Infrastructure Privatisation: Oversold, Misunderstood and Inappropriate


  • The author would like to thank Damian Tobin for useful suggestions on an earlier draft and an anonymous referee for helpful comments.


Infrastructure privatisation aimed to finance capital investment and improve efficiency, but the results have been disappointing because of the mismatch between privatisation theory and the characteristics of infrastructure and utility projects in developing countries. This article reviews the evidence and seeks to explain the results in terms of the high capital costs and low revenues that have necessitated public financing and risk-sharing, diluting private incentives and requiring regulation. However, it argues that the emphasis on strengthening weak regulatory capacities in poor countries is misplaced, because these are the outcome of the development process, and are constrained by technical capacities, informational problems and the resources available. In this context, infrastructure privatisation is argued to be inappropriate for developing countries.