Bankrolling PPP projects  

Bankrolling PPP projects   

Things are not fine on the PPP (Public Private Partnership) front. Although funds from the annual budget were made available specifically for the PPP projects a few years back with high expectations, the initiative is far from picking up any momentum, so far. Over the years, the allocation has surged considerably, and some projects are reportedly under implementation. Still, the grim reality is that PPP as a mode of project execution under the dual stake of the public and the private sector is yet to make any headway.

The reason why PPP is believed to have fared well in many countries is primarily because of the efficient management of this dual stake reinforced by the ease in accessing finance and other facilitating services. However, this being rather too sweeping a comment, ground realities are not supposed to be so smooth, and are often fraught with difficulties for which mechanisms have to be in place. And countries that have been able to develop appropriate mechanism have succeeded in making PPP a fine example of project implementation -- in both the advanced and developing countries. In the South Asian region, India has demonstrated remarkable success in materialising its PPP schemes. Recent studies indicate that India is going to invest close to $400 billion over the next five years in infrastructure development, of which at least 40 per cent would be developed through PPPs. The national road transportation sector has been the front runner in adopting PPPs for India's infrastructure. A survey done sometime ago found that around 70 per cent of all Indian PPP infrastructure projects were in the roads and bridges category.

Typically, PPP is a business venture funded and operated through a partnership of government and one or more private sector companies. Thus PPP involves a contract between a public sector authority and a private party, in which the private party provides a public service or project and assumes substantial financial, technical and operational risks in the project. In some types of PPPs, the cost of using service is borne exclusively by the users of the service and not by the taxpayer. In other types, investment is made by the private sector on the basis of a contract with government to provide agreed services and the cost of providing the service is borne wholly or in part by the government. Government contribution to a PPP may also be in kind (notably through transfer of existing assets). In projects that are aimed at creating public goods as in the infrastructure sector, the government may provide a capital subsidy in the form of a one-time grant, so as to make it more attractive to the private investors. In some other cases, the government may support the project by providing revenue subsidies, including tax breaks or by removing guaranteed annual revenues for a fixed time period.

There are usually two fundamental drivers for PPPs. First, PPPs are claimed to enable the public sector to harness the expertise and efficiencies that the private sector can bring to the delivery of certain facilities and services traditionally procured and delivered by the public sector. Second, a PPP is structured so that the public sector agency seeking to make a capital investment does not incur any borrowing. Rather, the PPP borrowing is incurred by the private sector implementing the project.

In Bangladesh, the reasons for lack of enthusiasm, especially from the private sector, to join hands with the government may be many. Dearth of finance is indeed one. There were discussions on this and other issues but none seemed to be inspiring enough to inject vigour into the PPP scheme. At a roundtable held recently in the capital, speakers stressed the need for a master plan to select and implement PPP projects to make sure that those are efficient and effective. They said the government could consider floating initial public offerings (IPOs) or special bonds to collect funding for PPP projects because commercial banks tend to shy away from extending long-term loans such projects require. Some speakers also noted that there should be adequate discussion and analysis on the failure and success of PPP projects and failed projects must receive punitive action.

The CEO of PPP Authority of Bangladesh made a presentation on the present state of the PPP projects. He identified cost escalation and time overrun due to poor planning, performance and monitoring as a major challenge for implementing PPP projects in the country. He said that an integrated infrastructure investment master plan is needed that complements but does not compete between the sector-based developments.

The suggestion to explore alternative financing opportunities including floating different types of bonds, issuance of initial public offering (IPO) at stock markets to meet the financing gaps for PPP projects sounds good. The government may consider this in right earnest. Besides, development projects which are commercially viable should be implemented through PPP programme. The importance of economic and commercial benefits should also be assessed carefully before taking any project under the scheme to attract investors.

Evidences from developing countries indicate that actual or perceived rise in tariffs, macroeconomic fluctuations in currency or purchasing power, inadequate regulatory and institutional environment, methodology of profit sharing, political reneging etc., are some of the key challenges that often create serious obstacles to the functioning of PPP projects. It is high time the government took a close look at the impeding elements and also considered setting up a state window to bankroll PPP projects.   

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