Infrastructure investments: Politics vs local interests

Leipzig – The issue of politics versus local interests was the hot topic during a panel discussion at the 10th annual summit of the International Transport Forum (ITF) taking place in Leipzig this week.

During the panel discussion a message was delivered on behalf of Tania Rodiger-Vorwerk, deputy director general of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.

She said by 2025 about 66% of the world’s population will live in cities. This raises the question of how governments will deal with the challenges.

“International and sectoral cooperation will be very important to solve challenges of climate change, inequality and persistent poverty. No country can isolate itself from the effects of these issues. We must share our experiences and work together to overcome challenges,” she said.

It brings about the question of whether traditional planning is still valid in the rapid urbanisation process.

“The increasing population in the world bring challenges about how to transport all these people. It is not must about them getting to their destinations, but also about getting them there on time, with limited resources and safely,” she emphasised.

Looking for a mediating role

In her presentation Prof Diane Davis of Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, said an important question is whether there is a mediating role for the international donor community in the process.

“There is a huge wave of investment in infrastructure in Africa by the Chinese and also by the Koreans. The question is what is the politics behind this – even in the suggestion of certain modes of transport for certain developing countries,” said Davis.

“There is a global industry interest behind promoting BRT (bus rapid transport), for instance. One should see what the long term implications would be, though, of adapting a certain transport infrastructure policy.”

She explained the main challenges for donor investment agencies include calibrating divergent local and national interests in countries; managing tensions between local and global transport providers; situating infrastructure “opportunities” within longer term social and spatial planning objectives; and ensuring that global best practices are appropriate for all cities.

She would like to see international investment donor agencies not just thinking about funding development projects, but also about how they can contribute to the decision making process of a project.

They can, for instance, see to it that national and local officials of a country are included in the decision making process. They can also support open and transparent stakeholder dialogue at city level and create forward-looking political alliances across the transport sectors.

Citizens must have a say

She would also like to see citizens brought into the process and not just the experts. Citizens must be able to say what kind of cities they want to live in, and not just be dictated to by the international donor community.

“We need to move into a world where we look at multiple factors in single spaces,” she said.

Klaus Gihr, head of urban development and natural resources at the German government owned development bank Kreditanstalt fur Wiederaufbau, said it is not a sales agent for manufacturers nor for certain technologies.

“There is no one size fits all solution. We have to see each case on its own merits. It is important to reduce congestion in inner cities, but there is no quick fix. One must look at the right long term solution,” said Gihr.

Including informal transport providers

“And no system will work sustainably without including the informal transport providers. Often we want to extend a loan directly to a city, but the law of the land prohibits it.”

Monika Zimmermann, deputy secretary general of Local Government for Sustainability (ICLEI) said the agency has been asking for the last 20 years that investment should be able to go directly to sustainable local projects.

“We need better national frameworks to ensure the money can flow to the local projects,” she emphasised.

“I also see a split between the world of financial assistance and the world of technical assistance.”  

*Fin24 is a guest of the ITF at its summit.

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