Transparent and accountable public-private partnerships enable inclusive and sustainable growth, ESCAP tells regional ministerial conference

A commercial building is under construction. Photo Credit: UN Photo/Kibae Park

Asia-Pacific countries must ensure transparency and accountability in Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) crucial for bridging major infrastructure gaps which are keeping the region from realizing its full growth potential and making it more balanced and sustainable, the United Nations told a high-level forum here today.

Addressing the Third Asia-Pacific Ministerial Conference on Public Private Partnerships for Infrastructure Development organized by the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran and supported by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of ESCAP, Dr. Noeleen Heyzer outlined improvements needed in PPPs to remove infrastructure bottlenecks in the region.

“If we are to make the best use of the opportunities PPP offers for sustainable infrastructure development, we must focus on improving the transparency and the accountability of the projects and make these work for people and our planet. For too long the governance models we have used have meant that the mistakes of the private sector have been paid for by the public sector – and this must change,” Dr. Heyzer said in her keynote speech to the Conference.

“Risks and rewards must be more equitably shared. This is the only way to establish a climate of lasting trust and real partnership, and to dispel the perception that PPPs serve vested interests rather than the wider public.”

Senior government representatives from over 20 countries at the 14 November Conference event reviewed progress in making PPPs work for infrastructure development in the region as mandated by ESCAP member States. The Conference was preceded by the 11-12 November “High-level Expert Group Meeting on Infrastructure PPPs for Sustainable Development” also organized by ESCAP in Tehran and a business forum convened by the Islamic Republic of Iran to appraise the Iranian private sector of global developments and trends in PPP.

The third in a series of ministerial meetings on Asia-Pacific PPPs organized by ESCAP, the Tehran Ministerial Conference follows those held in Seoul in 2007 and in Jakarta in 2010. Like its predecessors, the Tehran Conference will adopt a declaration to strengthen regional cooperation in furthering PPP for infrastructure development.

The Tehran Conference is “a valuable opportunity to forge a new vision for PPPs in Asia and the Pacific – one which supports the efforts of governments and people across the region to build a more inclusive and sustainable future,” Dr. Heyzer said.

Infrastructural bottlenecks prevent countries from closing development gaps and building more inclusive prosperity. Erratic power grids hamper productivity; poor transport reduces access to employment and lowers competitiveness; and poor water and sanitation systems poses health hazards to millions of the most vulnerable people in Asia and the Pacific.

Stating that it was necessary to see PPPs as “enablers of sustainable development…which improve the lives of our people through better delivery of quality public services,” Dr. Heyzer listed four specific improvements in implementation of regional PPPs.

These include creating mechanisms to ensure transparency and accountability in PPP projects; development of PPP units based on international best practice; investing in human resources for PPP ranging from institutional to technical and from judicial to financial; and agreeing on a new business paradigm for sustainable infrastructure development through PPP.

“This new paradigm for business must go beyond even the United Nations Global Compact, to incorporate different measures of costs and returns, alternative understandings of shareholder value, and which sees the relationships between business, government, society and the environment as ones of mutual respect and mutual benefit,” Dr. Heyzer said.