Our National Infrastructure Assessment is a first for the UK and one of the first globally – so I was delighted when the British Ambassador to Peru, Kate Harrisson, asked me to join the Prime Minister’s official envoy to Peru, Mark Menzies MP, and the UK-Peru Joint Infrastructure Task Force on an official visit to Lima.
The context of the visit was developing positive trade relations between the UK and Peru, and my job was to present on the set up of the National Infrastructure Commission and to describe how we developed the National Infrastructure Assessment (NIA). A 12-hour flight and a six-hour time difference is never the best preparation for the first speaking slot of the day! Despite that, and the language differences, I don’t think too much got lost in translation as the questions and comments I received focused on the consultative nature of infrastructure planning that I had talked about.
The challenge for Peru is to balance short term priorities around preparing for the Lima 2019 Pan Am Games with the long term need for an infrastructure plan joined up across government departments. This might require decisive, authoritative action with little space for consultation. Up against a background of limited transparency, this might not lead to the best outcome in the long-run.
We discussed the importance of defining roles and responsibilities across government and how Peru might work on prioritising certain infrastructure projects. The Peruvians want a first draft of a National Infrastructure Plan by mid-2019 to feed into a 2020 budget. It took us a good two years of full-time infrastructure planning to get to the NIA with a staff of 35, 8 part-time Commissioners and engaged industry participation, workshops, roundtables, focus groups, calls for evidence, conferences and site visits. So with Peru looking at a timeline of six months, a plan of what to do is possible, and then time is needed to develop the long-term plan.
Peru has a list of projects. But where to start? Lima has 10 million people and the congestion problems that generally go with overpopulated capital cities. The remaining 20 million live in a country twice the size of France. The empty bus lane, open to a limited number of public buses and the traffic jams full of packed private buses suggests one obvious solutions especially if the Pan Am Games are used as an opportunity to change road use. But things are never as simple as they seem, I’m sure.
The day of infrastructure discussions culminated in a reception at the Ambassador’s residence. UK businesses are already in Peru helping to prepare for the Lima 2019 Pan Am Games. They’re happy to stay if they have more infrastructure to build. They are keen to work with the Peruvian Government to keep the momentum going and the British Government is working to aid that support and ongoing trade between the two countries.
But how best to prioritise that list of projects? After another day of meetings in Lima, I flew up to the north. I nearly didn’t make it as overbooking on LatAm airlines is apparently a common thing and something that needs to be addressed before the Lima 2019 Pan Am Games. When I arrived at my destination I learnt that the nearest town had had no water for two weeks so we needed to stop en route to tap into someone else’s supply. Having lived in Africa, the Caribbean and on a boat I’m used to not having running water! True enough when I arrived and turned on the tap, nothing came out.
The north is beautiful in its own rustic, deserted way. So few places still feel that disconnected: and yet it wasn’t. A pumping petroleum sector and a military presence ensured excellent 4G coverage – but not a universal water supply. Everywhere I went, my guide created a wifi hotspot for me: 4G connections or running water – which would you prefer?
My guide aptly summed up the infrastructure problem in the north as water supply and waste. There is much to do. Perhaps the local inhabitants can use the 4G connectivity they have to report progress in these areas.
Alongside infrastructure expertise, the UK can export a culture of transparency around infrastructure projects to ensure that UK companies deliver on their promises to ensure both a successful Pan Am games and resilient, sustainable infrastructure. The National Infrastructure Assessment is now a model that Peru can follow as they look beyond the games to create a long-term infrastructure plan fit to meet the country’s long term needs, including digital connectivity and reliable water supplies. I can see that our experience and skills in assessing our country’s long term infrastructure needs may be of value not just to Peru but to countries around the world.
I would like to offer my thanks to the staff at the British Embassy for a wonderful welcome and looking after me during my short visit, which gave me an insight into the real challenges that Peru faces – but also the real opportunities there are – and that the Peruvian Government are keen to grasp – to make a real difference to people’s lives through improving infrastructure.
Sarah Hayes is a member of the Secretariat at the National Infrastructure Commission. She is leading the Commission’s new regulation study and was responsible for development of findings and recommendations in the report, “Data for the Public Good“.