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What’s a cash-tight government to do when it wants to modernize a hospital, build a railway, or expand the power grid to reach underserved areas? It might explore outside, private sources of financing—that’s where public-private partnerships (PPPs) come in. The acronym has a promising ring to it, yet going back to the 1970s, its impact has been mixed. At their best, PPPs can provide rapid injections of cash from private financiers, delivery of quality services, and overall cost-effectiveness the public sector can’t achieve on its own.
But at their worst, PPPs can also drive up costs, under-deliver services, harm the public interest, and introduce new opportunities for fraud, collusion, and corruption. Our experience at the World Bank Integrity Vice Presidency is that because PPPs most often are geared toward providing essential public services in infrastructure, health and education, the integrity risks inherent in these sectors also transfer to PPPs.
On April 17, the Integrity Vice Presidency convened a public discussion on corruption in PPPs (pdf) bringing together finance, energy, and fairness-monitoring perspectives. Looking at the landscape, in the last eight years, 134 developing countries have implemented PPPs in infrastructure, and in the last decade the World Bank has approved some $23 billion lending and risk guarantee operations in support of PPPs.