Sixty Years of Failure?

As an African Diaspora member, I am often perplexed why – after nearly 60 years of independence – are African countries still struggling to beneficially leverage all the foreign direct investments, donor and development ban aid and institutional building support that they have received.  In my 30 years of travels across and residency in Africa (and other emerging economies), I constantly encounter the ruins of ambitious infrastructure projects that have been sponsored to the tune of trillions of dollars by investors, donors and aid organizations and I wonder what has gone wrong?

Why have ordinary Africans not benefit from the investments and aid from resource rich nations?  Why can’t we get it right?  Why are there no African Singapores? Why do we not fix the problems that we see and only talk ad nauseum about?  Why are we not weaning ourselves of aid and growing in resilient ways with sustainable best practices?

If we are all being honest, we know many of the answers to the questions that afflict Africa. I firmly believe it is time that we stop blaming others for our failures or talk conspiratorially about neo-colonialism when billions of dollars continue to be squandered annually through corruption and through the connivance of weak national leaders and bad foreign actors who continue to chip away at the potential for sustainable development (see Where are Africa’s Billions

What are You Personally Doing to Promote Ethical Development?

We have to ask ourselves the following question – as responsible international development practitioners – “when we are going to commit to ethical and inclusive development which is not focused on our personal wellbeing, but on the well-being of the communities, we say we are helping. As President Kennedy legendarily stated – “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”  I challenge you to ask when did you last ask yourself that question? This is particularly relevant for those who enter public service in Africa.  Do we not think that there is something wrong when we come across public servants on government salaries who have lifestyles that even westerners could not afford?

Misadventures Among the Powerful

I do not typically endorse books, but I have just completed reading David Levine’s book – Nothing but a circus – Misadventures among the Powerful – and this book should be made compulsory reading for those employed in African development.

David Levine is a member of the Board of the Liechtenstein Foundation for State Governance. In his book he takes the reader through an “eye-opening exploration of the human weaknesses for power and a journey through the absurd world of global elites who stand guard and perform astonishing contortions to maintain the illusion of integrity, decency and public service.” He also talks about the“appalling lengths to which people go in order to justify their unscrupulous choices.”

As I read the book, I was cynically bemused about the images he provided about self-proclaimed African development “experts,” their total lack of integrity, and their almost piranha-like frenzy to get their share of development opportunities irrespective of any collateral development damage.  In every case, I could rename the characters in the book with the names of those I have personally encountered.  Examples of lack of integrity include government officials who have no qualms about flying first class to “development forums” that they do not need to personally attend (rather than spend that money on development needs of their countries), to the family members of “elites” that expect to be rewarded as aberrant “fixers” for projects.

Making a Quick Buck

Almost weekly I am approached by “entrepreneurs” who have projects they want me to participate in.  Unfortunately, many of these fixer proponents who are blinded by dollar sign want me to find investors to invest in meritless projects which they assure me are guaranteed moneymakers and where I will make a quick buck if I take all the risk.  Additionally, these overtures almost every time require me to find investors who will invest in risky projects for the unscrupulous bad actors who expect kickbacks.  I always have a quick answer for these debatable offers, the “U.S. Foreign Corruption Practices Act.”  This seems to cool the ardour of many, yet there are those who try to tell me that one can interpret corruption in many ways and that one person’s corrupt act is another’s gift. I chose not to go down this path of reasoning that would damage my integrity.

Making Excuses

We can make excuses about this and say, “Well, that’s the way Africa does business.”  My retort is that his is exactly the way that African business should not be done.  As a strong proponent of Public-Private Partnerships, I was also interested in how many times David Levine mentions PPPs in his book.  Unfortunately, these mentions were not accompanied with great enthusiasm.  I agree with his scepticism, especially in countries where there are weak enabling environments (legal frameworks) and a lack of procurement authorities that can provide robust oversite over competitive and transparent PPP procurements. Again, this is not an excuse.  Irrespective of the enabling environment, there is nothing that prevents development champions to be nothing but integrous. African PPP public sector procurement specialists need to embrace integrity even more than other public officials because the bringing together of the public and private sectors in partnerships, unfortunately, has the potential to create a rich environment for corruption instead of creating opportunities for leveraging innovation for the common good.

Two UNECE Initiatives

I have been involved in two exceptional initiatives that the UNECE PPP Center of Excellence (in Geneva) has launched that are focused on reintroducing integrity-driven principles and “value for money” considerations that are further enhanced by “value for people”, and “value for the future” norms into PPP projects that have the goal of enhancing development best practices which will allow countries to reach their Sustainable development Goals (SDGs).  These initiatives I believe will prevent the “whitewashing” of projects that mascarade as a project that are legitimate, when they are only debatable endeavours.

Zero Tolerance to Corruption

The first voluntary initiative is the “UNECE Standard on a Zero Tolerance Approach to Corruption in PPP Procurement Implementing the United Nations Agenda for Sustainable Development through effective ‘People-First Public-Private Partnership

The standard has the following objectives –

  • Providing a voluntary set of principles and conditions that governments could incorporate in their regulations or policies in undertaking PfPPP procurement in compliance with the SDGs.
  • Assisting governments desiring to improve the implementation of PPPs in ways that mobilize their potential and reduce risk and complexity while improving the regulatory response to corruption in PPPs.
  • Informing and educating all parties, including civil society, on how PPPs may be entered and operated that are of high quality and not compromised by unethical behaviour and defects caused by the lack of integrity or corruption.

Contrary to what UNECE says in the first bullet, I believe that “could” should be replaced with “must” if we believe in integrity.

People First PPP Impact Assessment Tool

The Second is the People-first PPP Impact Assessment Tool which is currently under Public Review until 12 August 2020

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Source: UNECE PPP COE

This voluntary use tool will help determine and reinforce “project integrity” through the use of five benchmarks (outcomes) that together will constitute what is called ‘People-first’ PPPs. They are: access and equity; economic effectiveness and fiscal sustainability; environmental sustainability and resilience; replicability; and stakeholder engagement (see below).

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Source: UNECE PPP COE

This tool combined with many other efficiency metric tools that already exist have the potential to ensure that we implement PPP projects that are truly focused on the social and economic wellbeing of people and not on elitist grabs for wealth by bad actors.

Embracing Integrity – It is Your Choice

If the principles that these tools advocate are supported by PPP practitioners, we can be better stewards of PPP practices that are driven by our personal integrity.  If we embrace integrity, I believe that we can debunk the short-term personal gains of bad actors for long-term goals that are focused on shared prosperity of all citizens of a country.  Competitiveness and transparent, when combined with personal integrity, will help us avoid “bias risk” towards African development caused by risk perceptions that currently exist vis-a-vis corruption.  Only if uncompromised integrity is embraced will risks to sustainable and resilient projects – i.e. corruption, destructive competitive geopolitical driven development and the hegemony of the “development mafia” – be mitigated.

It is your choice!

Conclusion

The World Association of PPP Units and Professionals is a strong champion of the implementation of “People First PPPs” and what it stands for.  Our members are committed to ensuring that our peers are fully committed to best practices that will reduce corrupt practices.  In addition, the International Sustainable and Resilience Center – with which I am associated with – is focused on ensuring that “People First PPPs” (PfPPPs) become tools of sustainable and resilient projects.

The article was written and published by David Baxter. Published here with permission from the author.  The original article can be viewed here. All views expressed belong to the author.

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