Editorial by PPPLab’s Jan Ubels: ‘The Public P’

The ‘Public P’ will remain an important focus for the PPPLab

In PPP instruments introduced over the last few years – like FDOV, FDW, Geodata for Agriculture and Water (G4AW) and Ghana WASH Window – much attention and discussion has gone to the way that the private sector can best be engaged. And rightly so, because a main purpose of these instruments has been to bring public and private finance and energy much more directly together in addressing development problems. Engaging private sector in this way has been new and many lessons are being learning ‘as we speak and work’.

Recently however another issue has been tabled for further scrutiny. That is the engagement of the public sector! It is broadly acknowledged that engagement of public actors can be essential in making PPPs a success. The public actors can adopt and promote new solutions, sharpen policies, adapt regulations, install improved financing arrangements, promote public awareness, etc.

Public sector engagement as a challenge

However engaging the public sector can be challenging. This came up in interviewing PPPs as an input into the Mid Term Review (MTR) of FDW. Private sector regularly expressed its concern about a lack of solid engagement of the public sector and that that can damage success and sustainability. The issue surfaced even stronger in the portfolio scan of the FDOV that PPPLab finalized recently (and will feature on our website shortly). While DGIS considers itself a formal partner in the FDOV projects – different from FDW – the very low number of Southern public actors directly engaged as partner in this portfolio is striking.

Challenges in public actor engagement also emerged in a recent seminar at the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) where the PBL report on ‘Public–private partnerships in development cooperation – Potential and pitfalls for inclusive green growth was discussed.

Different types of engagement

In that conversation at the Ministry it appeared relevant to make a basic distinction between different forms of government engagement:

  • As a partner in the financing of the PPP
  • As a partner in the consortium implementing the PPP
  • As a a partner in the broader platform[1] of key stakeholders around a PPP[2]

In this context it is also important to make a clear distinction between public partners in the donor country and public partners in the developing country where the PPPs are implemented. The MoFA is by definition a financing partner and through its embassy may take place in the broader platform to support the program. Recipient country public actors, may take place in all three roles, but so far have been rare to engage in financing or in joining the consortium.

Indications from practice

From the FDW MTR and the FDOV portfolio scan there indications that it is often difficult for public actors, also in the country concerned, to engage as a ‘financing’ or ‘consortium’ partner for implementation. Certainly upfront. For practical and political reasons it is challenging for Southern governments – national or local – to formally sign up to a PPP, especially against formal rules prescribed by a Dutch financing window. Not withstanding this reality, there are also positive indications that successful PPPs over time manage to get to work much more closely with local and national governments. By actually showing their value on the ground and then entering in tighter forms of collaboration.

An enlightening example in the MoFA session was also given on the Ghana WASH Window, where it appeared to be difficult to align rules and procedures of the Dutch instrument with the Ghanaian government’s own framework on PPPs. This may affect local ownership and opportunities for such instruments to contribute to building local capacities and governance around PPPs.

PPPLab ambitions

In 2016, the ‘Private P’ will continue to be a main focus of PPPLab, for example through work on business models and cases. But the ‘Public P’ will become a real focus of work as well, exploring both challenges and successes with engaging (especially) the Southern public sector. If you indeed have challenges or successes and feel you would like to engage with this trajectory: please contact us! In yet another topic, that of ‘scaling & system change’, the way that private and public forces are combined will also be explored.

We will share and engage with you on these topics. One way of doing that will be our new PPPCafé formula. For further announcements please follow www.ppplab.org and our Twitter account (@PPP_Lab) and see our first newsletter in the new year. But for now: we wish you a happy year end and a good start of 2016 – both in your private and your public life!

Jan Ubels, MT member PPPLab

[1] The term ‘platform’ is used to refer to various types of multi-stakeholder processes, platforms, roundtables etc. in use to consult and engage actors without tying them formally into the project as a consortium partner.

[2] Note that this distinction is not necessarily a strong typology yet. Bit it appeared to be handy at this stage in clarifying a sometimes confusing conversation on the engagement of public partners.