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One question, eight experts, part seven: Robert Puentes

Robert Puentes's picture

To gain a better understanding of how innovation in public-private partnerships (PPPs) builds on genuine learning, we reached out to PPP infrastructure experts around the world, posing the same question to each. Their honest answers redefine what works — and provide new insights into the PPP process. This is the question we posed: How can mistakes be absorbed into the learning process, and when can failure function as a step toward a PPP’s long-term success?

Our seventh response in this eight-part series comes from Robert Puentes, Senior Fellow with the Brookings Institution's Metropolitan Policy Program

Virginia's Pocahontas Parkway.
Photo: Richmond Times-Dispatch

In the U.S., one of the best learning tools for places wishing to engage in PPPs for infrastructure has been past mistakes. From the parking meter deal in Chicago, to Virginia’s Pocahontas Parkway, and a handful of others, American cities and states pay close attention to one another and are loathe to repeat previous problems.

But going forward, institutionalizing such learnings requires a dedicated team. Indeed, assembling a group with the right mix of finance, legal, policy, and communications experience is critical to the success of any PPP project. Public sector agencies looking to procure a limited number of PPP projects or engaging in their first, often use outside advisors for most of these services. This can be a successful strategy as long as public sector decision makers remain in control of the process.

One question, eight experts, part six: William Dachs

William Dachs's picture

To gain a better understanding of how innovation in public-private partnerships (PPPs) builds on genuine learning, we reached out to PPP infrastructure experts around the world, posing the same question to each. Their honest answers redefine what works — and provide new insights into the PPP process. This is the question we posed: How can mistakes be absorbed into the learning process, and when can failure function as a step toward a PPP’s long-term success?

Our sixth response in this eight-part series comes from William Dachs, Chief Operating Officer of the Gautrain Management Agency in South Africa. 

South Africa's Gautrain.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The ability of a national PPP program to apply lessons learned from one project to the next is dependent on factors such as the documentation of case studies and the use of a central repository of information in a PPP unit at the national level, where such lessons can be distilled and applied to the next project in that jurisdiction.

There are plenty of good examples of such programs that learn from and apply lessons. But how are individual PPP projects able to absorb mistakes and still meet the original objectives of value for money for the users of the services and the taxpayers who may ultimately bear the risk of the project failing?

It is impossible to predict the range of possible risks and to allocate these with precision over 20 to 25 years in a complex and changing environment. As such, the key to achieving long-term value from a PPP does not only lie in the quality of the feasibility and procurement phases, but also in how the balance of risk and rewards is established and applied in the PPP contract so as to be able to survive significant changes over a long period of time.

One question, eight experts, part five: Gajendra Haldea

Gajendra Haldea's picture

To gain a better understanding of how innovation in public-private partnerships (PPPs) builds on genuine learning, we reached out to PPP infrastructure experts around the world, posing the same question to each. Their honest answers redefine what works — and provide new insights into the PPP process. This is the question we posed: How can mistakes be absorbed into the learning process, and when can failure function as a step toward a PPP’s long-term success?

Our fifth response in this eight-part series comes from Gajendra Haldea, Advisor to the Government of Rajasthan (India) and CEO, Bureau of Partnerships in Rajasthan. 

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

It is a truism that infrastructure projects, like much else in life, do not unfold exactly as planned. However, there is little room for failure because it would affect a large number of users for which the government would be accountable.

India happens to be the largest laboratory of PPP projects and offers a plethora of evidence. While most projects have succeeded, some have faced failure mainly because they were encumbered by lack of conceptual clarity in policy formulation as well as contractual framework.

Many assert that all future events cannot be predicted and a PPP contract must, therefore, be regarded as incomplete. They need to be reminded that if man could succeed in sending a satellite to space and operate it for several years without any ability to modify it, why can’t this be done while launching an infrastructure project?

One question, eight experts, part four: Richard Abadie

Richard Abadie's picture
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

To gain a better understanding of how innovation in public-private partnerships (PPPs) builds on genuine learning, we reached out to PPP infrastructure experts around the world, posing the same question to each. Their honest answers redefine what works — and provide new insights into the PPP process. This is the question we posed: How can mistakes be absorbed into the learning process, and when can failure function as a step toward a PPP’s long-term success?

Our fourth response in this eight-part series comes from Richard Abadie, who leads the Capital Projects and Infrastructure Group at PwC

Having worked in the infrastructure sector for nearly 20 years, I’ve had time to reflect on what success and failure look like in infrastructure PPPs. Mistakes have been, do, and will continue to be made when using PPPs. It is not perfect — nor is its application — but what in life is?

There are so many horror stories around non-PPP construction cost overruns, delays in completion, poorly specified contracts, weak tender management, corruption, failure to run transparent competitive processes, lack of project readiness, significant post-contract variations, and sporadic asset maintenance and management. PPPs eliminate many of the above structural weaknesses, which rightfully earns it its place as a challenging but effective procurement approach.

The chief criticisms of PPP — that it takes longer to procure and is less flexible than conventional procurement — have some validity. Getting price certainty does take time and requires clear contractual risk allocation through the life of the contract.

One question, eight experts, part three: David Bloomgarden

David Bloomgarden's picture

To gain a better understanding of how innovation in public-private partnerships (PPPs) builds on genuine learning, we reached out to PPP infrastructure experts around the world, posing the same question to each. Their honest answers redefine what works — and provide new insights into the PPP process. This is the question we posed: How can mistakes be absorbed into the learning process, and when can failure function as a step toward a PPP’s long-term success?

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Our third response in this eight-part series comes from David Bloomgarden, Chief of the Basic Services and Green Growth unit of the Multilateral Investment Fund of the Inter-American Development Bank.

U.S. General George S. Patton famously said, “Take calculated risks. That is quite different from being rash.” This quote summarizes how countries should absorb risks into the learning process of a public-private partnership program.

Governments know that complex projects never go exactly as planned. PPPs are among the most complex of all infrastructure projects, because they involve multiple stakeholders in the public and private sectors and tend to be used to procure large infrastructure. Starting a new PPP program requires that governments learn to master the regulatory, institutional and technical challenges involved in planning, designing and implementing a PPP.

Few governments — and especially those of developing economies — can afford failure in the delivery of critical infrastructure and services given the scarce resources and enormous human needs.

One question, eight experts, part two: Fernando Crespo Diu

Fernando Crespo Diu's picture

To gain a better understanding of how innovation in public-private partnerships (PPPs) builds on genuine learning, we reached out to PPP infrastructure experts around the world, posing the same question to each. Their honest answers redefine what works — and provide new insights into the PPP process. This is the question we posed: How can mistakes be absorbed into the learning process, and when can failure function as a step toward a PPP’s long-term success?

Our second response in this eight-part series comes from Fernando Crespo Diu, Director of UTAP, the Portuguese PPP unit.

Although not a desirable outcome, failure is always the first step of the learning process toward more successful projects, in terms of implementation, value for money, and financial and fiscal sustainability. There is an enabling prerequisite for the learning process, particularly given the complexity and long duration of PPP arrangements: the establishment of institutional arrangements that provide stable, professional and fully dedicated teams of experts within the structures of the public sector.

A central PPP unit — ideally located in the Ministry of Finance — should participate in all stages of a project lifecycle, from structuring to contract management, allowing continuous feedback and dialogue between contract management and public teams. In such an environment, the role of external advisors has to be carefully planned, as they provide key skills along the project lifecycle, but must not substitute those tasks where knowledge must be developed, stored and used by the public sector.

One question, eight experts, part one: Isabel Rial

Isabel Rial's picture

Some public-private partnerships (PPPs) fail. That’s a fact. But when the lessons these failures impart are integrated into future projects, missteps have the potential to innovate — energizing the learning cycle and setting the stage for long-term success. To gain a better understanding of how innovation in PPPs builds on genuine learning, we reached out to PPP infrastructure experts around the world, posing the same question to each. Their honest answers redefine what works — and provide new insights into the PPP process.

This is the question we posed: How can mistakes be absorbed into the learning process, and when can failure function as a step toward a PPP’s long-term success?

Our first response in this eight-part series comes from the International Monetary Fund's Isabel Rial.

For centuries, PPPs have been used by governments as an alternative to traditional public procurement for the provision of public infrastructure, although results have been mixed. If properly managed, PPPs can deliver substantial benefits in terms of mobilizing private financial resources and know-how, promoting efficient use of public funds and improving service quality.

Yet in practice, PPPs have not always performed better than traditional public provision of infrastructure. The reasons for this vary across countries.