An unfinished end

As per standard definitions, a public-private partnership involves collaboration between a government agency and a private-sector company that can be used to finance, build and operate projects, such as public transportation networks, parks, and convention centers.

Public-private partnerships often involve concessions of tax or other operating revenue, protection from liability, or partial ownership rights over nominally public services and property to the private sector and for-profit entities.

In the neo-liberal economic era, there is an increasing push by money lending institutions for Public-Private Partnerships (PPP). This comes with increased criticism on the same by development practitioners, academics, civil society organizations and media professionals. Proponents of PPPs hinge their arguments on fiscal inefficiency and the procedural inefficacies of the public sector.

Critics of PPPs claim that the experience of Public-Private Partnerships in many developed and developing countries alike has been negative, and few projects have delivered results in the public interest, which represents a serious threat for citizens that are in need of services. The second criticism, equally serious and which merits further deliberations, is that the conceptual footing of PPPs is skewed towards the private sector, for which financial imperatives supersedes human considerations.

The under-construction website of Pakistan’s Public Private Partnership Authority (PPPA) says that the federal government has always been very keen to procure public assets and development of infrastructure projects by leveraging private-sector investment. The pertinent Act mandated the Authority to establish a regulatory framework to attract domestic and foreign private investment in the development of public infrastructure through a transparent and fair procurement process.

The evidence that the Public-Private Partnership model has resulted in any improvement in procurement practices or is better than the traditional procurement practice to reduce poverty and inequality, including gender and faith-based disparities, is not coming up in bright colors. And the only authentic evidence is PC-III and PC-V reports of the projects in the life of a project.

As per the Planning Commission forms about the different stages of a project, PC-V is the evaluation of the project after completion of the project. Before that, PC-I is the main document which has scope of work, cost, drawings, etc. PC-II is the feasibility report (it should have been PC-I actually), PC-III is about monitoring the project, and PC-IV is the completion document of the project with handing over / taking over.

The health of the monitoring and evaluation ventures of a project, however, could be gauged by three parameters – the objective of the exercise, carried out by whom, and how it has been carried out.

The objective of the monitoring of a development venture always needs to be learning for future projects and programmes. The three questions that need to be answered are: what progress is made, what are the issues in progress-made, and how to resolve those issues.

The frequency of monitoring matters a lot. It cannot be done once in a quarter by those that seem alien: in appearance, language, attire, and demeanor; riders of luxurious cars and consumers of bottled water. This sort of project tourism with a ‘jolly good time’ does not contribute to project learning and only fulfills the mandatory requirement of the monitoring of some donors and to add to subsequent paperwork. It should be done religiously every week and the documentation needs to answer the above-mentioned three questions.

To avoid making an otherwise meaningful exercise tangential, monitoring by communities is preferred. The project should have the programmatic and fiscal flexibility to enhance the capacity of the community. At the end of the day, it’s their lives that are at stake by any development intervention. Evaluations usually have the privilege of hindsight and need to be done with the aim to convert the obtained information into something useful for the rectification of future projects, and not for mere closing of the project.

Research, media reports, onsite observations and anecdotal evidence about the development interventions in Karachi mostly second the criticism on the PPP model. The proponents of Public-Private Partnerships thus need to come clean on the usefulness of the model by providing irrefutable evidence of the success of its stated objectives to the stakeholders. Making PC-III and PC-V of past and current development interventions under PPPs accessible and online would be the first step in that direction. Whether they do this or not depends on how confident they are about the concept and the operational aspects of the PPP model.

The writer is a lecturer at in theDepartment of Architecture andPlanning at NED, Karachi.


Published in The News 19 January 2021

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