This policy brief addresses risks tied to Russian business ownership in Georgia. The concentration of this ownership in critical sectors such as electricity and communications makes Georgia vulnerable to risks of political influence, corruption, economic manipulation, espionage, sabotage, and sanctions evasion. To minimize these risks, it is recommended to establish a Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) screening mechanism for Russia-originating investments, acknowledge the risks in national security documents, and implement a critical infrastructure reform.
Russia exerts substantial influence over Georgia. First and foremost, Russia has annexed 20 percent of Georgia’s internationally recognized territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Further, it employs a variety of hybrid methods to disrupt the Georgian society including disinformation, support for pro-Russian parties and media, trade restrictions, transportation blockades, sabotage incidents, and countless more. These tactics aim to hinder Georgia’s development, weaken the country’s statehood, and negatively affect pro-Western public sentiments (Seskuria, 2021 and Kavtaradze, 2023).
Factors that may also increase Georgia’s economic dependency on Russia concern trade relationships, remittances, increased economic activity driven by the most recent influx of Russian migrants, and private business ownership by Russian entities or citizens (Babych, 2023 and Transparency International Georgia, 2023). This policy brief assesses and systematizes the risks associated with Russian private business ownership in Georgia.
Sectoral Overview of Russian Business Ovnership
Russian business ownership is significant in Georgia. Recent research from the Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI) has addressed Russian capital accumulation across eight sectors of the Georgian economy: electricity, oil and gas, communications, banking, mining and mineral waters, construction, tourism, and transportation. Of the eight sectors considered by IDFI, Russian business ownership is most visible in Georgia’s electricity sector, followed by oil and natural gas, communications, and mining and mineral waters industries. In the remaining four sectors considered by IDFI, a low to non-existent level of influence was observed (IDFI, 2023).
Figure 1. Overview of Russian Ownership in the Georgian Economy as of June 2023.
There are several reasons for concern regarding the concentration and distribution of Russian business ownership in the Georgian economy.
First, it is crucial to keep Russia’s history as a hostile state actor in mind. Foreign business ownership is not a threat in itself; However, it may pose a threat if businesses are under control or influence of a state that is hostile to the country in question (see Larson and Marchik, 2006). Business ownership has been a powerful tool for the Kremlin, allowing Russia to influence various countries and raising concerns that such type of foreign ownership might negatively affect national security of the host country (Conley et al., 2016). Similar concerns have become imperative amidst Russia’s full-scale war in Ukraine (as, for instance, reflected in Guidance of the European Commission to member states concerning Russian foreign acquisitions).
Further, Russian business ownership in Georgia is particularly threatening due to the ownership concentration within sectors of critical significance for the overall security and economic resilience of the country. While there is no definition of critical infrastructure or related sectors in Georgia, at least two sectors (energy and communications) correspond to critical sectors, according to international standards (see for instance the list of critical infrastructure sectors for the European Union, Germany, Canada and Australia). Such sectors are inherently susceptible to a range of internal and external threats (a description of threats related to critical infrastructure can be found here). Intentional disruptions to critical infrastructure operations might initiate a chain reaction and paralyze the supply of essential services. This can, in turn, trigger major threats to the social, economic, and ecological security and the defense capacity of a state.
Georgia’s Exposure to Risks
Identifying and assessing the specific dimensions of Georgia’s exposure to risks related to Russian business ownership provides a useful foundation for designing policy responses. This brief identifies six distinct threats in this regard.
Russia’s business and political interests are closely intertwined, making it challenging to differentiate their respective motives. This interconnectedness can act as a channel for exerting political influence in Georgia. Russians that have ownership stakes in Georgian industries (e.g. within electricity, communications, oil and gas, mining and mineral waters) have political ties with the Russian ruling elite facing Western sanctions, or are facing sanctions themselves. For instance, Mikhail Fridman, who owns up to 50 percent of the mineral water company IDS Borjomi, is sanctioned for supporting Russia’s war in Ukraine. Such interlacing raises concerns about indirect Russian influence in Georgia, potentially undermining Georgia’s Western aspirations.
Export of Corrupt Practices
The presence of notable Russian businesses in Georgia poses a significant threat in terms of it nurturing corrupt practices. Concerns include “revolving door” incidents (movement of upper-level public officials into high-level private-sector jobs, or vice versa), tax evasion, and exploitation of the public procurement system. For instance, Transparency International Georgia (2023) identified a “revolving door” incident concerning the Russian company Inter RAO Georgia LLC, involved in electricity trading, and its regulator, the Georgian state-owned Electricity Market Operator JSC (ESCO). One day after Inter RAO Georgia LLC was registered, the director of ESCO took a managerial position within Inter RAO Georgia LLC. Furthermore, tax evasion inquiries involving Russian-owned companies have been documented in the region, particularly in Armenia, further highlighting corruption risks. We argue that such corrupt practices might harm the business environment and deter future international investments.
A heavy concentration of foreign ownership in critical sectors like energy and telecommunications, also poses a risk of manipulation of economic instruments such as prices. The significant Russian ownership in Armenia’s gas distribution network exemplifies this threat. In fact, Russia utilized a price manipulation strategy for gas prices when Armenia declared its EU aspirations. Prices were then reduced after Armenia joined the Eurasian Economic Union (Terzyan, 2018).
Russian-owned businesses within Georgia’s critical sectors also pose espionage risks, including economic and cyber espionage. Owners of such businesses may transfer sensitive information to Russian intelligence agencies, potentially undermining critical infrastructure operations. As an example, in 2022, a Swedish business owner in electronic trading and former Russian resident, was indicted with transferring secret economic information to Russia. Russian cyber-espionage is also known to be used for worldwide disinformation campaigns impacting public opinion and election results, compromising democratic processes.
The presence of Russian-owned businesses in Georgia raises the risk of sabotage and incapacitation of critical assets. Russia has a history of using sabotage to harm other countries, such as when they disrupted Georgia’s energy supply in 2006 and the recent Kakhovka Dam destruction in Ukraine (which had far-reaching consequences, incurring environmental damages, and posing a threat to nuclear plants). These incidents demonstrate the risk of cascading effects, potentially affecting power supply, businesses, and locations strategically important to Georgia’s security.
Sanctions and Sanction Evasion
Russian-owned businesses in Georgia face risks due to Western sanctions as they could be targeted by sanctions or used to evade them. Recent cases, like with IDS Borjomi (as previously outlined) and VTB Bank Georgia – companies affected by Western sanctions given their Russian connections – highlight Georgia’s economic vulnerability in this regard. Industries where these businesses operate play a significant role in Georgia’s economy and job market, and instabilities within such sectors could entail social and political concerns. There’s also a risk that these businesses could help Russia bypass sanctions and gain access to sensitive goods and technologies, going against Georgia’s support for international sanctions against Russia. It is crucial to prevent such sanctions-associated risks for the Georgian economy.
Assessing the Risks
To operationalize the above detailed risks, we conducted interviews with Georgian field experts within security, economics, and energy. The risk assessment highlights political influence through Russian ownership in Georgian businesses as the foremost concern, followed by risks of corruption, risks related to sanctions, espionage, economic manipulation, and sabotage. We asked the experts to assess the severity level for each identified risk and notably, all identified risks carry a high severity level.
Considering the concerns detailed in the previous sections, we argue that Russia poses a threat in the Georgian context. Given the scale and concentration of Russian ownership within critical sectors and infrastructure, a dedicated policy regime might be required to improve regulation and minimize the associated risks. Three recommendations could be efficient in this regard, as outlined below.
Study the Impact of Adopting a Foreign Direct Investment Screening Mechanism
To effectively address ownership-related threats, it’s essential to modify existing investment policies. One approach is to introduce a FDI screening mechanism with specific functionalities. Several jurisdictions implement mechanisms with similar features (see a recent report by UNCTAD for further details). Usually, such mechanisms target FDI’s that have security implications. A dedicated screening authority overviews investment that might be of concern for national security and after assessment, an investment might be approved or suspended. In Georgia, a key consideration for designing such tool includes whether it should selectively target investments from countries like Russia or apply to all incoming FDI. Additionally, there’s a choice between screening all investments or focusing on those concerning critical sectors and infrastructure. Evaluating the investment volume, possibly screening only FDI’s exceeding a predefined monetary value, is also a vital aspect to consider. However, it’s important to acknowledge that FDI screening mechanisms are costly. Therefore, this brief suggests a thorough cost and benefit analysis prior to implementing a FDI screening regime in Georgia.
Consider Russian Ownership-related Threats in the National Security Documents
Several national-level documents address security policy in Georgia, with the National Security Concept – outlining security directions – being a foundational one. Currently, these concepts do not specifically address Russian business ownership-related threats. When designing an FDI screening mechanism, however, acknowledging various risks related to Russian business ownership must be aligned with fundamental national security documents.
Foster the Adoption of a Critical Infrastructural Reform
To successfully implement a FDI screening mechanism unified, nationwide agreement on the legal foundations for identifying and safeguarding critical infrastructure is needed. The current concept for critical infrastructure reform in Georgia envisages a definition of critical infrastructure and an implementation of an FDI screening mechanism. We therefore recommend implementing this reform in the country.
This policy brief has identified six distinct risks related to Russian business ownership in several sectors of the Georgian economy, such as energy, communications, oil and natural gas, and mining and mineral waters. Even though Georgia does not have a unified definition of critical infrastructure, assets concentrated in these sectors are regarded as critical according to international standards. Considering Russia’s track record of hostility and bearing in mind threats related to foreign business ownership by malign states, this brief suggests regulating Russian business ownership in Georgia by introducing a FDI screening instrument. To operationalize this recommendation, it is further recommended to consider Russian business ownership-related threats in Georgia’s fundamental security documents and to foster critical infrastructural reform in the country.
- Babych, Y. (2023). The Georgian Economy after One Year of Russia’s War in Ukraine: Trends and Risks. ISET Policy Institute. https://iset-pi.ge/storage/media/other/2023-03-13/6982ed30-c1ad-11ed-896a-efa0ef78cee7.pdff
- Conley, H. A., Mina, J., Stefanov, R., & Vladimirov, M. (2016). The Kremlin Playbook: Understanding Russian Influence in Central and Eastern Europe. Center for Strategic and International Studies. https://csis-website-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/publication/1601017_Conley_KremlinPlaybook_Web.pdf
- Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI). (2023, June). Russian Capital and Russian Connections in Georgian Business. https://idfi.ge/public/upload/Analysis/Russian%20capital%20and%20Russian%
- Kavtaradze, N. (2023). Hybrid Warfare and Russia’s Modern Warfare. Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies (GFSIS). https://gfsis.org.ge/files/library/opinion-papers/201-expert-opinion-eng.pdf
- Larson, A. P., & Marchik, D. M. (2006). Foreign Investment and National Security. ETH Zurich. https://www.files.ethz.ch/isn/20513/2006-07_ForeignInvestmentCSR.pdf
- Seskuria, N. (2021). Russia’s “Hybrid Agression” against Georgia: The Use of Local and External Tools. Center for Strategic and International Studies. https://csis-website-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/publication/210921_Seskuria_Russia_Georgia.pdf?VersionId=__d9rw2TtaDba9xaHASf6lCEmJ.oqhA7
- Terzyan, A. (2018). The anatomy of Russia’s grip on Armenia: Bound to Persist? https://www.econstor.eu/bitstream/10419/198543/1/ceswp-v10-i2-p234-250.pdf
- Transparency International Georgia. (2023). Georgia’s Economic Dependence on Russia: Impact of the Russia-Ukraine War. Transparency International Georgia. https://transparency.ge/en/post/georgias-economic-dependence-russia-impact-russia-ukraine-war-1
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.
In the wake of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, large parts of Europe have experienced skyrocketing energy prices and a threat of power shortages. The need to transition to low-carbon energy systems, driven by sustainability concerns, further adds to the pressure put on the European energy infrastructure. This year’s Energy Talk, organized by Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics, invited four experts to discuss the opportunities and challenges of energy infrastructure resilience in a foreseeable future.
Energy infrastructure has an indispensable role in facilitating the functioning of modern society, and it must – today as well as in the future – be resilient enough to withstand various challenges. One of the most important challenges – the green transition: shifting towards economically sustainable growth by decarbonizing energy systems and steering away from fossil fuels – requires energy infrastructure to absorb subsequent shocks. Another, and preeminent challenge, is that, even when directly targeted and partly destroyed as in the ongoing Russian war on Ukraine, energy infrastructure should be withstanding. Additionally, energy infrastructure is increasingly subject to supply chain disruptions, energy costs increase or network congestions. How does our energy infrastructure react to these challenges? How do they affect its ability to facilitate the needs of the green transition? Which regulations/measures should be implemented to facilitate energy infrastructure resilience?
Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics (SITE) invited four speakers to the 2023 annual Energy Talk to discuss the future of Europe’s Energy infrastructure resilience. This brief summarizes the main points from the presentations and discussions.
Energy System Resilience in the Baltics
Ewa Lazarczyk, Associate Professor at Reykjavik University, addressed the question of energy system resilience, focusing on the Baltic States and their dependence on Russia and other neighbors to fulfill their electricity needs.
The Baltic States are not self-sufficient when it comes to electricity consumption. Since 2009, Lithuania has become a net importer of electricity, relying on external sources to fulfill its electricity demand. Similarly, Estonia experienced a shift towards becoming a net importer of electricity around 2019, following the closure of environmentally detrimental oil fueled power plants.
The Baltics are integrated with the Nordic market and are heavily dependent on electricity imports from Finland and Sweden. Additionally, all three Baltic States are part of the BRELL network – a grid linking the electricity systems of Belarus, Russia, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania – which provides stability for their electrical networks. As a result, despite the absence of commercial electricity trading between Estonia and Russia, and limited commercial trading between Russia and the other two Baltic states, the power flows between the Baltic States and Russia and Belarus still exist. This creates a noticeable dependency of the Baltics on Russia, and a potential threat, should Russia decide to disconnect the Baltics from BRELL before the planned separation in 2024/2025.
This dependency was put on trial when Russia on May 15th 2022 cut its electricity trade with Europe. On the one hand, the system proved to be relatively resilient as the cut did not lead to any blackouts in the Baltics. On the other hand, price volatility amplified in its main import partner countries, Sweden and Finland, and congestion increased as compared to 2021.
Figure 1. Price volatility in Sweden and Finland before and after the trade cut.
This increased price volatility and congestion following the Russian halt in electricity trade gives an indication that the Baltics and the Nordics are vulnerable to relatively small supply cuts even at the current demand levels.
In the future, electricity consumption is however expected to increase throughout the region as a result of the electrification of the economy (e.g., by 65 percent in 2050 in the Nordic region). This highlights the need to speed up investments into energy infrastructure of internal energy markets.
In summary; recent events have demonstrated a remarkable resilience of the Baltic State’s electricity system. While the disruption of commercial flows from Russia did have some impact on the region, overall, the outcome was positive. Nonetheless, it is important to note that the region relies heavily on electricity imports, and with increasing demand for power in both the Baltics and the neighboring areas, potential issues with supply security could arise if the demand in the Nordics cannot be met through increased production. The risk of an early disconnection from the BRELL network further amplifies this concern. However, the case of Ukraine – which managed to abruptly disconnect from Russian electricity networks – serves as an example that expediting the process of establishing new connections is feasible, although not risk free.
The Ukrainian Energy Sector and the Immediate Threat from Russia
While the Baltics are facing the effects from the Russian halt in electricity trade and the threat of a potential premature disconnection from BRELL, Ukraine’s energy networks are at the same time experiencing the direct aggression from Russia.
Yuliya Markuts, Head of the Center of Public Finance and Governance at the Kyiv School of Economics (KSE), and Igor Piddubnyi, Analyst on Energy Sector Damages and Losses and Researcher at the Center for Food and Land Use Research at KSE, both gave insight into the tremendous damages to the Ukrainian energy system from Russian attacks, the short-term solutions to cope with the damage, as well as the long-term implications and reconstruction perspectives.
Since the invasion, about 50 percent of the energy infrastructure has been damaged by shelling. In addition, several power plants are under Russian control or located in Russian occupied territories. As of February 2023, nearly 16 GW of installed capacities of power plants remained in Russian control, equivalent of the peak demand. Apart from the damages to the producing side, transmission and distribution facilities have also been severely affected, as well as oil storage facilities. In April 2023, the damages to Ukraine’s energy infrastructure were estimated to amount to $8.3 billion, almost 6 percent of the total estimated direct damages from the war.
While the damages are massive, the population did not experience complete blackouts, and the Ukrainian energy system did not collapse. This is partly due to diesel-driven generators substituting much of the damaged electricity generation and partly due to a fall in demand of about 30-35 percent in 2022, mainly driven by decreased industry demand.
In the short term, Ukraine is likely to continue to face Russian attacks. Its top energy priorities would thus be to restore damaged facilities and infrastructure like heating and clean water, increase the stocks of fuel, gas, and coal, and to try to liberate occupied areas and facilities. Another vital aspect of the Ukrainian energy infrastructure and its resilience towards the Russian goal of “freezing” the country relates to energy efficiency. Ukraine’s energy efficiency has been relatively low, with the highest rate of electricity losses in Europe, and the numbers are also high for gas supply and district heating. Here, minor changes such as light bulb switching, can have great impacts. Additionally, solar panels – especially those that can also store energy – can help alleviate the acute pressure on the transmission grid. Other vital measures involve continued donations from Ukraine’s partners, sustained efforts from energy workers – at the risk of their lives – and persistent successful deterrence of cyber-attacks currently targeting the country.
Achieving a greener energy system is currently challenging (if not nearly impossible) due to the use of diesel-driven generators, the attacks on the energy system, and the fight for control over nuclear power plants such as Zaporizhzhia, which since March 2022 is under the control of Russian forces. Damages to renewable energy production further exacerbate these difficulties.
Thus, it is crucial to ensure that the planning and reconstruction of Ukraine’s energy sector is done in accordance with the European Green Deal. By 2030, the country should have at least 25 percent renewables in its energy mix, which would require substantial installations of at least 13 GW of wind, solar, small hydro and biogas capacities. In addition, transition entails decommissioning old coal power plants to run on natural or biogas instead of coal.
While this is a tall task, investments targeted to the energy system are not only essential for Ukraine’s population to sustain through the 2023/2024 winter – but also to facilitate the green transition in Europe. The potential for export of biomethane, green hydrogen, and nuclear power from Ukraine to Europe is considerable. As Europe’s biofuel demand is expected to increase by 63 percent while Ukrainian grain exports are still proving to be challenging, biofuel production for export on the European market is a particularly likely future scenario for the Ukrainian energy market.
In summary; the Ukrainian energy sector has done remarkably well, considering the impact of the damages from the Russian aggression. As Ukrainian short-term energy priorities lie in facilitating quick and efficient responses to infrastructural damages, current measures may not be particularly environmentally friendly. However, the longer-term reconstruction of Ukraine’s energy sector has great potential for being in line with the green transition objectives.
Energy System’s Resilience in the Green Transition
Mikael Toll, Senior Advisor at Ramboll Management Consulting highlighted the importance of infrastructure resilience. He emphasized the significance of the Energy Trilemma in achieving a successful transition to greener energy systems. This trilemma implies balancing between energy security, environmental sustainability, and affordability, all representing societal goals. Focusing on the energy security aspect of this trilemma, he stressed that energy infrastructure should be part of a more holistic approach to the problem. It is essential to establish resilient supply chains and implement efficient management procedures to prevent and mitigate the negative consequences of disruptions. It entails ensuring the performant infrastructure and supply, but also fostering well-functioning markets, putting in place state-governed crisis management mechanisms, and cooperation with other states. By combining these elements, one can enhance preparedness both in normal times and during crises.
Sweden as an Example
Sweden has since long been increasing its share of renewables in the energy mix, as depicted in Figure 2. This suggests that it is relatively well-prepared to the needs of the green transition. However, electricity demand is expected to increase by 100 percent in the coming years, driven by increased electrification of the industry and transport sectors, adding pressure to Sweden’s electricity system. The need for more investments in several energy systems is tangible, and investment opportunities are numerous. However, political decisions concerning the energy system in Sweden tend to be short-sighted, even though energy infrastructures have a long lifespan – often well over 50 years. As a result, investment risks are often high and change character over time, which creates a lack of infrastructure investment. Other challenges to Sweden’s energy resilience include limited acceptance of new energy infrastructure among the public, time-consuming approval processes, and a lack of thorough impact assessment.
Figure 2. Total supplied energy in Sweden, 1970-2020.
Further, the current geopolitical context creates an increased need to consider external threats – such as energy system disruptions resulting from the Russian war on Ukraine – and increased dependency on China as a key supplier of metals and batteries required for electrification. It is also important to realize that external influence may affect not only physical infrastructure but also domestic decision-making processes. This calls for more energy and political security alongside the green transition, in combination with higher readiness against security threats and a reassessment of global value chains.
In summary; to successfully move into a greener future, it is necessary to invest in energy systems and infrastructure based on a careful multi-dimensional analysis and with the support of long-sighted political decisions. At the same time, we must push investments that also consider the security threats from and dependencies on global actors.
This year’s Energy Talk provided an opportunity to hear from leading experts on the current situation of Europe’s energy resilience. It outlined the key challenges of the green transition in the current geopolitical and economic context. Greener solutions for Europe’s energy system will require tremendous physical efforts and investments but also political will and public understanding. There are, however, immense benefits to be realized if the associated risks are not overlooked.
On behalf of the Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics, we would like to thank Ewa Lazarczyk, Yuliya Markuts, Igor Piddubnyi and Mikael Toll for participating in this year’s Energy Talk. The presentations from the webinar can be seen here.
- Swedish Energy Agency. (2022). Energy in Sweden 2022 – an overview. https://energimyndigheten.a-w2m.se/Home.mvc?ResourceId=208766
- Lazarczyk, E. and Le Coq, C. (2023). Power coming from Russia and Baltic Sea Region’s energy security. REPORT 2023:940. Energiforsk.
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.
Many developing countries rely on investment-to-GDP metrics as a sign of progress towards their development goals. Unfortunately, too often the focus on investment pushes aside the issues of adequately maintaining existing infrastructure. The result could be disastrous to human lives, health, and well-being. Lack of maintenance of existing infrastructure is a well-known problem, not only in developing economies but also in some developed countries. However, how much the government should plan to spend on maintenance over the lifetime of infrastructure assets is neither a simple nor straightforward question. In this policy brief, we examine the cases of two transition economies – Georgia and Estonia – and provide a more general discussion of the challenges and possible solutions to infrastructure maintenance issues. We argue that relevant research along with properly aligned incentives could help the countries overcome these problems and optimize infrastructure spending.
The efficiency of infrastructure investment has gotten quite some attention in the past years. A recent book by G. Schwartz et al. (2020) shows that countries waste about 1/3 (and some even more) of their infrastructure spending due to inefficiencies. With poor management, the major budgetary efforts undertaken to make room for infrastructure investments go to waste. The question of how much the country should plan to spend on maintenance over the lifetime of infrastructure assets is neither simple nor straightforward. In two recent ISET-PI blog posts, Y. Babych and L. Leruth (2020a, b) stress the importance of striking the right balance between new infrastructure investments and the rehabilitation and maintenance of existing infrastructure. Without this balance, the up-keep of public infrastructure could either be too expensive for the budget to handle, or, at the other extreme, would quickly deteriorate to the point where it is no longer operational and needs to be rebuilt from the ground up (which is the case in many developing countries, including Georgia, Armenia, Ukraine, and others). This policy brief focuses on the reasons why developing (and even some developed) countries tend to invest too little in public infrastructure maintenance and what can be done to solve this problem. We first examine the cases of Georgia and Estonia, two post-Soviet transition economies with different approaches to infrastructure maintenance financing. This analysis is then followed by a more general discussion about the infrastructure maintenance challenges and potential solutions.
Maintenance vs. Investment: the Cases of Georgia and Estonia
Developing countries tend to use investment (public or private) as a share of GDP to measure their economic progress and prospects. Georgia is one of the countries that has invested a lot in public infrastructure. Public investment grew sharply between 2003-2007 to 8% of GDP and settled at 6% of GDP after 2017 (PIMA GEO 2018). The capital stock is about 90% of GDP. In comparison, in Estonia, another post-Soviet economy, public investment was about 4% of GPD, whereas the capital stock was 57% of GDP in 2015. Yet, the quality of Georgia’s public infrastructure is much lower than in Estonia (Georgia is in 69th place globally according to Global Competitiveness Index 2017-2018, while Estonia is in 32nd place). The reason for this is quite simple: management, especially the maintenance of public infrastructure. Both countries recently went through a Public Investment Management Assessment (PIMA), a comprehensive framework developed by the IMF to assess infrastructure governance. The results suggest that Georgia is much weaker than Estonia in planning, budgeting, and maintenance. (A complete summary of the assessment results can be found here).
Georgia’s case is far from unique. The country belongs to the vast majority of emerging economies that have not efficiently linked their medium- and long-term infrastructure plans within a sustainable fiscal framework. Moreover, infrastructure planning deficiencies spread way beyond the emerging markets: Allen et al. (2019) estimate that 56% of all world countries do not have a proper Public Investment Program.
Why is Infrastructure Maintenance a Challenge for Many Countries?
Even though maintenance, rehabilitation, and new investments are intrinsically linked, the practical process of integrating these three infrastructure components is complex. Blazey et al. (2019), for example, identify the following reasons:
- Political economy reasons—governments will opt for a ribbon-cutting rather than maintaining existing assets;
- Fiscal reasons—budget funding for operations and maintenance is prone to be cut when fiscal space is limited;
- Institutional reasons—in many countries, separate agencies still prepare investment and current expenditure budgets;
- Capacity reasons— up-to-date information on the state of assets may not be readily available.
A number of international studies (usually sectorial) point to the high cost of neglecting maintenance. A study on the upkeep of bridges and roads in the US shows that 1$ of deferred maintenance will cost over 4$ in future repairs. The same holds for airports. In Africa, the World Bank estimates that timely road expenditure of $12 billion spent in the 80s would have saved $45 billion in reconstruction costs during the next decade. It is not only rehabilitation costs that increase with poor maintenance: user costs can increase dramatically (Escobal and Ponce, 2003); health costs in terms of injuries or deaths; and ecological costs (the water lost daily because of leaks could satisfy the needs of 200 million people according to the World Bank, 2006).
Conceptually, however, the link between maintenance, rehabilitation, and new investments is simple to understand. Figure 1 below, adopted from Thi Hoai Le et al. (2019), clarifies this point. As discussed in Babych and Leruth (2020b), when planned maintenance activities (such as planned repair, upkeep, etc.) are insufficient, then the rate at which infrastructure is deteriorating will be high, and the unplanned maintenance costs will increase as well. This response would, in turn, result in a higher total cost. If the amount of planned maintenance activities is excessive, then the unplanned costs may be low, but the total cost is higher than optimal. In order to strike the optimal balance, there need to be just enough planned maintenance activities.
Figure 1. Optimal zone of maintenance.
Conceptually simple maybe, but the devil(s) is (are) in the details. We have already listed above some of the reasons why integration is complex. Data availability is another issue raised by numerous Public Investment Management Assessments made by the IMF. The reporting standards are simply not built in a way that would allow for the compilation of maintenance and rehabilitation data (although aggregate estimates of investment data are available). In any case, the Government Finance Statistics Manual of the IMF (2014) does not separate maintenance expenditure, which is undoubtedly an area that requires further deepening. More fundamentally perhaps, as pointed out long ago by Schick (1966), there is an additional issue relating to governance philosophy: “planning and budgeting have run separate tracks and have invited different perspectives, the one conservative and negativistic, the other innovative and expansionist …”. Finally, with governments looking for the ‘cheap’ route through public-private partnerships (PPPs) to finance infrastructure development, fiscal risks have increased in advanced and emerging economies in the early 2000s (IMF, 2008). To our knowledge, there have been no systematic assessments of PPP-related fiscal risks since IMF’s report in 2008, but as fiscal positions have deteriorated with the Covid-19 pandemic, PPP projects are likely even riskier today.
What Can Be Done to Improve Infrastructure Maintenance?
Leaving the data, PPPs, and inter-departmental culture issues aside, several considerations that emerge from a closer look at Figure 1 can feed the policy discussions. Let us first consider the notion of planned maintenance (the orange line). In principle, as a project is developed, the cost of maintenance is projected over its life cycle. If the infrastructure is maintained accordingly, its life span may even exceed the projections. At the time the project is conceived, a schedule of maintenance expenditure is also planned and integrated into the analysis. In the figure above, one would expect that these cost assumptions are located in the ‘optimal maintenance zone’ with a limited amount to be spent on unplanned maintenance later on. This level of planned maintenance should then be integrated as a ‘given’ in all subsequent budgets. Usually, as we have already mentioned, it is not.
If we now move to ‘unplanned’ maintenance (the line in blue), we are really referring to situations when infrastructure must be brought back to shape after months (or even years) of neglect. In some cases, this can no longer be labeled as maintenance, and it becomes rehabilitation. Reduce regular maintenance a bit more and the authorities must start over.
Finally, the continuity of the curves is misleading: it is wrong to say that things are necessarily smooth even in the optimal zone.
Let us look more closely at the leading causes and the ways to overcome the problems that arise when optimizing maintenance expenditure.
Setting benchmarks: One explanation for the shortage of maintenance planning outlined above is the lack of information on the practical implementation of such planning. There are too few studies on maintenance expenditure for policymakers to set benchmarks and develop reliable estimates. The existing studies in this area tend to focus on OECD countries (where data availability is less of a constrain) and on the transportation sector (roads, rail, etc.) perhaps because the private sector is more often involved (see, for example, the American Society of Civil Engineers from 2017, that concluded that 9 percent of all bridges are structurally deficient). Some studies have looked at buildings (e.g., Batalovic et al., 2017 or the Ashrae database, 2021) and unsurprisingly concluded that the age of the construction and its height are significant variables to explain maintenance outlays. However, we are not aware of studies that would, for example, distinguish between different types of maintenance in order to limit overall costs. We are neither aware of studies investigating which organizational arrangements are the most efficient (as discussed by Allen et al., 2019). The bottom line is that there is not much to use as a benchmark, and an effort must be made to build reliable estimates.
Policy dialogue on maintenance is needed: The abovementioned considerations of the consequences of delayed, unplanned, and sometimes unexpected maintenance bring us to our next point. Things break down when they are not maintained (and sometimes break down when they are maintained too), and such long-term aspects must be more present in the policy dialogue with developing countries. Clearly, delaying maintenance increases fiscal costs in the short- and longer-term (Blazey et al., 2019).
The smoothness of the curves in Figure 1 can be misleading because insufficient maintenance may suddenly trigger a major problem (a bridge or a dam can collapse, as it happened in Italy and in India recently,) and this will entail high costs, even disasters involving in human lives. The major collapses of nuclear plants (as in Chornobyl, Ukraine, and more recently in Fukushima, Japan) are other examples of the same problem. In addition, studies estimate that poor maintenance of transmission lines could be one of the reasons for electricity blackouts (Yu and Pollitt, 2009). In fact, the lack of maintenance increases the speed at which the value of the existing capital of infrastructure is eroding. While politicians may well hope that this will not happen during their tenure, the probability of a failure increases as maintenance decreases.
On top of the above, inefficiency in maintenance expenditures can be aggravated by wrongly set incentives, both for domestic actors and foreign donors. Indeed, the latter play an important role in infrastructure investment in many developing countries. In Georgia, for example, 40% of infrastructural projects are funded by foreign donors. Setting the right incentives for both parties, as well as their interplay, are thus of immense importance.
Aligning the incentives: Incentives are against maintenance. As pointed out by Babych and Leruth (2020a), capital investment and rehabilitation look good on paper. Maintenance, on the other hand, is considered a current expenditure item in the Government Finance Statistics (GFS) (IMF, 2014). Spending more on maintenance will therefore not look good since 1) more maintenance will reduce government savings in the short term; 2) spending less on maintenance will increase the need for virtuous-looking investment expenditure in the medium and long term. Yet, in spite of the lack of clear benchmarks, donors can play an essential role by stressing the need to systematically integrate maintenance in the budget and in the Medium-Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF). To some extent, it is already the case. In Georgia, projects that are funded by donors tend to follow better appraisal procedures. However, ex-post audits are irregular – e.g., no individual projects audits were completed by State Audit Office during 2015-2017 (PIMA GEO, 2018). If donors could include these audits in their dialogue, it would clearly be helpful. Training subnational governments in proper maintenance management would be even more critical as capacities tend to be weaker than in the center.
Overcoming a potential moral hazard problem of donor involvement: Excessive donor involvement in new investments could also be counterproductive. Donors should carefully examine the need to build new infrastructure and first consider the possibility of performing some rehabilitation while holding the authorities accountable for the maintenance of existing ones. If the authorities are expecting a donor to eventually replace a piece of infrastructure that does not function, the incentives to maintain it are greatly reduced.
- Developing economies, but also emerging ones like Georgia, as well as Armenia, Ukraine and others, would benefit from proper incentives and support from the international donors to integrate maintenance into the infrastructure planning framework;
- This is especially important for local governments, who lack the financial and human capital resources to maintain local infrastructure properly, making regions outside of the capital city less attractive places to invest or live in;
- Given the absence of transparent and comparable sources of information about the composition of maintenance expenditures – for example, the Government Finance Statistics (IMF), which does not distinguish between maintenance and rehabilitation expenditures, – donors could insist that governments compile these expenditures and report on them, at least for the major projects;
- The culture of maintaining rather than rehabilitating or replacing is directly linked to the sustainable development goals and the circular economy concept. In light of their commitment to Agenda 2030, the international community and the national governments in countries like Georgia should consider prioritizing and implementing the set of reforms suggested in their respective PIMAs.
- Allen, R., M. Betley, C. Renteria and A. Singh, “Integrating Infrastructure Planning and Budgeting,” in Schwartz et al. (2020), pp. 225-244 (2019).
- American Society of Civil Engineers, Infrastructure Report Card, Reston, Va, (2017).
- ASHRAE, Purpose of The Service Life and Maintenance Cost Database, available at., (2021).
- Babych, Y., and L. Leruth, “Tbilisi: a Growing City with Growing Needs,” ISET-PI Blog available at, (2020a).
- Babych, Y., and L. Leruth, “To Prevent, to Repair, or to Start Over: Should Georgia Put’ Maintenance’ Ahead of ‘Investment’ in Its Development Dictionary?,” ISET-PI Blog available at, (2020b).
- Batalovic, M., K. SokolijaM. Hadzialic, and N. Batalovic, “Maintenance and Operation Costs Model for University Buildings,” Tehnicki Vjesnik, 23(2), pp. 589-598, (2017).
- Blazey, A., F. Gonguet, and P. Stokoe, “Maintaining and Managing Public Infrastructure Assets,” in Schwartz et al. (2020), pp. 265-281 (2019).
- Escobal, J. and C. Ponce, “The Benefits of Rural Roads: Enhancing Income Opportunities for the Rural Poor,” Working Paper 40, Grupo de Analysis Para el Desarrollo (GRADE), Lima, Peru, (2003).
- IMF, “Fiscal Risks—Sources, Disclosure, and Management,” Fiscal Affairs Department, Washington DC,(2008).
- IMF, GFS, Government Finance Statistics Manual, IMF, Washington DC, (2014).
- PIMA EST, Republic of Estonia: Technical Assistance Report-Public Investment Management Assessment, IMF, Washington DC, (2019).
- PIMA GEO, Republic of Georgia: Technical Assistance Report-Public Investment Management Assessment, IMF, Washington DC, (2018).
- Rozenberg, J., and M. Fay, eds, “Beyond The Gap: How Countries Can Afford The Infrastructure They Need While Protecting The Planet,” Sustainable Infrastructure Series, The World Bank, Washington DC, (2019)
- Schick, A., “The Road to PPB: The Stages of Budget Reform,” Public Administration Review, 26(4), pp. 243-258, (1966).
- Schwartz, G., M. Fouad, T. Hansen, and G. Verdier, Well Spent : How Strong Infrastructure Governance Can End Waste in Public Investment, IMF, Washington DC, (2020).
- Thi Hoai Le, A., N. Domingo, E. Rasheed, and K. Park, “Building Maintenance Cost Planning and Estimating: A Literature Review,” 34th Annual ARCOM Conference, Belfast, UK (2019).
- World Bank, The Challenge of Reducing Non-Revenue Water in Developing Countries – How The Private Sector Can Help,” Water Supply and Sanitation Board Discussion Paper Series No 8, Washington DC, (2006).
- Yu, W., and M. Pollitt, “Does Liberalization Cause More Electricity Blackouts?,” EPRG Working Paper 0827, Energy Policy Research Group, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom, (2009).
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