Public-Private Partnerships Take Centre Stage at Day One of UAE Public Policy Forum 2018

H.E. Sultan bin Saeed Al Mansoori, UAE Minister of Economy:

  • A robust economy does not rely solely on the government; it counts on a strong private sector and solid relations between private and public.

The second annual UAE Public Policy Forum (UAE PPF 2018) kicked off today (Monday, January 15, 2018) at the Dubai World Trade Centre, organised by the Mohammed Bin Rashid School of Government (MBRSG), the first research and teaching institution focusing on governance and public policy in the Arab world.

Held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of the Dubai Executive Council, the two-day forum was inaugurated by H.H. Sheikh Ahmed bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Chairman of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Knowledge Foundation (MBRF). The event takes place on January 15 and 16 under the theme “Shaping the Future of Public Private Partnerships” and covers such diverse sectors as healthcare, education, transportation, technology and innovation, Urban development and sustainable development.

The Forum’s first day included a high-profile panel discussion titled “Constraints, Challenges and Prospects of Public-Private Partnerships”, moderated by MBRSG’s Executive President H.E. Dr Ali Sebaa Al Marri, which concluded that public-private partnerships are essential for creating the government of the future and catalysing economic development. Speaking at the session, H.E. Sultan bin Saeed Al Mansoori, UAE Minister of Economy, said: “A robust economy does not rely solely on the government; it counts on a strong private sector and solid relations between private and public. Defining the nature of this relationship is one the main challenges to its success, and this makes it crucial to have a federal law to regulate it, where the government’s main role is a supervisory one.”

Meanwhile, H.E. Abdulrahman Al Saleh, Director General at the Dubai Government’s Department of Finance, stressed that laws and regulations are paramount in building partnerships between the two sectors. “Balancing the needs and requirements of the private and public sectors is the biggest challenge in maintaining the relationship between the two,” H.E. noted, “in addition to the challenge of developing clear regulations for private-sector investment in PPPs.”

On a similar note, Eng. Abdul Mohsen Ibrahim Younis, CEO of RTA’s Rail Agency, said that PPPs financially engage the private sector in government projects and services. It is, therefore, essential to attract these investments as they allow the government to diversify its financial resources and to redistribute funds to suit development needs in other sectors – be they economic or social. These partnerships also improve the competitiveness of government projects, while simultaneously enhancing the performance of the private sector.

In a roundtable discussion titled “Benchmarking for Public Private Partnerships from the UK Experience”, experts dispelled the notion that there is a single optimal public-private partnership (PPP) model to adopt in the Middle East. “Each government needs to work out the right way for them, to ensure the outcome is not only sustainable but also creates value,” stressed Former UK Minister of State for Trade and Investment, Lord Francis Maude, underlining a government’s capability to design and procure projects as key to PPP success. This while Shaun Johnson, Legal Counsel at ACWA Holding in Saudi Arabia, cautioned against PPP systems becoming too complex, saying: “When looking at which model is appropriate, GCC countries should adopt a strategic thought process both in terms of delivery and what it is that actually needs to be delivered.”

The second session, meanwhile, explored the subject of PPPs as a “Catalyst for Reform or Commercialization of a Public Service”, where panellists called for ensuring harmony and alignment of goals in relationships between the public and private sectors to deliver the desired outcomes, and enable PPPs to create jobs and myriad services to a growing population. Moreover, the experts called for a phased approach to PPPs and a well-established track record to assure success for both sectors. The private sector, they noted, is efficient in terms of time and cost, in addition to being a key engine for transparency and innovation. Finally, the panel moved on to the implications of PPPs in healthcare and education, stressing that the overall objective for PPPs in these sectors must take into consideration the overall policy objective and desired outcomes.

The Forum’s first day also included four concurrent scientific sessions or “Knowledge Hubs”, the first of which, titled “PPPs: From Early Childhood to Tertiary Education”, concluded that public-private partnerships (PPPs) that focus on adequately preparing Emirati university graduates for entry into the private sector are essential for levelling the competitive employment playing field within the UAE’s private sector, since many expats come to the UAE with higher-quality work experience as a result of their countries’ more developed education systems, putting their Emirati counterparts at a disadvantage. Tangible steps are being taken to address this issue, it was revealed, such as the agreement between 24 universities and 4,500 private business entities to facilitate apprenticeship.

The second “Knowledge Hub” looked into “PPPs in Practice in Dubai and KSA”, where experts began by emphasising the gap between public policy and practice in Saudi Arabia’s education sector, which created a need to change the policy of engagement between the public and private sectors in terms of education to engage the latter in developing the system that spans more than 30,000 schools, five million students and over 700,000 teachers. The session then took a closer look at the UAE’s healthcare sector, where a study conducted by MBRSG revealed that 55% of UAE residents are satisfied with the current system, their top four priorities were: quality, access, responsiveness and affordability.

In the third concurrent session – “Implementing and Monitoring PPPs” – panellists explored the partnership between Australia’s private and public sectors in education, stressing that for such a partnership to succeed, it needs to have a specific and strategic goal and to fully outline all benefits both sectors stand to enjoy from cooperating. The experts then weighed the benefits from PPPs to the transport sector, which is a key factor in the efficiency of any economy. The sector offers plenty of areas where cooperation can be beneficial, including infrastructure development, curbing carbon emissions and developing hi-tech services – as was the case with Dubai’s “Salik” system.

The fourth and final session – “PPP Executive Seminar” – looked back at the historical origins of public-private partnerships and went on to define it from the point of view of both stakeholders. Speakers pointed out that the public sector needs this type of partnership because of its limited resources and the constant need to develop infrastructure.

The UAE Public Policy Forum 2018 seeks to help stakeholders in both public and private sectors evaluate partnership projects in the UAE and the region, exchange ideas and experiences, and develop new policies, regulations and action plans for sustainable development and the knowledge economy. It focuses on six main pillars: Identifying and evaluating opportunities for public-private partnerships; creating an enabling environment for PPPs; discussing visions and strategies to improve partnerships and increase effectiveness; performance evaluation; using smart technologies and innovation to the benefit of PPPs; and developing policies to govern public-private partnerships in the future.

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