PPP activity rebounds in 2023

26 October 2023


This report on project finance and PPP also includes: Liquidity drives project finance appetite

There has been an increase in both the number and value of public-private partnership (PPP) contract awards made across the Middle East and North Africa region in 2023, according to data from regional projects tracker MEED Projects.

The total value of PPP deals from January to early October has already overtaken the value of awards made in 2022. To date, $21.3bn of PPP deals have been finalised in 2023, compared to $18.1bn in 2022, representing a rise of 18 per cent.

With most of the final quarter of the year still to go, there is every chance that the 2021 total of $22.6bn will also be surpassed. In the five years before that, the total was at most about $12bn a year, underlining the healthy position of the market at the moment.

However, the longer-term record high of $29.6bn, set in 2009, still appears to be out of reach.

In numerical terms the picture is more balanced, with 34 PPP contract awards to date in 2023, compared to 44 in 2022 and 47 in 2021. However, the average size of PPP contracts being handed out this year is significantly up, at $627m an award so far in 2023 compared to $401m in 2022 and $482m in 2021.

Water and transport lead the way

The surge in deal-making has been particularly evident in the water sector, where $9.3bn-worth of deals have been signed this year, far ahead of last year’s figure of $3.6bn.

The largest of these is a $2.2bn contract for Abu Dhabi National Oil Company’s Mirfa seawater treatment plant. A consortium of Orascom Construction and Metito has been appointed to develop the project.

Just behind this in terms of value is the $2.1bn contract to install a water transmission pipeline from the Ar-Rayis1 independent water plant to Rabigh for Saudi Water Partnerships Company. The contract was won by a consortium of Cobra Group, Al-Khorayef Water & Power Technologies and Orascom Construction.

The transport sector has also been performing well, with $5.3bn-worth of contracts in 2023, significantly more than the $428m in 2022. The biggest schemes include a $2.2bn contract for Iran’s Roads & Urban Development Ministry to expand capacity at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International airport, for which a joint venture of Hycan Automobile Technology Company and Khatam al-Anbia was appointed in September.

Another major contract is the $1.9bn deal that Saudi Ports Authority (Mawani) signed with China Harbour Engineering Company to upgrade Terminal 1 and expand Terminal 2 at King Abdulaziz Port in Dammam.

Construction and power struggle

There has been a relative decline in other areas, however, and most notably in construction. The high level of activity seen in the sector in 2022 has not been sustained, with contract values falling by two-thirds so far this year to $1.6bn. The number of PPP awards in the sector has also fallen, from 14 in 2022 to seven so far in 2023 – the lowest figure for this part of the market since 2019.

The power sector looks set to continue its recovery, with several solar and wind independent power projects (IPPs) in Saudi Arabia expected to be awarded before the end of the year. An estimated $4.9bn-worth of deals have been awarded in the first nine months of 2023. 

The expected award of the Saudi IPP contracts, as well as the third solar photovoltaic project in Abu Dhabi, indicates that the total value of power deals this year could equal or exceed that of last year.

PPP deals in the power sector – which pioneered the model in the region – account for 139 of the 332 contracts awarded between 2015 and 2023. This is followed by the water sector with a further 86 contracts, construction with 50 awards and transport with 31 deals. The remaining contracts were awarded in the chemicals, oil and gas and industrial sectors.

Within the power sector there has been a preference for build, own and operate (BOO) contracts, with 84 in total over the period, worth a combined $30.1bn; and build, operate and transfer (BOT) contracts, of which there have been a further 76, worth $20.1bn. In the water sector, the contracts are more evenly spread between BOO, BOT and build-own-operate-transfer (BOOT) schemes, while both the transport and construction sectors tend to favour BOT models.

Across all sectors, BOT, BOO and BOOT contracts account for 77 per cent of all contracts by value in the period under review. BOT emerged as the frontrunner in 2023 in terms of the value of awards, having been second to BOO contracts last year.

For most of the past decade, these two contract models have been the dominant ones, although BOOT was far ahead of the pack in 2021 thanks to the award of a $6bn contract that year by Algeria’s Transport Ministry for the development of El-Hamdania Port.

Gulf economies remain dominant

The most important markets in the region for PPP deals in 2023 are Saudi Arabia, with $11.6bn-worth of contract awards, followed by the UAE with $5.7bn and Iran with $2.2bn – the latter almost wholly because of the Tehran airport deal.

Among the other major contracts in these markets is a $2bn deal signed by Red Sea Global in September with a team of Masdar, EDF and Korea East-West Power Company for a multi-utilities package at the Amaala development, including a solar power plant, battery storage, sewage treatment and a desalination plant.

Also notable is Etihad Rail’s $800m contract with National Infrastructure Construction Company and National Projects & Construction in early October for the first phase of the light rail network in Abu Dhabi.

No other country has yet broken through the $1bn mark in terms of PPP contract awards in 2023, although Oman may yet do so. So far this year, the sultanate has seen the award of $824m-worth of projects, including two $400m contracts awarded by Oman Wastewater Services Company to develop solar power plants at Manah, southwest of Muscat.

This year’s figure is the highest for the sultanate in several years and marks a step-change from its recent performance. In 2021 and 2022, PPP contracts worth just $50m and $60m were signed, respectively.

Other markets have been performing more poorly. Both Egypt and Iraq have seen the level of activity slump significantly, with just $520m-worth of contracts in Egypt so far this year, compared to $3.6bn in 2022. Iraq has seen no PPP contract awards in 2023 at all, after two bumper years in which $8.5bn worth of deals were finalised in 2021 and $3.7bn in 2022.

The fall in these markets is a further sign of the wider problems facing their economies and could be a signal that private-sector actors are increasingly wary of signing up to long-term deals in such uncertain economic and political environments.

Among other, smaller markets, there have been signs of activity in both Bahrain and Tunisia, with one and two deals respectively this year, after no activity was recorded in either market last year. 

Dominic Dudley
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