Private sector finally welcome in Africa?

The acceptance of private sector participation in ports in Africa is gaining traction, and not before time. At least that’s what a meeting of port minds in Nigeria would have us believe. The Port Management Association of West and Central Africa at its 35th Council Meeting and 11th Round Table Conference held recently in Lagos, Nigeria, came out firmly in favour of increased private sector participation in ports as a means of achieving cost efficiency improvements.

The Council meeting, held under the theme ‘Impact of Port Concession on the Socio-Economic Development of Our Countries’ ended with the resolution that, “member countries should put in place robust legal frameworks that will sustain the growth of Public Private Partnerships in port management systems”. Words that are encouraging to hear and that generally reflect a much changed position from a decade ago when there was still a strong belief in the public versus private system of port operation.

Successful privatisation programmes such as the major one that has been implemented in Nigeria have, however, brought some insight into what the private sector can do better than the public sector and hence a changed perception, although the learning curve is by no means over in this respect. What would also help facilitate this however is improved process to the goal – what can perhaps be termed Step 2. In particular, concession processes that are not weighed exclusively by cash received considerations but place greater emphasis on technical considerations in the broadest sense of the word.

A better balance between the two elements can lead to the selection of a more appropriate long term strategic partner and potentially to all-round greater economic benefit. The trouble is of course that such systems are not high on the agenda of African nations where cash considerations are usually to the fore especially in today’s troubled economic times. A system of this ilk is more likely to be found deployed in a mature economy than an emerging one. It remains a laudable goal, however, as a longer term objective and as part of efforts by the IMF, World Bank and aid agencies to develop Africa’s infrastructure, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa. Source: Port Strategy

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