The use of public-private partnerships (PPPs) to help fund the development of port and customs infrastructure is now a major trend across the Middle East, with many authorities and agencies actively seeking out PPP opportunities. But they often face questions about the practicalities of using PPPs. Questions like, how do we apply it in the customs context? How do we govern it? What should the RFPs look like, and how will we evaluate them? The answers can vary widely, since there no one-size-fits all for PPPs – and the involvement of the private sector in ports can take many different forms.

To understand PPPs, the place to start is with capabilities. Every government agency responsible for running a port needs a highly specific capability model and set of capabilities to manage and operate it effectively. These are the core capabilities that differentiate it and enable it to help enhance the global logistics landscape. However, it’s also likely to have some non-core capabilities that third-party providers may be able to handle better than it does itself.

Agencies’ administrations are taking several steps to modernize and simplify trade procedures and discharge their mandate in an efficient manner. At the same time, they must learn as much as possible about business needs and expectations to respond to these effectively. This process of learning and responding is both iterative and continuous, requiring ongoing involvement and feedback to identify the changes and reforms required in the law and procedures, and develop plans to implement those changes. The success of the reform programmes depends on constructive and sustained two-way communication and interaction between public and private players.

However, while this has always been the case, in recent years the landscape has shifted. Factors including the fast-moving context of global trade and increasing requirements in areas like efficiency and throughput are causing government port agencies to focus in on their core capabilities – and seek ways to offload the burden of the other operational capabilities that don’t differentiate them.

This has a couple of implications. In terms of organizing their operations, it makes it vital for agencies to ensure that every single capability is well-defined and demarcated within specific boundaries, with a clear view of who owns the capability, where it starts, how long it lasts and when it ends. Armed with this knowledge, agencies can then look at delegating some of their capabilities to private-sector providers using partnership models – one of which is PPP.

…and different forms of PPP

PPP isn’t, however, a single or unique construct. Instead, it takes a spectrum of different forms. The choice of position on that spectrum depends on what capabilities the agency is willing to delegate to the private sector, and to what degree it wants to involve the private sector in its full end-to-end value chain.

What options are available? One dimension of PPP relates mainly to a port’s infrastructure and facilities. In this type of model, the government agency focuses on finding and contracting with partners who can bring the right knowledge – and maybe even invest in accelerating the development of the infrastructure and facilities – to help improve the port’s position within the logistics ecosystem and better serve the nation. Under this type of arrangement, the private sector partner might own the port infrastructure and take over running the entire operational side, while the agency deals with the users of the port.

By contrast, another PPP model – one that’s especially common in the Middle East – involves port users no longer interacting with the government agency, and instead dealing direct with the private sector partner. Here the third-party provider will often own the front-end capabilities, like the call centres, web portal and e-services. And in terms of operations, the private partner ensures that everything it does from end-to-end is integrated with the government agency’s core capabilities. One example of this approach is the “single window” initiative, where the customs agency contracts with a private company under a PPP model to take over the access channels and delivery – including the call centre – as well as some parts of the port operations.


Challenges to overcome

These various flavours of PPP represent different stages in government agencies’ journey towards higher private sector involvement in ports. But whatever option an agency chooses, its first step must be to clarify and crystallise its own functions and capabilities – because otherwise, if some of those capabilities are closely connected to the pieces being spun off, it will be very difficult to manage the integration between the new PPP partner being onboarded and the agency’s back-end functions.

Alongside these technical challenges there can also be contractual challenges to address. The key here is mastering the service level agreements (SLAs), breaking them down into individual service level agreements and ensuring that they’re clearly defined and rigorously monitored. Why? Because an agency can onboard as many private sector partners as it likes to run its operations and its access and delivery channels – but the reality is that it remains the sole custodian of its own reputation. And when something goes wrong in the port, everyone blames the customs agency or border guards rather than the private company.

Further challenges can arise around the selection and evaluation of bidders for a PPP. This process can require agencies to address a wide range of issues, especially given the use of existing procurement mechanisms, and the complexity of dealing with many other agencies for things like approvals and feasibility studies.

Revenue-sharing models

For agencies that overcome these challenges successfully, an aspect of PPPs that’s becoming increasingly popular is revenue-sharing. Under this approach, the private sector partner can provide – and charge port users for – value-added services such as live-tracking of goods on top of the contracted capabilities, and then share the resulting revenues with the government agency. On the one hand, this approach enables the agency to accelerate the transformation of some of the port capabilities, while – on the other – helping it to fund the transformation that’s underway internally.

The benefits of PPP

Regular consultation and partnership between public and private stakeholders will lead to a mutually beneficial situation. It encourages a climate of shared responsibility and ownership towards developing sustainable goals, policies, and programmes. It also helps to create consensus on reform priorities – enabling border and customs agencies to anticipate and manage emerging issues and improve decision-making and operational performance, by allowing them to align their management plan and actions with the expectations, needs and demands of business.

As the public-private relationship deepens, new opportunities for cooperation will emerge, increasing still further the mutual benefits for all stakeholders. This ultimately helps international trade to flourish, since compliant and legitimate trade can move faster in the global arena. Efforts to develop strong partnerships can result in learning, innovation and enhanced performance that will not only benefit the public and private sectors but also society and the economy as a whole, in terms of wealth and competitiveness.

Goodbye for now!

This is the global context of PPPs – and it concludes our eight-part series of blogs on land ports. I hope you’ve found our posts enjoyable and informative. Thanks for reading! And if you’d like to discuss or find out more about anything we’ve written, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

More on this series

  1. Smart land ports – a powerful new engine for trade
  2. How to enable smart segmentation at the border
  3. Data-enabled targeting and inspections
  4. Dynamic Lane Management: A smarter way to manage capacity
  5. Why land borders are set to become invisible
  6. How a land port can operate like a smart city
  7. Operational governance in land ports

Disclaimer: This content is provided for general information purposes and is not intended to be used in place of consultation with our professional advisors.

Copyright © 2021 Accenture. All rights reserved. Accenture and its logo are registered trademarks

Mohammed Adlani

Client Account Lead

Jorien Kerstens

Senior Manager – Consulting, Public Service, Border Services

Yanal Mahameed

Client Account Lead


Operational governance in land ports
Why land borders are set to become invisible

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