AGI's Dan Hymowitz and Julian Koschorke participated in the recent ‘Bricks and Dollars’ conference at the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), which looked at the challenges of infrastructure development across the globe. Dan spoke on a panel on the specific issue of infrastructure implementation while Julian participated in the event with Liberia’s Minister of Public Works, Gyude Moore, who gave a conference keynote.
We also had the pleasure of hosting Minister Moore for a breakfast conversation the following day, where he gave some reflections on working inside the Liberian Presidency.
A few parting thoughts from Dan and Julian on the event:
- Interesting few days with a good range of attendees including from the private sector, investment funds, UK civil service, multilaterals, and various developing countries. We were glad there was a holistic focus on getting infrastructure built and functioning rather than just financing infrastructure – which can sometimes dominate discussion at events like these.
- Terrific keynote from Minister Moore that raised some important challenges to international partners including the question of what’s actually feasible in the short-term for a country like Liberia that has constrained financing options after Ebola.
- To the conference organizers’ credit, there were people from a range of countries at the event. This was useful. But while there were issues raised that are equally applicable across the globe – e.g. the challenge of effective assessment and screening of projects up front - some of the conversations – e.g. around mezzanine financing, leveraging euro bonds, complex PPPs - were interesting, but not necessarily immediately useful to Liberia (where Julian works).
Dan highlighted three lessons from AGI’s work supporting African governments on infrastructure implementation in his talk:
Lesson 1: ‘Recognize and navigate the politics’
Many of AGI’s partner countries have found ways to improve their odds on infrastructure projects by aligning politics to results. Sometimes this has involved putting the right incentives in place – like the Liberian Government adopting a ’150 day plan’ at the start of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s second term in which President Sirleaf solicited oversight from civil society which helped speed up the implementation of key infrastructure projects. In theory “getting the politics” is no longer a ground-breaking lesson in development circles but it was striking how often politics were mentioned either in passing or as an obstacle rather than opportunity.
Lesson 2: ‘Get it right up front’
This requires a hard-headed assessment of feasibility. Rwanda, for example, is making strides through the creation of the Public Investment Committee, a centralised project approval process which is led by the by the Ministry of Finance but includes all of the other primary infrastructure-relevant ministries.
Lesson 3: ‘Improving project management’
Many lessons under this broad heading but an interesting one is the importance of clear decision-making structures and effective interaction between Ministries and Project Implementation Units. Today in Liberia, the World Bank’s Infrastructure Implementation Unit (IIU) in the Ministry of Public Works is a good example of this. The IIU is transitioning from a body that dealt only with Bank projects to what will eventually become a roads authority for Liberia. What’s most distinctive is how the IIU is working with the Ministry – in an engaged, collaborative manner rather than an island within an institution.