Worlds of Education

PPPs - a Voice of Reason

published 19 April 2017 updated 19 April 2017

By Jim Baker, Education International 

Gerd Schwartz, deputy director at the IMF’s Institute for Capacity Development argues for the vital importance of a professional civil service. He also calls the use of private-public partnerships to help achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals a model that is “particularly risky”.

Schwartz is cited in “ Sound economic governance depends on strong civil service, IMF official says” in “Public Finance International” that focuses on the needs of developing countries, although many of the arguments apply to developed countries as well.  Rather than promoting PPPs as a magic bullet for development, he speaks of the need to develop sufficient public capacity to protect the public and ensure wise use of resources.

In the context of the expansion of private investment, the role of the public sector is underscored. Schwartz asks, “What does it mean to foster private sector development in Africa? It means you create a lot more contingent liabilities. And if you don’t build up public sector institutions to deal with this, you’re going to be in trouble in a few years’ time.”

Although the article does not specifically mention education, many of the arguments apply to the education sector as well. For example, the need to have high levels of professionalism is stressed as well as the importance of recruiting talent and maintaining a stable, motivated, and respected public service workforce.

Schwartz faults aid programmes for not recognising the importance of public capacity. He indicates; “I’m sometimes really surprised when you go to [donor] countries, how narrowly focused people are” by failing to consider the need for institutional strength.

The article focuses on the dangers of PPPs in the context of their rapid expansion. In 2012, global PPP investment totalled $158bn, compared with $7bn in 1991. Schwartz points out that much of the expansion of PPPs has taken places in countries lacking public capacity. Such countries are at a significant disadvantage in dealing with private actors.

The article is a breath of fresh air for the mind. Issues are examined seriously and with realism. Arguments are not infused with ideological fervour. The piece reflects the insights of an experienced international civil servant. Many others with responsibility share them, however, the “marketplace of ideas” too often features the views of those with something to sell.

Long live common sense.

Image: Gerd Schwartz (http://www.albany.edu/news/50061.php)

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.