Making PPPs work: Going to the chapel


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Photo Credit: Eduardo Llanquileo via Flickr Creative Commons

The Public-Private Partnership (PPP) concept is actually not very complex. You take the best of the public sector and the best of the private sector, put them together and – voila! The sum of the parts is greater than the whole, 1+1=3, more efficiency, more investment, with public oversight and support. PPPs are not for dumping a problem on the private sector. The problem still belongs to the government, only with a new partner, the private sector, to help resolve it.
So, if the logic is so simple, why do many countries perform so poorly when implementing PPPs?

PPPs are actually not so different from marriage; both require a long-term relationship and a serious commitment. A marriage is the union of two people, sometimes with different backgrounds, different expectations, and different ways of working together. And the wedding (or in the case of the PPP – the signing of the PPP agreement) is only the beginning. A good PPP, like a good marriage, requires constant effort. And like a good marriage, a good PPP can be a wonderful, powerful union, which makes both parties better.
So, sticking with the image of PPPs as a marriage, there are three things that government needs to do to make the partnership work:
Prepare well: You don’t go looking for a husband or wife in old smelly clothes, your hair a mess. You put on your best clothes, you take care of yourself. In short, we need to prepare these PPP projects well, do feasibility studies with the very best international experts. When investors see this kind of effort, they know the government is serious. We need to be serious before we can hope to attract serious investors.
Choose well: You don’t go to a café or the beach looking to meet your future spouse and just pick the first guy or girl you see. Like marriage, partnership under PPPs requires careful selection. It is not about the fastest, the biggest or the cheapest; it’s about a partnership. Like marriage, it is not just the prettiest or the wealthiest or the smartest or the nicest or the best cook…you want the whole package!
Nor would you want your daughter to get married to the first person who comes knocking on the door. Of course not! Similarly, we should not sign contracts with the first company to propose a project. Make interested investors compete. Just because the investor was the first one to knock on the door does not make them the best partner, nor should it give them any priority in your selection of a partner. Speed is not the criteria; it is quality, commitment, and ability to deliver. Open, transparent competition is the best way to be sure the one you choose is the one who fits the criteria, to keep everyone honest and for government to get the best investor on the best terms.
Be a good partner: The hardest part about marriage is not finding a spouse or marrying the person. The hard part comes after the wedding feast, the gifts, and the celebrations. That is when the real work starts. A good marriage requires a commitment, every day; a decision to be a good spouse. With PPPs it is easy to focus on the procurement process, the negotiations. At financial close, the champagne flows. But the next day, the real work starts. Be ready for it, have a good team set up and prepared to manage project implementation.
Impromptu Haiku break:

After I got married, I made a stunning discovery, life changing, really. Are you ready? Men and women are different. I know, blows your mind, but it’s true! I mean completely different. I didn’t really get that until after I got married, and had to manage conflicts, make concessions, find compromise, with someone who came at problems and conflict from a completely different perspective. PPPs are the same, public and private are completely different. They approach relationships, decision making, and problem solving from different perspectives.
PPPs are not about each partner staying in its little corner, doing its work and blaming the other for problems. PPPs are about working together, learning how to get along and how to bring out the best in your partner. There needs to be commitment and a willingness to work through challenges and conflict. Only then will the partnership bloom.
And one final thought: Like marriage, if you are not committed to doing a PPP, then don’t do it. There is no greater disaster than a PPP without government commitment. A failed PPP can be as painful and costly as a marriage that breaks down.

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together – African proverb


Jeff Delmon

Senior PPP Specialist

January 10, 2017

Nice to read the article.Government is like a turtle and business is a rabbit. They can hardly work in partnership. Government officials are entrapped in lengthy procedures and red tape-ism which is very antithesis of what business needs.A total change in the mindset of the government may make ppps a success.

Alao Nurudeen
January 10, 2017

This is a worthy write-up, I wish Africa countries learn from this and work with it to move expediently ,most especially my country Nigeria where we have wherewithal to woo investors except willing leaders that we lack.

syed a.b.siddiqui
January 10, 2017

Excellent. I like your idea and understanding of PPP.

January 11, 2017

Interesting read....using a 'marriage' to explain the PPP concept gives it an interesting dimension and makes it very practical.

January 11, 2017

Very interesting article in understanding PPPs

January 11, 2017

for african countries about ppp the is corrruption among the leaders

Dapo Oyedele
January 11, 2017

Great write up!!. But,the issue of subjecting a project proposal by a private company to competition,may not be perfect enough, especially for Turnkey project..What is required here should be control system by the government to ensure government get the best from the deal.Also if private proposal will be subject to may hinder creativity and project opportunities. No private company will want to invest in a project proposal its not sure of securing at the end of the day.. Government agents alsa scheme out the private company in favour of their friends,if the bidding process is not very transparent. Generally speaking,most big companies don't like competitive turnkey projects.

Saira Lehri
January 11, 2017

In addition to what JEFF DELMON has mentioned, the Public private partnership concept is a logical cycle between two parties under certain agreement where they commit to contribute for returned profits/incentives. If there is not commitment and returns either of the parties, the efforts and finances go vain.

Joshua Odeleye
January 11, 2017

Sincerely Metaphorical.

Timothy Asiedu
January 11, 2017

This is an excellent write-up that CEO/Managers/Supervisors of private/public organizations, Government leaders and other Leaders in Ghana/Africa must read. It is an educative material which all in Leadership positions must read. Thank you.

Benjamin Ogbobe
January 11, 2017

This is a very concise but succinct explanation of the PPP concept. Thanks for this great piece Jeff. Like you pointed out, we require the total commitment of both parties for PPP to succeed. In Nigeria for example, the challenge has been on the part of government. No proper feasibility and data for investors to work with, faulty process of selection of partners and confusing regulatory framework which has become subject to individual interpretation on project by project basis.

January 12, 2017

It is indeed like a marriage, they must come together into a relationship to achieve their desired goal through partnership agreement. This is the best form and example of PPP and how it works.

Ed Bourque Consulting
January 16, 2017

To extend your metaphor a bit further, perhaps the most desirable mates aren't the ones who are marrying- Just the ones who are desperate. I think many PPP couples will need a lot of counseling.
Seriously, though. Issues differ greatly across sectors, of course, but at least in public service delivery sector, the underlying business model and the enabling/regulatory environment is just not there. Too few paying customers and too little oversight.

Henri-Claude Enoumba
January 23, 2017

With this analogy of marriage, the only difference is that Marriage is about LOVE no matter interests and PPPs is about of interests no matter Love! You can't mix LOVE and interest in business! Sorry for this point of view.

aff log in
January 24, 2017

This is really interesting, You are a very skilled
blogger. I've joined your rss feed and look forward to seeking more of your great post.
Also, I have shared your website in my social networks!

Bih Fomukong Atanga
February 23, 2017

The best public speakers are those who are able to break down the subject matter to the understanding of the common man, using very basic English and leaving a lasting impression on the minds of participants/readers. Jeff your packaging is on point. Thank you.

Juddie Nyakawa
October 19, 2017

I couldn’t help but smile at this beautiful analogy. The confusion in many people’s minds is differentiating the wedding( ceremony , 1 day event) and the marriage ( that should last a life time). As they say on the roads, choose your lane wisely, you may be on it for a mighty long time. Same to PPPs, power of choice, gut feeling sometimes ( if the deal is too good, it probably is).