Photo: CIFOR | Flickr Creative Commons
Africa is a continent rich in natural resources and boasts a large young, ambitious, and entrepreneurial-minded population. Harnessed properly, these endowments and advantages could usher in a period of sustained economic growth and increased well-being for all Africans.
However, a lack of modern infrastructure is a major challenge to Africa’s economic development and constitutes a significant impediment to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.
According to a recent report by the World Bank, there are varying trends in Africa’s infrastructure performance across key sectors and regions. In telecommunications, Sub-Saharan Africa has seen a dramatic improvement in the quantity and quality of infrastructure, and the gains are broad-based. Access to safe water has also risen, with 77% of the population having access to water in 2015, from 51% in 1990. In the power sector, by contrast, the region’s electricity-generating capacity has changed little in more than 20 years. At about 0.04 megawatts per 1,000 people, capacity is less than one-third of that of South Asia, and less than one-tenth of that of Latin America and the Caribbean.
Of the 56 poorest countries, over half had no private investment in infrastructure in the past five years. And in 2015, only 14 energy, transport and water projects involving private investment were concluded in that whole group of 56 countries—with all of them occurring in just eight of the countries. In the past five years, only one country – Bangladesh – has seen private investment in infrastructure each year. Given that well-structured private infrastructure projects can bring a useful infusion of management (and sometimes money) to help provide better quality and access to infrastructure services, this seems like a missed opportunity. Here are five suggestions for actions that governments can take immediately to improve their chances of attracting good quality private management and financing for some infrastructure services.
For millions of people throughout the world, a diagnosis of Chronic Kidney Disease ushers in a lifetime of dialysis treatments. A dialysis session lasts four hours, and is required two to three times a week – so these treatments are often just as logistically challenging as they are physically difficult. But the trials of treatment pale in comparison to no treatment at all, which was often the case for citizens of Bangladesh prior to 2015. That was the year the government offered its citizens dialysis services through a pioneering public-private partnership (PPP) that increased the number of dialysis machines and broadened dialysis services by adding new capacity into existing public hospitals.
I’ve worked in the area of health PPPs for many years, and have seen first-hand how patients benefit from well-structured partnerships. At IFC, our goal is to work with governments with pressing health sector needs and help them develop the right kind of partnership to deliver improved health facilities and services. Like infrastructure PPPs, health PPPs are complicated, long-term deals—but unlike infrastructure PPPs, we have the opportunity to measure results in lives. This makes our work in the field of health PPPs especially important – and rewarding.
Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, is home to more than one million people – and like many urban hubs around the developing world, the city is bracing for a population explosion in the coming decades. More people bring greater pressure on already insufficient and stressed infrastructure, especially water services. But the Government of Rwanda has already announced commitments to increase the local water supply, partnering with the private sector to ensure 100 percent coverage. In March 2015 the government signed a 27-year PPP concession with a private company responsible for a water treatment plant, and support from the Public-Private Infrastructure Advisory Facility (PPIAF) is one of the reasons why.
PPIAF, in partnership with IFC, has been providing institutional support to Rwanda’s Energy, Water, and Sanitation Authority (EWSA) since 2012. The technical support PPIAF and its partners have been providing helped government officials develop a more comprehensive understanding of EWSA’s distribution network and operational performance. Through training and experience-sharing, PPIAF supported capacity building among government institutions and officials, enabling them to work successfully with the private sector.
This is just one of the many examples of positive outcomes that PPIAF’s support has made possible in the past year. PPIAF’s just-released annual report details many others, and it also outlines the significant strategic shifts, staffing changes (including the reopening of our West African office), and programmatic initiatives that took root last year.
A few months ago, I had a chance to visit the Panama Canal, which celebrated its 100th anniversary last year. It is truly a mega-structure that is the largest infrastructure project of its time.
When I saw it, what struck me the most was - “How could this be possible”? One hundred years ago, Panama was a country that was just formed and capital markets were not very well-developed. And technology was obviously not as advanced as it is today.
Fast forward 100 years, in the world today, Asia has a huge demand for infrastructure. In Singapore, we know of Hyflux, which has one of the largest desalination plants in Singapore. Sembcorp Utilities has a power plant project in Bangladesh recently and PSA has a port in Guangxi China. These are just some examples of Singapore companies who have gone into infrastructure development. Yet, not enough projects have been implemented, especially in Asia.
During these debates many examples are quoted – the early 20th century oil concessions in the Persian Gulf, the late 19th century cross continental railway in the USA and the İzmir-Aydın railway concession in present-day Turkey, the Rhine river concession granted in 1438 and so on.
As debate on the origin of PPP continues, the modern-day popularity of PPPs is more commonly acknowledged to have emerged from the United Kingdom, following the introduction of Private Finance Initiatives in 1992’s autumn budget statement by RH Norman Lamont, then Chancellor under John Major’s Conservative government.
In the intervening years, many developed and developing nations have started PPP programs of their own. Indeed, the growth of PPPs in developing countries is nothing short of phenomenal, with the mechanism being used in more than 134 developing countries and contributing to 15–20 percent of total infrastructure investment.
This is also true of Bangladesh. In 2009, the Government of Bangladesh announced the introduction of a revised PPP program in the 2009/10 Budget Session, and then introduced a new PPP policy in August 2010 (PPP Policy 2010).