Regional conference on PPP held in Dhaka, The Independent, October 23, 2012

A regional conference held in Dhaka on Saturday (October 20) underscored the need for strengthening cooperation between members of parliament (MPs) and private enterprises to make Public Private Partnership (PPP) more effective. Speakers at the conference also urged the governments in the region to form a parliamentary standing committee on PPP with independent staff members having required skills so that they come up with the best business practices.

They observed that the private sector should work closely with lawmakers to help them formulate laws to make the initiatives of public-private partnership more effective. The growth of private sector, they said, was essentially linked with strengthening of democratic institutions and practices. Despite a good growth rate, regulatory mechanism has remained poor to facilitate growth of the private sector in south Asia region, they pointed out.

Deputy speakers from Bangladesh and Sri Lanka and some members of parliament in south Asian countries – Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Nepal – took part in the day long regional conference on “Strengthening co-operation between members of parliament and the private sector in making public private partnership more effective.”

The event was jointly organised by Bangladesh Enterprise Institute (BEI) and The Asia Foundation with the support from USAID and UK aid at Ruposhi Bangla Hotel.

Presided over by BEI president Farooq Sobhan the inaugural session was addressed by Chandimal Weerakkody, deputy speaker of Sri Lanka, Col.(Retd) Shawkat Ali, deputy speaker of Bangladesh’s parliament, N K Singh, a member of Indian Rajya Sabha, Dupthob, a member of Bhutanese parliament and chairman of parliamentary standing committee on poverty in Bhutan took part in the discussion. Russell Pepe, chief of party PRODIP, Asia Foundation, gave the welcome address.

Shawkat Ali, deputy speaker in Bangladesh parliament called upon the organisers to formulate some modus operandi on how the members of parliament can contribute collectively to strengthening co-operation between members of parliament and private sector.

He pointed out that MPs can contribute individually in this regard but it is very complicated to contribute collectively. “Find out some ways of development co-operation between private sector and parliament members,” he added.

Ali, however, said members of parliament can contribute a lot to create awareness among the people. He hopes that the members of parliament will come forward in this regard as a good number of businessmen now became House members.

Chandimal Weerakkody deputy speaker of Sri Lanka said that mistrust existed between common people and the business community in Sri Lanka. The commoners do not believe in what businessmen say as they think the business people always run for profit, he observed.

Chandimal said Sri Lanka has been making tremendous growth since the year 2009 after eradication of terrorism. He said Sri Lanka has a number of success story regarding public-private partnership. He claimed that his country became one of the best telecom providers in the world because of private sector growth. The second international airport and second sea ports in Sri Lanka are also being built on the basis of Private Public Partnership, he told the seminar.

N K Singh from India pointed out that governments adopted PPP because it generates additional resources and improves management of private sector. He said parliaments have an important role to play in making the PPP projects more effective. “If countries do not improve the business environment in the region, they will lose out,” he said. A former top bureaucrat Sing said the idea of PPP gained importance as the public sector was lacking in the level of efficiency required for project implementation while the private sector could help accelerate it. The coordination between PPP projects and the members of parliament, he said, should be improved for ensuring better outcomes.

Russell Pepe, chief of party of the promoting democratic institution and practices (PRODIP)  programme supported by the USAID said the conference would provide an opportunity for further discussion and sharing experience on PPP in the countries concerned and bridging the gap between lawmakers and the private sector.

He viewed the public-private partnership as very important for promoting economic growth and development in each of the participating countries and in the region as a whole.

Ambassador Farooq Sobhan said the conference intended to create a platform for sharing ideas and learning about best practices in South Asia that may help create a strong and effective partnership among the parliamentarians, the private sector and the civil society.

He expressed hope that the conference would create avenues for the participants to discuss and exchange experiences on the state of Public-Private Partnership (PPP) in their respective countries and the state of regulatory reform required for bolstering economic growth.

The growth in the private sector is intrinsically linked with strengthening of democratic institutions and practices, Mr Sobhan said adding that despite the growth, a regulatory mechanism was yet to be evolved to facilitate the private sector growth.

He expected that on completion of the conference, a set of recommendations, along with an action plan, would be drawn up to ensure how best the PPP projects can be implemented through strengthening cooperation between lawmakers and the private sector.

Five keynote papers were presented at the working session of the conference by Parvez Karim Abbasi consultant BEI, Dr Fouzul Kabir Khan, chairman of Keystone Business Support Company of Bangladesh, Dr Malathy Knight John head of industry and enterprise development policy research of Sri Lanka, Debmalya Banerjee, co-chair, Eastern Regional Council, The associated Chambers and Commerce and Industry, India and Dr. Dilli Raj Khanal, former member of parliament, Nepal.

Parvez Karim Abbasi presented the key note paper on “The Importance of Regulatory Reforms in Private Sector Development”, Dr Fouzul Kabir Khan’s paper was on “PPP in Bangladesh: Past Experience and Recdent Developments”, Dr Malathy Knight John’s paper was on “Public Private Partnerships for Sustainable and Inclusive Growth: Opportunities and Challenges”, Debmalya Banerjee presented his paper on “Cooperation Between Members of Parliament and the Private Sector – Way Forward” and Dr. Dilli Raj Khanal’s paper was also on “Importance of  Regulatory Reforms in Private Sector Development.” Speaking at the working session, Asif Ibrahim, President of Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and industry (DCCI) observed that there were more than 10,000 regulations—acts, rules, circulars, resolutions in the country but most of those regulations are hundred years old and inoperative.

They do not match with the needs of the people under present conditions. Considering this situation, the government of Bangladesh took some steps to address the present day needs.

He made a number of recommendations. The recommendations include more sector-base studies to be done to reform the existing regulations. And, this is how those could be supported by evidence and that more consultation should be done with various sector representatives to make reforms more business friendly.

There should be more accountability in legislation as most of the legislation missed accountability and parliamentary control, DCCI chief said. “The major problem in Bangladesh is not over regulation or under regulation rather the problem is ill regulated regulations which really accelerate the sufferings of the common people,” the DCCI president pointed out. According to him bureaucratic red-tapism and administrative inefficiency were the other major sources of public sufferings.

Lyonpo Om Pradhan, chairman of Druk Holding and Investments, Bhutan, said parliamentarians should reform regulations to cut the cost of doing business and create a congenial environment for investors.

President of American Chamber of Commerce in Bangladesh, Aftab ul Islam underscored the need for bringing a change in Bangladesh’s mindset to build trust between the private and public sector people. “PPP starts from trust between public and private sector,” he pointed out.

He stressed the need for right kind of policy, right PPP laws and congenial atmosphere for successful implementation of projects under PPP.  “The PPP is most talked about subject in Bangladesh but we do not know when we would be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Aftab said presenting a dismal picture of PPP performance in Bangladesh.

He further said nothing will happen as long as the public sector people consider profit taken by private sector was ‘an unholy thing’.

He said some PPP projects failed because of opposition from civil society. “It was observed that projects under PPP were cancelled even after singing final agreement and awarding contract for construction”.

“The private sector people will not invest money unless government gives sovereign guarantee to their investment,” he categorically told the seminar. He also blamed the lack of consistency in public policy for lower flow of foreign direct investment (FDI) in to the country.

Aftab suggested that an efficient group of officials comprising all ministries should be selected for providing supports to the private sector.  Jagdish Prasad Agrawal, former vice president of Confederation of Nepalese Industries, said there is a huge potential in the PPP in the region. “We just need a viable business proposition. Otherwise, businesses will not be interested.” Debmalya Banerjee, co-chair, eastern regional council of the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry, India, said the lawmakers would have to align the interest of the private sector into the interest of the people.

AK Azad, president of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry, said if the lawmakers step in to make PPPs more effective, the private sector would grow further, which will ultimately spur economic growth.

If  MP can play effective role, definitely the employment generation will be accelerated, revenue collection will be increased, and private sector will be encouraged to invest more.

lf we look at the scenario of this areas– India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh, interest of business community is common. But what is the barrier, barrier in most cases is difference in opinion among our political leaders.

Barrister Annisul Islam Mahmud, MP, who conducted the concluding session, said parliament can set the path only for execution of PPP projects and make aware the people through discussions in the House.

The PPP programme is part of the government’s ‘Vision 2021’ to ensure a more rapid and inclusive growth trajectory, and meet the need for enhanced, high quality public services in a fiscally sustainable manner.

In 2010, the government issued the Policy and Strategy for Public Private Partnership (PPP) to facilitate development of the core sector public infrastructure and services, vital for people.

A PPP unit under the Ministry of Finance was also established to foster an environment of fiscal responsibility and sustainability in the PPP projects.

Md. Shahriar Alam , MP, also conducted a session which was also addsreesed among others by Md.Abu Rashed, PP advisor to the office of the Prime Minister.

The recommendations and proceedings of the conference would be disseminated to the Members of Parliament, policy makers, the civil society and the media in Bangladesh, he further hoped.


23 October, 2012