The inaugural African Roundtable on Infrastructure Governance conference, hosted by the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) and cosponsored by the World Bank, saw robust debate among members about the most effective way to overcome infrastructure development bottlenecks and leverage private-sector productive capacity to accelerate the roll-out of public infrastructure.
The conference focused on sharingeffective and ineffective cases of infrastructure delivery from across the world to determine what the effective models of infrastructure delivery are and to use these to develop standards and tools to support more efficient, effective, sustainable and affordable infrastructure development in Africa.
The aim of the initiative was to galvanise private-sector expertise, finances and solutions for public-service delivery and discuss how this could be complemented, said World Bank Group global themes VP Hartwig Schafer.
DBSA CEO and MD Patrick Dlamini noted that Africa could develop an effective, economically relevant and impactful infrastructure network that would lift its people out of poverty and enable them to prosper, but only if the continent could ensure the effective governance of infrastructure projects to secure buy-in from funders and investors, as well as private-sector companies and communities.
“Infrastructure is a significant enabler in any economy for growth and development and, unless we get it right, an integrated Africa will remain a dream. If we do, Africa can follow the example of other emerging market countries and [will] be able to take its people from poverty to living with dignity, achieving prosperity and enjoying effective and efficient service delivery from governments.
“As the DBSA, we want to see integrated regions supported by good infrastructure roll-out that will progressively free people from poverty and dependence and achieve shared prosperity. This can only happen if governance is never compromised. The pall of poor governance and corruption bedevil economies and we need to face up to these challenges with decisiveness. Only then can the confidenceof investors and funders that their capital will be looked afterbe engendered,” said Dlamini.
Infrastructure development consultancy and think-tank Global Infrastructure Hub CEO Chris Heathcote emphasised that infrastructure development usually took significantly longer than the average political cycles and, to ensure that projects were not abandoned, with an associated loss of money and the trust of stakeholders, a national long-term vision had to be adopted that civil society bought into.
Such plans should focus on the role infrastructure development will play in improving the economy of a country. A national body must collect, collate and communicate all inputs and present an expert plan that serves to align the public- and private-sector objectives, thereby securing the broad support that will ensure its continuation beyond political cycles.
These national plans also provide guidance and standards for the development of private-sector corporate social responsibility infrastructure.
Further, Heathcote emphasised that the efficient roll-out of infrastructure was best done in an orchestrated fashion. For example, the construction of a road through an area provided an opportune time to roll out additional infrastructure, such as water and telecommunications, especially since the machines and labour were already present.
However, this “multiplexing” of infrastructure roll-out could only happen if there was a concrete, broadly accepted plan that involved local communities and local small and medium-sized enterprises and which addressed short-term needs as well as included plans to meet the long-term needs of these communities and the broader national economy.
“A broadly accepted national plan also creates ‘stickiness’ for infrastructure projects and decisions, as any changes made to the plan, for example, by a new government, must be justified; it reinforces rational decision-making on infrastructure projects.
“Additionally, while the bodies must collect input from all stakeholders, these plans must be stable to enable sufficient planning and visibility for public-sector, private-sector and funding organisations to determine their own strategies and roles in, and gear themselves up for, the development of the various projects,” Heathcote said.
If this planning framework can be established and governments demonstrate their adherence to these nationally accepted plans, confidence in the predictability and completion of infrastructure development can be increased.
However, the initial demonstration of adherence to these plans is crucial and, although the initial projects might not secure broad involvement of all potential actors, if the first projects are transparent and effectively rolled out, this will send out the correct signals to investors and engender confidence in national and international funders that governments and nations are pursuing a concrete development agenda.
Demonstrating transparency and good governance for a small number of projects can secure the confidence from all stakeholders to dramatically increase the number of public–private partnership projects and accelerate infrastructure development. One good project can lead to the development of 20 projects, Heathcote said.
While the planning for effective and efficient infrastructure projects can often take longer than their actual construction, the difficult and time-consuming work done by the public sector, private companies and civil society organisations can serve to provide standards for the roll-out of infrastructure. These standards also serve as control mechanisms at various planning levels, thereby accelerating the rolling out of infrastructure projects at local, regional and national levels, he concluded.