Photo: David Lawrence / World Bank Group
One September afternoon, my boss, Pankaj Gupta, popped his head into my office. He had some ideas about how the novel use of guarantees might help solve a type of problem we had not faced before. The Energy and Extractives Global Practice had received a request from Ukraine. The problem was the country was heading into the 2014/15 winter with a large gas shortfall.
These were not easy times for Ukraine, which was in the throes of armed conflict on its Eastern border. With an economy in turmoil, the credit rating agency, Standard & Poor's, had dropped Ukraine's credit rating two notches in the last year. The rating now languished at CCC, or very speculative and non-investment grade. This made finance, the life-blood of service delivery, difficult to access and expensive.
Photo: Raymond Ward | Flickr Creative Commons
Sector reform is a familiar concept for anyone working in the energy sector, particularly in developing countries. Typically, reforms involve measures such as building an institutional framework that allows for an independent regulator, improving the operational efficiency of utilities (for example, by unbundling vertically-integrated utilities), creating an environment for private sector participation, and last but not least, introducing tariffs that reflect costs. All these measures are designed with one goal in mind: to put the sector on a sustainable path and improve the quality of service for end-users.
While acknowledging the many benefits that sector reforms can bring, one issue we continue to face is the poor financial state of key power utilities. In other words, a lack of creditworthiness. Often, their lack of financial creditworthiness is the most critical obstacle to implementing investment programs. This makes utilities even more dependent on continuous government subsidies.
Photo: Scaling Solar project in Zambia
What is a common thread between Argentina, Maldives, and Zambia? In each of these countries, the World Bank provided guarantees to support transparent auctions for renewable energy. Through these, I have seen how the Bank’s involvement helped increase private investors’ confidence, attract world-class developers, and ultimately reduce tariffs.
Drawing on 10 years of diverse experience in the power sector in both public and private organizations, my role is to help bridge the divide between public and private parties and help each side better understand the other. The World Bank is ideally positioned for this. Both sides understand the World Bank carries out a detailed due diligence and ensures the auction meets international standards. Both sides appreciate the World Bank will be an honest broker if issues arise. Because of its long term and continuous involvement in our client countries, the World Bank can help identify and solve issues early on. As such, no World Bank project-based guarantee has ever been called.
Photo: Debbie Hildreth Pisarcik | Flickr Creative Commons
Several years ago, after almost two decades at various investment banks, I joined the World Bank’s Financial Solutions team. I had always thought of the World Bank as the leading concessional lender to governments, the financial muscle behind large infrastructure projects, and the coveted supranational client of investment banks. I have since discovered the power of World Bank guarantees and how they can help borrowers maximize their World Bank country envelopes. Since joining, I have helped various clients raise over $2 billion in commercial finance. And all this with a fraction of World Bank exposure.
Photo: auphoto / Shutterstock.com
As Washington, D.C.’s infrastructure braces for its first winter freeze and 2017 draws to a close, this feels like the right moment for a recap on what the year has brought us in terms of closing the infrastructure gap across emerging markets and developing economies; policy directions within and outside of the World Bank Group; new instruments, tools, and resources; and—the proof in the pudding—actual investment levels.
There may not be one blog that can capture all of those themes in detail, but here is a brief overview of what 2017 has meant and what is on the docket for 2018 and beyond.
It’s not always easy to convince the private sector to participate in public infrastructure projects—especially in developing countries and emerging economies. Why is this a problem? Because there simply is not enough public money to meet the growing demand for infrastructure, which is a key element of development and poverty alleviation. The need is great, numbering in the trillions of dollars.
But there is good news—the market has both the trillions and the expertise to use it, if the conditions are right. And the World Bank Group has a number of instruments that can help create an environment that meets the needs of the private sector in financially, environmentally, and socially sustainable ways. Guarantees are one of those instruments, a tool that is highly effective in leveraging limited resources for mobilizing commercial financing for critical infrastructure projects.