Knut Ostby: Opening Remarks at the Regional Roundtable for Promoting Public Private Partnerships

30 May 2012

Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen.

A special Ni Sa Bula Vinaka to our overseas participants and resource persons who have come from various  Pacific Islands countries and Asian countries like Bhutan, Nepal, Philippines including our neighbours Australia and New Zealand.

This Roundtable is indeed a momentous occasion for us in UNDP as we are in the process of planning the next 5 year cycle of programming in the Pacific. Up high in the list of priorities for the region is to accelerate progress towards the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The Joint Statement by Pacific Leaders and the UN Secretary-General in Auckland in September last year stresses the importance of the MDGs for the Pacific, and the need to work on an acceleration framework to try and remove key bottlenecks in the short time remaining. With only 3 years to go before the 2015 deadline there is a pressing need among countries to do as much as possible to advance progress,  and in particular for each country to address those MDGs where progress has been slowest.

As we are all aware, MDGs is not a remote and theoretical concern for international organizations. It was a commitment by 189 member countries of the UN in 2000, to respect the right to development for all peoples everywhere. By setting a global minimum standard, the MDGs are helping to focus efforts towards the needs of the most vulnerable. And the beauty of the MDGs is not only that they are a global standard, but also that they are globally owned and agreed. These are goals for the peoples of each country, and as such it is the work not only of governments and aid organizations to work towards them. The efforts that will make the MDGs happen are also the efforts of everyone including individuals, civil society and - importantly – of the private sector.

In the lead up to the Rio+20 meeting in June the global community will be reviewing progress and political commitment for sustainable development. We will work to develop strategies for how we can best accelerate progress toward the achievement of MDGs by 2015.

But not only the current MDGs will be on the table. An important part of the discussion will be about how we can identify new and emerging goals and strategies for how to accelerate sustainable development also beyond 2015.

Progress on MDGs achievement has been uneven in the Pacific, with gains in some countries and some lost ground in others. The lost ground has been particularly evident where there has been political instability, conflict or natural disasters. The need to strengthen fiscal discipline, the impact of global externalities, domestic urban/rural migration and vulnerabilities to climate change and natural disasters have further affected the ability of Pacific countries to realize significant MDGs gains.

Economic growth in the Pacific has been relatively sluggish over the past two years, averaging an annual growth rate of 3.3% (Asian Development Bank 2009).  Poverty and inequality is growing, and even in countries with a seemingly more positive growth rate there has been no noticeable reduction in poverty. Taking into account the significant variation within and among countries, available data suggests that one in four households in the Pacific experiences poverty and hardship. Clearly, strategies and economic policy reforms in many countries have not yielded the expected growth or have not turned out to be sufficently pro-poor.  There is an urgent need for most Pacific Island countries to balance competing national priorities with resource constraints. To produce better development outcomes, there is a need to enhance the effectiveness of often diminishing aid.

One of the challenges towards the achievement of MDGs relates to effective provision of local economic and social services. And MDG achievement is tied very closely to governance challenges, especially, to the role that local governments play in organizing services and reaching out to communities.  

The provision of public services poses a major challenge for local governments in most Pacific countries. Local governments in the Pacific have limited capacity (human and financial) to ensure that all citizens receive basic necessities such as water and sanitation, infrastructure, and energy and environment services. Some Pacific island countries have embarked (or planning to) on decentralization reforms which are transferring service delivery responsibilities to local governments. As more responsibility is placed on local governments, it is becoming increasingly clear that local governments cannot meet the continually growing demand for services by acting alone, and that there is a need to look for support from other actors.

Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) is one of the most promising forms of such collaboration (between local government and other actors). It is based on the recognition that both the public and private sectors can benefit by pooling together their financial resources, know-how, and expertise in the delivery of basic services to all citizens. Successful private enterprises create wealth, jobs and improved living standards in local communities. Private enterprises, however, depend on favourable local business conditions which include a clearly defined framework, a transparent and inclusive process and most importantly financial sustainability to achieve prosperity. Local governments have an essential role in creating favourable environments for business success and job creation. The achievement of economic and social development at the local level therefore is a partnership between local government, business and community interests.

Evidence has shown that, in a number of countries, pro-poor Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) are emerging as a promising response to community demands for improved local services. It is as a contribution to this promising dimension that this regional roundtable on Public-Private Partnerships in the Pacific has been organized.  The hosting of the workshop is a joint effort by UNDP, through its Pacific Centre and its sister centre in Bangkok, in collaboration with AusAid’s Pacific Leadership Programme (PLP), the Commonwealth Local Government Forum-Pacific (CLGF) and the Pacific Islands Private Sector Organization (PIPSO).

Our key aim of hosting the roundtable is to create awareness and explore options with Pacific Island Countries of the potential for introducing innovative reforms in procurement and public service delivery which will improve local economic development.  In doing so, it will be important to reflect on the specific conditions existing in each of the Pacific island countries represented here today and consider options that best meet the specific needs of countries in this part of the world.  We will hear from the experience of others from outside the Pacific but in doing so it will be important that we consider how these ideas can be adjusted and put to good use here in the Pacific.

UNDP’s Public-Private Partnerships for Service Delivery (PPPSD) programme has a mandate to support local governments in addressing their service delivery responsibilities. The delivery of essential services to the poor remains at the heart of the MDG agenda. Therefore, the PPPSD works to develop the capacities of local stakeholders to use the potential of partnerships to improve service delivery. Locally managed initiatives help strengthen communities through helping neighbors to become connected in a network of financial, civic and social relationships.

PPPSD works with local governments and a wide range of stakeholders in MDG related services such as energy, education, health, sanitation, water supply and waste management. The programme provides support on three fronts:

(i) Advisory services to establish a conducive policy environment for partnerships,

(ii) Capacity development to engage in partnerships for local service delivery, and

(iii) Support implementation of ‘quick wins’ partnerships initiatives to improve poor people’s access to services. Some examples of these quick wins are to address poor solid waste management and scarce renewable energy sources, which are posing a major challenge to the environment.

UNDP along with other development partners looks forward to meaningful deliberations at this roundtable. We hope it will provide concrete steps forward that could be implemented in your respective countries within the available resources and capacities. Also based on the lessons learned from other countries, I would like to propose to the participants to consider the following in your deliberations:

  1. How could partnerships help provide a solution to the challenges of service delivery in your country? What are the features of a Public-Private Partnership that would be most useful to you? And how would these partnerships help accelerate our progress towards the MDGs?
  2. How can partnership building best be facilitated? How can a neutral entity without vested interest help build partnerships?  
  3. What is the best way of ensuring that transparency and accountability of key actors is observed at all times?
  4. How could an enabling environment be created through the concept of “light touch” or user friendly regulations? Or put differently: How is it possible to step up reforms that promotes inclusive participation and growth?

Let me end my remarks by WISHING YOU ALL THE BEST AND A SUCCESSFUL ROUNDTABLE MEETING.

Thank you very much.