The prospect may sound fantastic, but this is the goal of an ambitious development project that Honduras is about to embark upon. In a nutshell, the Honduran government wants to create what amounts to internal start-ups—quasi-independent city-states that begin with a clean slate and are then overseen by outside experts. They will have their own government, write their own laws, manage their own currency and, eventually, hold their own elections.
This year the Honduran legislature has taken the first big steps towards the creation of what it called “special development regions”. It has passed a constitutional amendment making them possible and approved a “constitutional statute” that creates their autonomous legal framework. Mauritius has just announced that it will allow its supreme court to hear cases from the new entities (beyond that, in a relic of colonialism, is Britain’s Privy Council, to which the decisions of the island state’s supreme court can be appealed). And on December 6th Porfirio Lobo, the Honduran president, appointed the first members of the “transparency commission”, the body that will oversee the new entities’ integrity.
Finding new worlds
The road to a Honduran Hong Kong will be long and rough. Forming the transparency commission proved more difficult than expected. It has taken longer to find candidates with the right skills. Then Honduran officials seemed to have second thoughts about the commission. But for enthusiasts, the progress so far is still thrilling. The development regions, they say, will allow policies to be tested on a small scale. If their laws and institutions make them an attractive place to live and do business, people will move there. They could also provide healthy competition for the government and spur reform.
The Honduran regions are modelled on a concept called “charter cities” developed by Paul Romer, an economics professor at New York University. The principle is simple: take a piece of uninhabited land big enough for a city of several million, govern it by well-tried rules and let those who like the idea move there. The aim is to replicate the success of such places as Hong Kong, not as colonial outposts but as models of development…continue “City Building: Hong Kong in Honduras” from the Economist here.