Summary: Driven by fiscal austerity and disenchantment with the performance of state-provided infrastructure services, many governments have turned to the private sector to build, operate, finance, or own infrastructure in power, gas, water, transport, and telecommunications sectors. Private capital flows to developing countries are increasing rapidly; 15 percent of infrastructure investment is now funded by private capital in emerging markets. But relative to needs, such private investment is progressing slowly. Governments are reluctant to raise consumer prices to cost-covering levels, while investors, mindful of experience, fear that governments may renege on promises to maintain adequate prices over the long haul. So investors ask for government support in the form of grants, preferential tax treatment, debt or equity contributions, or guarantees. These subsidies differ in how they allocate risk between private investors and government. Efficiency gains are greatest when private parties assume the risks that they can manage better than the public sector. When governments establish good policies--especially cost-covering prices and credible commitments to stick to them--investors are willing to invest without special government support. Privatizing assets without government guarantees or other financial support is possible, even where governments are politically unable to raise prices, because investors can achieve the returns they demand by discounting the value of the assets they are purchasing. But this is not possible for new investments (greenfield projects). If prices have been set too low and the government is not willing to raise them, it must give the investor financial support, such as guarantees and other forms of subsidy, to facilitate worthwhile projects that would not otherwise proceed. But guarantees shift costs from consumers to taxpayers, who subsidize users of infrastructure services. Much of that subsidy is hidden, since the government does not record the guarantee in its fiscal accounts. And taxpayers provide unremunerated credit insurance, as the government borrows based on its ability to tax citizens if the project fails, not on the strength of the project itself.
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