today”. “The course lectures helped explain top

cal macroeconomic issues as well as the policy analysis and advice based on best practices and country expe- riences,” said Khaled Abdelkader, Senior Economist, IMF-Institute for Capacity Development. “The hands- on approach of the course also allowed for a candid and lively debate among participants. Officials viewed this learning experience to be highly rewarding given its focus and thorough policy content. They valued lectur- ers’ passion and efforts to keep everyone engaged all the time,” he added.

The lectures and workshops covered a discussion of key macroeconomic issues affecting Arab countries today; the analysis of the macroeconomic accounts (real, fiscal, external and monetary); forecasting techniques; the de- sign of macroeconomic policies to yield macroeconomic stability and inclusive growth; and simulation exercises involving the preparation of an economic stabilization program.