A strange irony persists in today’s infrastructure investment market: private capital waiting to be deployed into the sector is at an all-time high, yet investors seem reluctant to commit. Even in developed countries, few investors are willing to partake in transactions with merchant or construction risks without taking a higher risk premium.
This can make the financing of infrastructure projects more costly—a challenge particularly acute in emerging markets where further investment risks abound.
Before diving into a new year, I like to take some time for reflection. This past year, I’ve seen a real shift in how public-private partnerships (PPPs) are perceived and understood—both their benefits and risks. Many governments are considering PPPs to help them deliver infrastructure and services their citizens need. They also better understand the complexity of PPPs as a procurement method and are more strategic in when to use them.
If so, what must be done to ensure they’re sustainable and deliver on public sector goals? Thinking back on 2018, I saw these developments:
Using Islamic finance for infrastructure development attracted more attention recently in the quest to maximize finance for development.
At the recent World Bank-IMF Annual Meetings in Bali, the World Bank and the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) co-hosted a symposium on Islamic infrastructure finance, building on the institutions’ strategic partnership. As we note in Mobilizing Islamic Finance for Infrastructure Public-Private Partnerships, the asset-backed, ring-fenced, and project-specific nature of Islamic finance structures and their emphasis on sharing risks make them a natural fit for infrastructure public-private partnerships (PPPs).
With support from the World Bank Group, Singapore invested heavily in infrastructure during the early stages of our growth. This included 14 World Bank loans between 1963 and 1975, which financed the development of the deep sea terminal at the Port of Singapore, the doubling of the country’s energy capacity, and the construction of water pipelines to Malaysia—all of which remain a part of our core infrastructure today.
Tomas Castelazo | Wikimedia Commons
La revista colombiana Dinero, una de las publicaciones económicas más reconocidas de América Latina, recientemente publicó un estudio del Banco Mundial en el que clasificaba a Colombia como el segundo país más competitivo del mundo—detrás de un empate entre Gran Bretaña y Australia—para financiar obras de infraestructura bajo el modelo de Alianzas Público-Privadas (conocidas como APP). De igual manera, este puntaje (de 83 puntos sobre 100) fue también compartido por las naciones de Paraguay y Filipinas.
A primera vista, este es un virtuoso reconocimiento—por lo menos en papel. En la práctica diaria en la región latinoamericana, así como en la mayoría de las economías emergentes, la complejidad administrativa de los órganos gubernamentales aún representa uno de los más altos retos que demanda de atención inmediata para que las APPs puedan alcanzar su potencial máximo. Hacer esto correctamente integraría realmente el modelo de PPP en el motor de desarrollo económico y social requerido para competir en una economía globalizada.
Tomas Castelazo | Wikimedia Commons
The Colombian magazine Dinero, one of the most respected economic publications in Latin America, recently published a story about a World Bank study that placed Colombia as the second most competitive country in the world—behind a tie between Great Britain and Australia—to finance infrastructure projects under the public-private partnership model (known as PPPs). This score (83 points out of 100) was also shared by Paraguay and the Philippines.
At first glance, this is a virtuous recognition—at least on paper. However, in daily practice in the Latin American region, like most emerging economies, the administrative complexity of government bodies still presents enormous challenges that demand immediate attention if PPPs are to reach their full potential. Getting this right would truly integrate the PPP model into the economic and social development engine required to compete in a globalized economy.
Recently, I published a book about infrastructure public-private partnerships (PPPs) in the most challenging developing countries—a private sector perspective on what is required to bring investment and expertise to partner with governments in providing vital infrastructure services.
There is already a substantial body of work on the potential of PPPs and how to design, finance, and implement them—even in countries where there are limited legal and regulatory frameworks on which to build. What compelled me to write my book is the urge to share, as a practitioner over two decades in some of the most challenging markets, common pitfalls I’ve seen and what appear to be the critical elements of success in creating successful and replicable PPPs.
As recently as 2006, Timor-Leste was in crisis. Only a few years into independence, the country was torn by riots and political turmoil. Not surprisingly, its business climate was one of the region’s worst.
But . Nonetheless, Timor-Leste remains a fragile state, and with oil accounting for 80 percent of GDP, it is the world’s second most oil-dependent nation.
While discussion about Maximizing Finance for Development (MFD) is ramping up with governments and the international development community to seek innovative approaches to mobilize more private sector investment in developing countries, there is a group of countries with an additional layer of complex challenges.
It brings me no pleasure to say this, but a fair number of countries have economic and financial conditions, business environments, and rule of law that are almost always weak. Clearly, these conditions significantly increase the risks of investing in infrastructure for the private sector; consequently, the markets for public-private partnerships (PPPs) tend to be less developed.
What do Bangladesh, Honduras, and Senegal have in common?
They all have per capita Gross Net Income below $1,165, allowing them to borrow from the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA) that provides concessional financing to the world’s poorest countries. There are 72 other such IDA-eligible countries.
IDA countries face many complex challenges in the new global economy, including underdeveloped infrastructure, inadequate access to basic services, and a lack of affordable financing. IDA support simply is not enough to resolve the myriad of complexities in these countries, and governments need to seek alliances with the private sector—especially when it comes to building infrastructure sustainably.