Too much lip service
When it comes to public/private sector partnerships (PPP), there is too much talk and very little action in the region, says Brian Samuels, PPP coordinator at the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB). Acknowledging that CDB has not, in the past, been involved “too much” in PPP projects, he said the bank plans to become more involved going forward.
Samuels made the comments yesterday as part of a panel during one of the sessions at the third annual CIBC First Caribbean Infrastructure Conference in Montego Bay, Jamaica. The two-day conference, which focused on Public Private Sector Partnerships (PPP), was held under the theme ‘Unlocking Economic Potential’.
Samuels was addressing the topic Multilateral Focus: Technical Assistance and Special Programme Funding for Infrastructure Development.
In this regard, the CDB official noted there was an estimated financing gap of more than US$10 million. “Somehow funding has to be found to fill this investment need,” he said, noting regional governments could not do it and it was therefore up to the private sector. The duty of governments was to facilitate the process, he said.
“The World Bank did a PPP road map for the Caribbean last year and this found that there are structural weaknesses in the Caribbean in terms of getting PPPs off the ground,” reported Samuels. He said there was often “a lot of chat” about what was being done but, in reality, “less than 10 per cent actually make it onto the road, so to speak”.
“To use the Biblical phrase, many are called but few are chosen . . . The road map found that of all the PPP projects in the pipeline, only 12 per cent of them actually reach the surveyor attendance stage. A lot of them talk, talk, talk by saying they are at concept level, studies are done, feasibility studies are done, but only 12 per cent get (past this) stage and of that 12 per cent, maybe only half actually get done,” he said.
Samuels revealed that CDB was establishing an online facility, the Caribbean PPP Toolkit, to assist regional governments to take feasible ideas and actually implement them. Acknowledging that there were several toolkits already available, he said this particular one would focus on the Caribbean.
It will focus on the areas of enabling environment, policies and regulations; project preparation, as well as implementation. The bank will also set up a PPP help desk to provide added technical assistance in the three areas.
“CDB has traditionally been a banker for governments in the Caribbean, but now CDB is moving into the private sector space, it is moving into PPPs with help from our colleagues at the World Bank,” said Samuels.
He added: “Following on from the toolkit, will be a development of what we call PPP boot camps for government employees and private sectors’ as well. The boot camp will follow the structure of the toolkit. So the first boot camp will be on enabling environment, polices and regulations, the second will be on project preparation; what you have to actually do to get these projects off the ground and running.
“Project preparation is an expensive business . . . and the third part of the boot camp will look at implementation issues and how you actually go about structuring PPP projects and technical processes and so forth,” he explained.
Samuels said a lot of times countries would say they have “bankable” PPP projects but often times that was not the case and that was the reason there was need for project screening.
“Many times, a minister would say they have all these projects on the cards but sometimes it takes a third party to say ‘well, actually minister this is not a doable deal’. So this is what we would like to do. We would like to separate the need from the chat and get bankable projects up and running and leave the chat on the side,” he said, adding that CDB would also provide consultancy services.
Throughout the conference, a heavy focus was placed on infrastructure projects in Jamaica, which seemed to be the Caribbean island where most PPP projects are currently being undertaken in a range of areas including the sea and airport as well as road works.