Public-private partnerships: The global debt iceberg?

Source: Tim Jones, Brettonwoods Project, June 29, 2016

According to the World Bank public-private partnerships (PPPs), a catch-all term used widely to indicate investments involving both the public and private sectors, are now responsible for 15-20 per cent of infrastructure investment in developing countries. … The cost to a government of using PPPs to invest is usually higher than if it had simply borrowed the money itself. This is because private sector borrowing costs more, private contractors demand a significant profit, and negotiations are normally weighted in the private sector’s favour, particularly when government familiarity with and capacity to develop favourable PPP contracts are weak, as is often the case in developing countries. A 2015 study by the World Bank’s Independent Evaluation Group found that of 442 World Bank-supported PPPs, no more than three per cent were assessed for their fiscal impact on the country involved.

Research commissioned by the European Parliament in 2014 suggests that PPPs are the most expensive way for governments to invest in infrastructure, ultimately costing more than double financing made through bank loans or bond issuance. According to research by Maximilien Queyranne from the IMF Fiscal Affairs Department, the fiscal risks of PPPs are “potentially large” because they can be used to “move spending off budget and bypass spending controls” and “move debt off balance sheet and create contingent and future liabilities”.