Public-Private Partnerships. It’s the international development world’s catch phrase of all catch phrases. Its clever name gives the impression that the best of both worlds will be had…I mean, why not? Implementing the hard earned expertise of the private sector with the empirical knowledge of local governments is sure to have positive and lasting impacts on target areas of interests. I’ll be the first to admit that I was absolutely down for this deal at first glance. But as with all things in life, there’s a catch…a lot of them actually.
Further analysis of the basic framework of public private partnerships, leads one to the realization that this is not as simple as it looks. For starters, the world has not yet outlined international standards for the handling of said partnerships although a great deal of PPPs have bilateral relationships. Drawing from the US based Centre for Public Private Partnerships’ principles of successful PPPs – (1) political leadership, (2) public sector involvement, (3) a well thought out plan, (4) a dedicated income stream and (5) communication with stakeholders – one cannot help but notice the interesting conundrum that is inherent in the very success of these programs…it appears as if it would take strong and functioning governmental leadership in order to have a decent shot at making these programs work. What we see in the real world is the very reason why many developing countries are in need of these sorts of relationships to begin with is precisely due to the fact that their governments do not exhibit these traits. This is problematic when you realize that a central tenet of these symbiotic arrangements is that both entities should be able to benefit from the partnership while maintaining equal standing with respect to power….so what happens when this doesn’t happen? How can a developing nation truly stand tall and defend its national interests, particularly as it pertains to health PPPs, in the face of the “first world” clout. This absolutely should not be taken lightly considering the implications PPPs could potentially have on the world’s most vulnerable citizens.
As it turns out, there is somewhat of a tiny, dim light at the end of the tunnel. Plans to develop current international standards and recommendations on PPPs are being discussed as we speak by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), a decent starting point in this no man’s land. These plans are supposed to address the lack of capacity of the governments of developing countries and provide clear models to base their projects and programs. This is by no means the cure to the intrinsic problems found in PPPs. The hope is that they will at least serve as a sort of leveraging tool that developing countries can use moving forward to protect their interests and ultimately better serve the needs of those that need it the most.