Effective implementation of PPPs is critical to address infrastructure deficit in Africa

By Teddy Daka, Co-CEO, Zutari

The African Union (AU) has noted the clear impact of infrastructure deficits on African competitiveness, recognising this as “a continental problem that requires a continental solution”

Regional integration through infrastructure programmes is expected to overcome constraints imposed by scale and location, and improve the competitiveness of African producers, connecting consumers and enhancing intra- and inter-regional trade.

African leaders have consistently expressed their desire to support Africa’s economic development through a common market for goods and services. A 2016 report by McKinsey projects that Africa’s manufacturing “output could expand to nearly $1 trillion” by 2025 if Africa’s manufacturers upscaled to meet domestic consumer and business demands. This will require inter-sectoral collaboration between business and governments to address obstacles to production and exporting of goods.

Recognising these and other market opportunities, aspirations for Africa’s development have begun to translate into policy-making: The African Free Trade Agreement underscores regional policy efforts towards this goal; the AU’s Programme for Infrastructure Development (PIDA) is an outcome of a coordinated policy effort to unlock competitive opportunities; and, in South Africa, the recent adoption of the District Development Model shows a localised  shift, mirroring intra-regional policy trends.

While much research, advocacy and institutional work is ongoing towards reshaping African policies to support effective integration, this goal relies on the effective implementation of Public-Private-Partnerships (PPPs) as a mechanism. The PPPs which undertake infrastructure projects unconsciously mediate a social contract between governments and citizens against which to monitor performance.

Our ability to leverage innovative regional development hinges on the translation of infrastructure development practices across the entire development process. It is clear that infrastructure delivery – and the quality of leadership, governance and public-private cooperation required for its development – both exist as grand challenges in their own right and underpin the interventions necessary for many others.

As Africa joins the global effort to attract funding from large global institutional investment vehicles, its ambitions are being matched through more integrated policy making, redesigned finance instruments and project execution practices and project information systems that support performance monitoring.

For visions of shared prosperity, regional integration and intra-continental strengthening to translate from policy through to development practices (across the value chain), and service delivery performance, calls for embodying a developmental identity and embedding an innovative mindset at multiple levels throughout the sector and across the infrastructure delivery value chain.

We are pushed to be resourceful, intelligent and wise; we are required to be adaptive, to develop our talents, our capacity; and we certainly need to cultivate the motivation and commitment to see through this multi-generational task.

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Infrastructure PPPs can be the future, underpinned by technical excellence

There is a growing realisation that large-scale infrastructure development in Africa will only be achieved through a co-funding arrangement with the private sector – but even then there are plenty of technical hurdles that projects must clear. 

Africa clearly needs infrastructure improvements to open doors to trade and create opportunities for economic investment. As the implementing arm for the African Union’s 2063 development strategy, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad) focuses on incubating high-impact projects that demonstrate proof-of-concept. These are intended to translate the AU’s strategic development frameworks into national priorities.

The drive for high-impact initiatives has led a few sub-Saharan countries including South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya and Uganda to partner with the private sector on some infrastructure projects. Despite the ample opportunities for public-private partnerships (PPPs) – and their obvious benefits – governments have been slow to drive this agenda.

According to SRK Consulting partner and principal environmental consultant Darryll Killian, this may be the result of prior bad experiences with ill-prepared PPPs or even with less-than-competent PPP project sponsors. However, there are well-proven strategies and lessons that can pave the way for efficient, cost-effective and manageable infrastructure-building.

“Experience shows it is necessary to start small before embarking on larger PPPs. Ensuring a higher risk allocation to the government in the first generation of PPP projects can help to unlock the flow of private capital – as investors and lenders develop enough comfort with the PPP environment of a country,”  said Killian.

There is also a range of technical and regulatory risks to all infrastructure projects that need to be well managed, he emphasised, especially with ever-stricter environmental and social regulations.

“Due diligence reviews of infrastructure deals are vital to ensure that there are no fatal flaws and material risks and liabilities. With many financial institutions subscribing to the Equator Principles, risk management has become a key consideration in the funding decision-making process. Funders want to know if there are any issues that can place the project at risk, or pose reputational damage,” said Killian.

They will prioritise proper planning, permitting and cost efficiency in a project – and will examine how the project plans to deal with social licence issues like compensation and resettlement. Climate change and its impact on a project are also on funders’ agendas, as climate change becomes a key cross-cutting issue for proponents of infrastructure projects to address.

To address possible misalignment of a project with funders’ requirements, project champions need to involve funders early in the project development process; it is difficult to achieve bankable feasibility if potential funders are not satisfied with the way that project risks are addressed. Such lack of alignment can disrupt the schedule or even de-rail the whole project.

SRK partner and principal civil engineer, Bruce Engelsman, said that this can be avoided by taking a systematic approach to infrastructural projects.

“This means setting out a clear process through the stages of initiation, feasibility studies, planning, execution, monitoring and control, and closure,” said Engelsman. 

Engelsman highlights that planning and budgeting for maintenance are often underestimated. In the initiation stage, the project’s value and feasibility are measured.

He added that this includes assessing the project’s goals, timeline and costs to determine if the projected should be executed. 

“Feasibility studies balance the requirements of the project with available resources, ensuring that there is a business case, that risks are adequately catered for and that it makes sense to pursue the project,” said Engelsman. 

In addition, funders stress the importance of independent due diligence reviews and reporting, said Steve Bartels, partner and principal engineering technologist at SRK.

“It is vital that third-party experts – who do not have any vested interest in the project – give their professional view on all aspects, to confirm the veracity of the technical studies, business case and plans,” said Bartels.

He argued that Africa certainly has the need and capacity to accelerate its infrastructure development – but this needs a greater commitment to best practice in initiating and pursuing infrastructural projects. Considerable potential remains for leveraging PPPs in doing just that.

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