Working effectively with public partners in a PPP? The cases of Ghana and Kenya

Workshop session report by Marije Balt

Achieving sustainable results in promoting food security and water & sanitation requires working effectively with in-country public partners, as research by the PPPLab highlighted. However partners in a public private partnership (PPP) need to be aware of drivers or interests that might emerge during the process of partnering. Understanding challenges and risks of public partner engagement is key, not only when designing the partnership but on a continuous basis. Experience and leadership are indispensable to respond flexibly to contextual challenges affecting Public P engagement. In addition, a repertoire of practices and lessons learned can help partners making a strategic, context-specific choice; why, on what, with whom and how to work with public partners. 

On 1 December 2016, the PPPLab Food & Water organised the event ‘Making PPPs Work’ in The Hague, attended by participants from private sector, knowledge institutions, public sector including the Dutch government and non-profit organisations. The afternoon session ‘Working Effectively with Public Partners in a PPP’ presented the preliminary findings of two case studies; a water management project in North Ghana and a food security project in Kenya. The explored cases are part of a research project by the PPPLab, having been selected from a total of 12 cases which researchers from the Partnership Resource Centre (PrC) interviewed. These, and relevant literature have informed the first output of this research project, the insight booklet Partnering with the Public P, which identified common overarching incentives, strengths and challenges of the Public P working in PPPs, due to its public nature.

In the interviews for this project it became clear that especially the companies who as lead partners (of the PPPs) have the ambitions to scale their projects and operations, have developed a wide range of practices and options for working effectively with public partners, mainly focused on mitigating political risk. This and more specific challenges that lead partners deal with range from limited capacities to partner, to politicised institutions and legal hurdles. The issue of legitimacy, and accountability gaps among in-country public partners towards the general population was also alluded to in the workshop discussion. These gaps require the partnership to carefully review which public partners to work with in order to promote the project’s ownership and license to operate.

Bringing these insights, practices and options together, while recognising their context and sector specific nature, is key for a much needed repertoire: why, on what, with whom and how to work with public partners. The workshop shared findings on the specific practices and strategies from the two case studies in order to help other partnerships to inform their own strategic choices and build a repertoire.

The dynamic reality that lead partners such as Agrico East Africa (Kenya) and IWAD Ghana Ltd. deal with was discussed, based on field-based interviews with their public partners, highlighting a number of practices building on opportunities and mitigating challenges. In the case of Ghana, on the complex issue of land ownership, the partnership of IWAD Ghana Ltd. opted to work at different levels. It actively engaged local traditional leaders in order to build support for the project’s need for land in a bottom up way. As such, it paved the way for scaling the irrigation of lands for commercial agriculture, providing work for hundreds of local smallholders, being actively supported and co-financed by the Ghanaian government through the Savannah Accelerated Development Authority (SADA).

Another practice of mitigating challenges is high level political engagement. This was introduced by Agrico’s partnership upon a lengthy certification and quality control process of its potato seeds by a government agency. This tended to jeopardise the overall progress of the project, aimed at enhancing food security in Kenya through the development of the Kenyan agribusiness sector via vertical integration of a new Kenyan potato value chain. The partnership opted to escalate the issue to a higher governmental level with help of the Dutch government through a visit of the responsible Dutch state secretary. However it was stressed that a private company has and should have no mandate in public policy and as such limited influence. The discussion focused on the uncontrollable and unpredictable aspect of this for PPPs and how to mitigate this.

With public policy being the single most important challenge for development, what should be the role of the Dutch Public P in PPPs in addition to its financial support? Partnerships usually depend on the trust factor that diplomats bring in these contexts. However can they intervene on behalf of partnerships, and what if this potentially impacts on bilateral relations with the country concerned? The PPPLab will bring together further practices and lessons on this particular dimension of working with public partners.