Commentary | Where Are the Reform Champions: The Gambia @ 55 Whither Public Private Partnerships?
Written by Almamy Fanding Taal:
Under the 1970 Republican Constitution 55 years was the statutory retirement age for employees of the Public Service Commission. Now that the Gambia as a nation has reached that magical number perhaps it is time to retire the post-independence development consensus and paradigms that the PPP Governments bequeathed to our ‘improbable nation’.
The development strategies promoted and funded by the Bretton Woods institutions that were deployed since the independence of the Gambia have clearly not worked out, as such continuing to implement these strategies and expecting to become a developed nation is irresponsible to say the least.
At the same time Singapore and Mauritius: two countries similar to the Gambia in size and colonial inheritance have successfully transformed into prosperous and dynamic City States. The secret sauce for the success of these two nations is leadership and a capable state that have been investing in partnerships and ventures across the economic spectrum.
55 years on our nation continues to squander every advantage she has: as a nation we continue to linger around the lowest ranks of all known development indicators. As a nation we continue to expend most of our development capital and intellectual firepower on rainfed peanuts farming, as if it was ordained or decreed that peanuts are the only halal nuts that can thrive in the Gambian soil.
The lacklustre growth in Africa’s infrastructure development has somewhat stalled the region’s already fast growth rate. Despite recent impressive performances in Senegal, Rwanda and Ethiopia, most African countries have glaring infrastructure deficits in buildings, electricity, transport, and water and sanitation.
It is estimated that annual investments of $1.7 trillion, including for climate mitigation and adaptation, will be needed across developing Africa in 2020–2030 to maintain the region’s growth momentum, eradicate poverty— the region’s intractable development agenda—and take effective action against climate change.
Infrastructure development is a sine qua non for the attainment of the objectives of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area and will be a key element in attaining the Sustainable Development Goals, and its expansion will be vital for tackling Africa’s rapid urbanization and strengthening value chains.
African Governments recognize the need to expand and modernize their infrastructure. But tight fiscal conditions are preventing them from developing infrastructure at anything like the level needed, and especially in Least Developed Country economies such as the Gambia.
With most of the African countries grappling with fiscal deficits, policymakers are increasingly looking to partnerships with the private sector to help close infrastructure gaps. The private sector is instrumental to Africa’s economic success. Enabling high performance on the part of businesses will depend on the private sector taking on a much bigger role than it has been playing so far in building and upgrading the region’s infrastructure. But what is that role exactly?
The Gambian private sector continues to be shallow, fragmented and minuscule. Capital formation and venture aggregators are absent from the ecosystem-with little domestic savings, no stock exchange or capital market. The Gambia Government Treasury Bills and notes remain the safest investment instruments even with lower returns for investors.
The above scenario looked at through a PPP lens is a great opportunity for the Gambia Government to design a vibrant ecosystem that will support a partnership economic development paradigm. Such an ecosystem will have well regulated markets, efficient and effective frameworks for joint ventures, cooperative ventures and PPPs all these will in turn enhance private sector participation.
The objective of private sector participation in infrastructure should go beyond attracting investments to help close the infrastructure gap. The primary goal should be to deploy all the resources and expertise of the private sector in the provision of physical infrastructure and infrastructure services, especially its incentivized finance, operational efficiency, and innovation capacity.
Public–private partnerships (PPPs) have been an effective conduit to channel private capital and funds to address the broader development agenda of most of the countries developed as well as developing. The Gambia Government has a PPP Directorate within the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs, and a PPP Policy since 2015.
Two notable PPPs that relatively successful are the ACE Submarine Cable Project and the Mandinary Depot Project. Presently the GIETAF Project is advertised as the largest PPP project in the Gambia. What is missing in the PPP landscape of the Gambia is a legally binding framework that is completely transparent and predictable.
At the time writing I can confirm that since last year there is a draft PPP Bill, a draft Capital Markets Bill, and a draft State Owned Enterprises Bill, all three bills are in the custody of the Ministry of Finance and were drafted by international consultants hired and paid for by the Gambia’s development partners.
The real question is why are these pieces of legislation gathering dust in the cupboards of the Government? There may be several reasons that the Government will proffer but the real answer is there are no serious reforms champions in the Government; and as long as the Executive arm of the government continues to take the lead the in the law making process and the National Assembly continues to be a sessional Assembly the laws that are essential to transform our nation into a high energy and prosperous democracy will not be enacted. The rule of law will continue to flounder and sustainable development will continue to elude our nation.
Almamy Fanding Taal is a General Counsel at Afri Atlantic Capital Limited & Africa Development Group. LLP