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Back | Programme Area: Markets, Business and Regulation (2000 - 2009)

Assessing the Impact of Public-Private Partnerships in the Global South: The Case of the Kasur Tanneries Pollution Control Project.



An increased role for public-private partnerships (PPPs) in the developing world was one of the most novel outcomes of the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002. The United Nations (UN) Global Compact encourages companies to participate in partnership projects with UN agencies and civil society organizations. While the number of PPPs and intergovernmental backing for these initiatives are significant, we still need to know more about their effects in the last five years. This paper makes a contribution to the ongoing debate about the potential and limitations of PPPs in developing countries, and whether their effects can be empirically assessed, and if so, how.

This paper examines some of the key assumptions underlying the current debate on PPP impact assessment, arguing that (i) different stakeholders may not want to know about the effects of PPPs in developing countries; (ii) there is no objective “truth” about these effects that can be discovered through the use of impact assessment methodologies; and (iii) insights generated through impact assessments may be used as a learning resource, but cannot necessarily be transferred from one context to another, since what works in one particular setting may not work in another.

The paper then investigates what can actually be known about a PPP’s impacts through the use of impact assessment methodologies. It does this by testing a pilot framework to assess the impacts of PPPs based on the standard criteria for aid evaluation formulated by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). As a case study, the paper looks at a PPP in Pakistan between 237 leather tanneries, local government agencies, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), which aimed to reduce environmental pollution in the city of Kasur.

The paper shows that impact assessment methodology may be helpful in generating insights into the relevance, effectiveness, efficiency, impact and sustainability of PPPs in developing countries. However, it is less useful in explaining why the PPP has—or has not—been relevant, effective and efficient, or if it had (un)intended consequences or was sustainable.

At the same time, win-win and win-lose outcomes may exist simultaneously, even for the same stakeholder affected by a PPP, depending upon which aspect of the PPP is assessed. In designing, implementing and assessing the impact of PPPs, it should therefore be recognized that important trade-offs may exist between different aspects of a PPP—for example, its efficiency and sustainability—instead of assuming that all PPP stakeholders benefit or lose, in all places, all of the time.

The paper also highlights some of the inherent limitations associated with tools-oriented approaches in assessing the impact of PPPs. In fact, the current emphasis on PPP impact assessment appears to turn complex questions of economic, social and environmental justice into technical problems that can be solved through the use of policy approaches such as PPPs, and the subsequent employment of various managerial tools, such as impact assessment methods, to measure their effects.

It is important to remember that most social and environmental problems in the developing world are not caused primarily by policy or management failures, but are instead to be understood against the background of politics and power relations that link the developed and developing worlds. While not denying the role of ensuring proper design, monitoring and so on of PPPs, we must understand their effects as an outcome of the struggle between a variety of actors over the distribution of social and environmental hazards associated with the broader processes of economic development and industrialization.
  • Publication and ordering details
  • Pub. Date: 16 Oct 2007
    Pub. Place: Geneva
    ISSN: 1991-9921
    From: UNRISD