Public/Private Partnership : The Inconceivable Reticence!

Cameroonians are now rejoicing over the Lolabe-Kribi express road constructed in the port city of the Ocean Division and which is already greatly facilitating traffic from the Mboro port site to the rest of the country and to the entire central African sub-region. The 38.5 km 2x2 lanes extensible to 2x3 road constructed to the tune of FCFA 250 billion with financing from China’s Eximbank (85 per cent) and the government of Cameroon (15 per cent) was officially rendered functional on July 29, 2022 to the overwhelming joy of all and sundry.
While government redoubles efforts to tackle the second phase from Kribi to Edea which will undoubtedly make the delight of especially the business class complete and ensure smoother movement in and out of the Kribi Deep Seaport, there is every reason to smile. Infrastructure development is the foundation for any meaningful socio-economic development anywhere in the world. Developed and emerging countries know what solid and sustainable infrastructure means to their today and tomorrow. When it concerns most especially the road and more so, a double-carriage road to a strategic port like that of Kribi; the short, medium and long-term gains can almost be immeasurable. It is an economic stimulus that leaves very few indifferent. 
The modern Lolabe-Kribi express road infrastructure encompasses an automatic 12-cabine tollgate at Mbeka’a to be managed for over 30 years by the constructor, China Harbour Engineering Company. This is because the project is constructed within the framework of Public/Private Partnership; a universally-acceptable financing model wherein the investor sources for the funding, executes the project, runs it for some time to get back the invested funds before transferring to the country. In economic jargon, this mode of operation embraced by many particularly in infrastructure growth is referred to as Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT). 
The satisfaction the first section of the Lolabe-Kribi-Edea double-carriage road is giving the population and the business world could have been multiplied by as many times as such projects are in the country had the much-cherished financing mechanism especially for infrastructure development been fully embraced. So much has been said here about Public/Private Partnership with very little to show in terms of palpable achievements. Some years back, the Ministry of the Economy, Planning and Regional Development even published a list of projects to be financed by this model. What became of them so many years down the line can only baffle keen observers who know and have seen what the financing model has done and keeps doing elsewhere.
To say the least, the advantages of the Build-Operate-Transfer model to the State are multifaceted. It enables governments to transfer the cost and risk of big, important infrastructure projects to a specialist private entity, which has the potential to make lots of money from it before handing it back. A mutually-beneficial venture with well-defined terms.
The headache of sometimes going cap in hand to obtain cut-throat loans and then face complex, fraud-infested and time-consuming public contracts chain are reduced as the concessional entity brings the needed funds and the contractor. Projects executed under such a scenario have the propensity of guaranteed quality given that the manager wouldn’t toy with efficiency as maintenance can turn out to be costly thereafter. Experts even hold that such investments provide a strong incentive to have the project perform above its minimum expectations. They opine that having the design, implementation and operation of a BOT project largely in the hands of the private sector may provide economies and efficiencies that will balance out or even outweigh the higher financing costs of non-sovereign borrowing and equity investment. Without any doubt therefore, the BOT approach appears as a useful alternative to the conventional financing and operation of infrastructure projects in developing countries. More so during morose global economic environments like now when crises of all sorts have held down many countries, jeopardising their abilities to carry out certain projects.
What then is the problem in and with Cameroon? Why is there apparent reticence on a revolutionary mode of financing infrastructure development that has proven its worth elsewhere, even in countries Cameroon strongly envies? The country, everyone knows, is deficient in infrastructure, especially roads; and its growth objectives would be a pipe dream if the infrastructure shortfall is not bridged.  Is it a problem of ignorance? Certainly not given the openness of the country to the rest of the world and vice versa. There are even development partners like the United Nations Development Programme and the World Bank that have developed spe...

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