The Infrastructure Consortium for Africa is key in influencing Africa to deliver infrastructure projects efficiently
Lack of modern and efficient infrastructure in Africa has been cited as one of the biggest impediments stifling the continent’s efforts to become competitive globally. According to the African Development Bank, Africa requires an annual injection of $ 130b to $170b so as to fix the infrastructure gap. According to the Infrastructure Financing Trends in Africa 2017 report published by the ICA, a tripartite relationship between bilateral donors, multilateral agencies and African institutions that are involved in financing infrastructure, total funding for infrastructure in 2017 stood at $ 81b, the highest since 2010 and 22% higher than in 2016. This rise is mainly attributed to increased Chinese investment and expenditure by African governments in infrastructure.
Out of the $ 81b funding raised for infrastructure in 2017, only a paltry $2.8b was injected by the private sector. This is despite initiatives by most African countries to establish and strengthen their Public-Private Partnership regulatory framework to attract the private sector into infrastructural development. Most of the mega infrastructure projects in Africa are Greenfield and as such the private sector has shied away and opted for brownfield projects; as the latter bypasses the development and construction risk exposures inherent in Greenfield projects.
Given the challenges of marshaling private funding into infrastructure, the ICA is left at the center stage in the modernization of infrastructure in Africa. How then can these players influence the way Africa conceptualizes, structures, implements and manages infrastructure projects? The following measures by the ICA can turn around this situation:
i) Strengthening and participating in project preparation and planning
The Government’s contracting authorities should engage the expertise of the private sector in the preparation and planning stage especially for large and complex projects. The ICA should also second staff to join the team to enhance efficiency in this critical stage more so in ensuring that the projects are packaged to meet the conditions, requirements and limitations of the specific lenders and grantors of those projects.
However, the cost of preparation and planning of large infrastructure projects can gobble up 5 to 10 % of the total project cost, hence straining the project budget. As a result, most contracting authorities tend to overlook this critical stage, leading to project failures. The ICA and other bodies like the Project Preparation Facilities Network should therefore strengthen and ease Governments access to funding meant for project preparation and planning.
ii) Close monitoring of project implementation schedules and cost structures
Project lenders and governments need to agree on a project monitoring and reporting framework which will then serve to guide the team during the implementation of the project so as to ensure projects are delivered on time and within the set budget. As much as most governments would see this as meddling with the internal affairs of their operations, close monitoring of project costs and time schedules will ensure that contracting authorities instill discipline and procedures that will ensure project costs are well managed and that projects are delivered within the required time frames.
iii) Project funding draw-down framework
Project lenders and project owners should agree on a project funding draw-down framework which is based on strict project milestones. Any deviation from the planned costs and time will jeopardize the access of funds to continue with the implementation of the project. This should be very clear from the onset so as to instill a culture of proactive project cash flow planning and timely draw-down of the project funds.
iv) Transparency and public information
So as to maintain public support, governments should avail information about the project to the public. Governments should periodically avail information about the status and progress of the projects so as to ensure that the public understands what the government is undertaking and the social and economic impact of the project. This can be achieved through publications on the contracting authorities’ website, in the press, on billboards etc. As a result, the public will be able to positively criticize the government when projects are delayed and in turn put pressure on the stakeholders involved to come up with corrective measures.