Experts at the just-concluded African Engineering Conference, organised by the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE) in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, have blamed the failure of public-private partnership on weak laws.
It also featured the society’s Annual General Meeting and the UNESCO African Engineering Week.
The events were held at the Tropicana Conference Centre with the Federation of African Engineering Organisation (FAEO) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisations (UNESCO).
Over 600 delegates from across the world attended. Its theme was “Adequate, reliable and sustainable energy in Africa.”
In his presentation entitled: “Nigeria’s infrastructure deficit: Beyond the limitation of finance in public-private partnership and project procurement options,” Senator IyiolaOmisore said the global perspective of PPP is that it remains the best approach to infrastructural growth.
He noted that although the PPP model had been deployed to execute a few public projects, its value has been mostly felt in Lagos State, where the authorities have partnered the private sector on design, finance and management of public utilities.
Outside the state, he said, infrastructure procurement by states is still tied to the old model of contract awards to private firms to execute a project designed and financed by the government. For this reason, the country has fared poorly.
“The critical point to be made here is that, though there seems to be shortage of investable funds in the international market, but Nigeria’s crisis seems compounded by the integrity profile of our legal framework for an ideal PPP model,” he said.
Omisore said without going into the details of the shortfalls in the legal framework, “suffice to say, however, that the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC) Act of 2005, the Public Procurement Act 2007 regulations issued by ICRC governing the PPP process and various state laws as described in each state’s PPP policies, fall short of necessary regulatory framework for proper implementation of PPP projects, most importantly with respect to dispute resolution during the tenor of the contract and drew attention to the absence of political will to see through the policies of previous administration.
He said because concessionaires are aware of a negative tendency by a new administration not to honour to the letter, the tenets of an arrangement by a departed administration, they are often inclined to speed up the inauguration of projects, irrespective of its stage of completion, before the expiration of tenure of the awarding administration. And except there is a determination that a PPP succeed, there are vested interests in a country to ensure that the governments initiative to promote PPP as a policy fail.
“PPP projects often encounter serious resistance from labour unions, civil service employees and sundry socio-economic interest groups,” Omisore said, adding that the general public sometimes misunderstand PPP out of ignorance and on the strategic importance of PPP in a nation’s socio-economic development.
He said PPP are meant to be contractual arrangements between the public and private sectors of the economy, in which responsibilities, risks and obligations are to be shared by both sides in order to guarantee the greatest benefits to the public.
He regreted that in Nigeria, a segment of the public service operators tend to see the private sector concessionaires as the enemies that would deprive them of their jobs, therefore, to be overcome at all cost. This, he said, is often achieved when some rules in the civil service are exhumed to advise the government on why all of a PPP undertaking, or some aspects of PPP project agreement should not be honoured, thereby leading to the government unilaterally rebidding on contracts voluntarily entered.
“Moreso, with a weak legal framework, under which concessionaires cannot be protected, the tendency is for the private sector operators, both from within and from outside of the country, to be wary of doing business with government. Thus, timely procurement of public utilities suffers and the socio-economic development and the country is the worst for it,” he regretted.
The outgoing President, Otis Anyaeji FNSE, thanked Omisore for touching on a crucial aspect affecting the industry by harping on the opportunities that PPP model brings.
Anyaeji called on engineers to see beyond the threshold of career limitations and be creative in their service.
Another speaker, Director of Operations of General Electric, Mr. UzoEzimora, one of the operators of the Nigerian Railway project under the PPP model, emphasised that no government anywhere in the world can fund infrastructural development.
Corroborating Omisore, he beckoned on engineering firms to form formidable partnerships or mergers to pull resources to meet the requisite qualifications for government’s advertised jobs on engineering and projects.