A major factor hindering infrastructure implementation and delivery is the absence of good governance, according to the 130 delegates from 27 countries who came together for the first Regional Roundtable on Infrastructure Governance in Cape Town in November.
There’s no denying infrastructure is crucial to Africa’s growth prospects. Nor can one ignore the ever-growing need for infrastructure on the continent—in Sub-Saharan Africa, only 35% of the population has access to electricity, and 23% still lack access to safe water and sanitation. Despite an estimated shortfall of nearly $100 billion in infrastructure investment in Africa, lack of financing is not the biggest problem.
The landmark Roundtable brought together representatives from African governments, the global private sector, multilateral and international organizations, civil society organizations and other development partners, for a discussion on the challenges and practical solutions to the governance impeding successful infrastructure delivery in Africa.
So, why is infrastructure so hard to get right?
Pipelines, strategic plans, transparency and trust are vital, said World Bank Group Global Themes Vice President Hartwig Schafer, in his opening ceremony remarks. The private sector is increasingly interested in infrastructure assets in Africa, but only when it can see a government’s strategic vision and how projects fit with that vision, reaffirmed Meridiam’s Founding Partner and CEO Thierry Deau.
But, as Thomas Barrett, Chairman of the OECD Infrastructure Forum, reminded delegates: infrastructure procurement and delivery is as much a matter of managing expectations as it is of managing processes.
While identifying a long list of projects is relatively easy, prioritizing them is not. It requires governments to negotiate the inevitable trade-offs of limited fiscal space, competing interests from stakeholder groups and the pressure of immediate needs versus long-term prospects.
The purpose of this Roundtable series is to not just talk about the problems, but also to share practical tools and frameworks that can help drive change, whether that be in project prioritization, or through standardizing contractual PPP provisions and PPP risk allocation arrangements.
This theme, and a call for meaningful community engagement and projects that are sustainable— economically, environmentally and socially—is a theme that most discussions at the Roundtable came back to.
Ultimately, Infrastructure can’t and will not succeed if it is done by people, rather than with them.
Representing the civil society organizations and some of the most disadvantaged elements of society, Executive Director of Oxfam South Africa, Sipho Mthathi, challenged the government representatives at the event to approach infrastructure as a partnership with their communities. She said this is the only way to build trust, and ultimately improve a project’s chance of success. But it relies on government processes being transparent, data and information being made available throughout the project lifecycle, and prioritizing the needs and rights of the most vulnerable members of society.
There is no doubt that good infrastructure governance is a challenge, with no single ‘silver bullit’ solution. Developed and developing countries alike struggle at a system and project level, but through fora like this Roundtable series, the partners are confident that we are building a community of practitioners equipped with tools and knowledge that can be implemented and drive change.
This event is just the first of two in Sub-Saharan Africa, with the next taking place in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire on June 6–7. As part of a broader series, the next Roundtable will take place in Singapore on April 6, followed by one in Latin America in mid-to-late 2018.
We encourage all interested parties to continue to engage with the series and the topics it raises. Follow #infragovernance on Twitter to stay up-to-date