Political risk insurance is designed to protect investors and lenders against a range of risks they may encounter, including war, civil unrest, political violence, expropriation, and other circumstances. Having insurance against these risks makes it possible for more investors to venture into markets where the perceptions of political risk are elevated and to secure funding from commercial banks at better rates and for longer tenors. Typically, this insurance is offered for both export credit/trade transactions as well as longer-term investments. In the wake of the global financial crisis and the political events in the Middle East and North Africa, investors are increasingly turning to this risk-mitigation instrument. Between 2008 and 2011, issuance of political risk insurance by Berne Union members (the leading international organization and community for the export credit and investment insurance industry) increased 29 percent.
Political risk insurance can play a particularly important role in economies recovering from conflict. Governments in these countries are often vulnerable to political risks, and because it takes time for the judicial system to rebuild itself, it may be perceived to too dependent on the government and subject to political influence. These and other factors may convince an investor that there is an enhanced risk, or that breaches of contract will not be adjudicated in favor of the investor. Private sector providers of political risk and export credit insurance typically limit their exposure in such environments, since their mandate is to maximize their profits and minimize their losses. However, public providers—including the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation, France’s COFACE, and China’s Sinosure, as well as multilateral organizations such as MIGA, have a developmental mandate placing them in a better position to offer longer-term protection.
The case for expanding coverage
However, even these public providers face constraints in mobilizing investment in countries that need it most. There are several reasons for this. First, the rules and eligibility requirements for coverage eliminate one of the most important target groups: local investors. MIGA and other public and private providers generally only cover cross-border investments and loans. For inconvertibility, expropriation, and breach of contract, local investors cannot step outside the bounds of their own country to protect themselves from actions of their own government; if an event of this type arises, those investors can and should take recourse in the local courts.
But acts of political violence (and resulting loss of income) should fall in a different category covered by insurance. In fact, since political violence is often such an urgent concern of local investors in the reconstruction period, this could be critical for them—and to those financing these investments.
The presence of political risk insurance coverage might assuage the concerns of existing investors and ultimately contribute to economic stability.
Other constraints also make it difficult or impossible to cover existing investments. While the logic against covering existing investments is the lack of development benefit from such coverage (since the investment has already taken place), there is a strong argument for the other side. In pre-conflict situations in particular, there is a serious risk of disinvestment, as investors become increasingly nervous. Such disinvestment may add fuel to the fire by increasing unemployment and harming the country’s fiscal base, among other destabilizing effects. The presence of political risk insurance coverage might assuage the concerns of existing investors and ultimately contribute to economic stability.
The potential benefits of expanding political risk insurance are illustrated below.
Cote d’Ivoire (MIGA)
After a prolonged civil crisis, economic activity in Côte d’Ivoire is on the upswing and investors are returning to help the country address its vast reconstruction needs. As evidence of this renewed but cautious interest, MIGA’s exposure in the country has risen from $1.8 million in 2011 to $706 million in 2013.
The Henri Konan Bedié Toll Bridge
One of the investments being covered by MIGA is the construction and operation of a toll bridge over Abidjan’s Ebrié Lagoon. This planned public-private partnership had been shelved for over 10 years, but construction is now underway, backed by equity sponsors and private and public lenders. MIGA is providing $145 million in cover against the risks of transfer restriction, expropriation, war and civil disturbance, and breach of contract for a period of 15 years. This coverage is for the equity investor and all of the project’s private sector lenders as well as FMO, the development finance institution of the Netherlands. The African Development Bank is also a lender to the project.
The construction of the bridge is a high priority for the government, as Abidjan’s existing bridges and infrastructure are under severe strain and unable to manage the city’s growing traffic. Once completed, the new bridge will significantly reduce travel times, improve overall mobility, and alleviate chronic traffic congestion. The project will also provide important demonstration effects for further private sector initiatives in the country. The projects was named African Transport Deal of the Year 2012 by Project Finance magazine.
Expansion of the Azito Thermal Power Plant
Côte d’Ivoire’s power sector is also seeking to rebuild as demand for electricity is growing at an estimated eight percent annually. IFC and MIGA are helping to mobilize private finance for the expansion of the Azito Thermal Power Plant, which will generate 50 percent more power without using any additional gas.
The Azito project will increase installed capacity by 10 percent with no upfront cost to the government, and using combined cycle technology will result in annual savings of $60 million. This groundbreaking transaction in a country undergoing reconstruction was recognized in 2012 as African Power Deal of the Year by Project Finance magazine. The project involves converting the existing simple-cycle Azito Plant to combined-cycle, increasing total capacity from 290 to approximately 430 megawatts while avoiding 225,000 tons of CO2 emissions per year. Upon completion, the facility will become one of the largest independent power generators in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The IFC-MIGA collaboration was facilitated by a business development partnership between the two. IFC arranged a $350 million debt package, providing $125 million for its own account, and mobilizing the balance from five European development finance institutions (led by Proparco) and the West African Development Bank. MIGA is providing breach of contract cover to the equity investor and lead sponsor, Globeleq.
After decades of armed conflict, Afghanistan’s communications network was barely functioning. The country had no internet access. In fact, the state of the country’s communications infrastructure was so poor that it hindered the government’s ability to coordinate its own operations.
In fiscal year 2007, MIGA issued a guarantee of $74.5 million to MTN Group of South Africa. This covered its equity investment in MTN Afghanistan (MTNA), a provider of telecommunication services including mobile and internet. An additional $2 million “first loss” provision was insured under MIGA’s Afghanistan Investment Guarantee Facility, designed to encourage foreign investment into the country. In 2011, MIGA issued additional coverage for MTNA’s expansion, bringing the agency’s gross exposure to $155 million.
MTNA has contributed to the development of the telecommunications sector in Afghanistan and continues to do so by expanding its coverage and product offerings. Afghanistan’s mobile network has increased by seven-fold in the past five years, from two million mobile subscribers in 2006 to around 13.7 million in 2010, with a penetration rate of 47 per 100 inhabitants. MTNA is playing an important role in expanding coverage in remote areas of the country, with the number of subscribers expected to grow to over 18 million by 2014—despite facing daily security threats from insurgent forces, as well as a highly uncertain policy environment.
Wheat and wheat-derived products have long been diet staples in Haiti, particularly among the country’s low-income families.
Les Moulins d’Haiti
In 2010, a massive earthquake destroyed a key flour mill and animal feed facility, Les Moulins d’Haiti (LMH), which produced as much as 95 percent of the flour consumed there. Rebuilding the mill required not only substantial investment but also a way to mitigate the risk of doing business in one of the poorest and most unstable countries in the Western Hemisphere. OPIC provided political risk insurance to Seaboard Overseas Limited, a U.S. company working on the mill’s rebuilding, operation, and maintenance through a joint venture with Continental Grain Co.; Unibank, a commercial bank in Haiti; and the Government of Haiti. The insurance covered damage to assets or business income loss resulting from political violence.
Reconstruction of the facility—including a flour mill, offices, warehouse, storage silos, machine shops, and an electricity generating plant—began in February of 2010 and was completed in December 2011. Along with increased production capacity and more modern equipment, the facility was rebuilt to handle greater seismic activity. Rebuilding Les Moulins d’Haiti has created 150 local jobs and increased the supply and distribution of flour throughout Haiti.