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The Caribbean urgently needs better communications infrastructure. Could public-private partnerships be the answer?
Caribbean countries are deepening their investment in critical communications infrastructure, in order to secure future economic growth and create pathways to social innovation.
Regional leaders reiterated the importance of information and communications technology (ICT) to regional growth at the Caricom Heads of Government conference held at Dickenson Bay, Antigua and Barbuda from July 1st to 4th. They noted its importance as an enabler for other sectors and as a critical sector in its own right to spur innovation and entrepreneurship.
The governments of Grenada, St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines are now partnering with the Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU) to harmonise the development of national communications infrastructure across the Eastern Caribbean. As an agency of CARICOM, the CTU was approached by the World Bank in 2012 to support a holistic approach to regional public infrastructure development, through a program called CARCIP—the Caribbean Regional Communications Infrastructure Program—funded through the World Bank’s International Development Association. CARCIP was allocated a total disbursement of US$25 million, including loans to the three countries and a grant to the CTU.
CTU hosts PPP talks
Under CARCIP, the countries will establish and upgrade submarine cable infrastructure, terrestrial broadband backbone fibre networks and cross-border links, as well as Internet Exchange Points (IXPs). More significantly, a pilot initiative launched under CARCIP could change how regional governments work with the private sector to keep their national broadband network infrastructure upgraded, secure and open to competitors. On July 8, the CARCIP project coordination unit of the CTU will host a workshop on public-private partnership, commonly called PPP. Government officials attending the workshop will seek to develop a better understanding of PPPs among stakeholders in the CARCIP countries, and a plan for the development of a legal, regulatory and institutional framework that will support the implementation of PPP projects.
The workshop will be facilitated by Denzel Hankinson, a public-private partnership (PPP) and telecommunications specialist, and owner of DH Infrastructure, with almost two decades of experience in public infrastructure development projects and PPP training for projects in Mongolia, Nepal, Ukraine, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Ghana and the United States.
The use of PPPs in the region has, in general, been limited and mostly ad-hoc, but renewed interest has emerged due to increased fiscal pressures. An official communqué from the CARICOM heads of government conference in Antigua describes the promotion of more private sector investment and public-private partnerships as “a critical driver of economic growth in a mutually beneficial partnership towards the promotion of the community’s growth agenda”. At the conference, a meeting of heads of government and regional business leaders touched on the need to create “capital-friendly economies through an improved harmonised regulatory framework and public private partnerships”.
CARCIP is, in this context, a pilot initiative providing proof-of-concept for the wider regional PPP implementation efforts. The second report of the Caricom Commission on the Economy, which focussed on the reform of the region's business operating environment, specifically identified the need to promote public private partnerships for the development of the economic infrastructure with technical advice from the World Bank and other international organisations. But there is little activity in the wider Caribbean, no doubt in part becuase the understanding of what PPPs are, when to use them, and how to structure transactions remains limited, although Jamaica and T&T have introduced PPP policies, established PPP units, and are developing detailed guidelines for procuring projects as PPPs.
As a precursor to the PPP Workshop, the CTU will host a meeting of CARCIP project coordinators and permanent secretaries of the respective ministries with responsibility for ICT, on July 7th. Representatives from the Eastern Caribbean Telecommunications Authority (ECTEL) and the Caribbean Knowledge and Learning Network (CKLN), who are partnering with the CTU on the regional project, will also attend.
Both CTU meetings will take place at the its new headquarters in St Clair, Port-of-Spain.
“We are happy to host the CARCIP meeting and public-private partnership workshop, and look forward to a productive session,” said Junior Mc Intyre, CARCIP CTU project coordinator.