“Thus the future American Business will require the highest degree of sensitivity to the political framework in which it functions and to the great coming changes in the World political process.” KISSINGER, Henry A. (1977). Speech before the Future of Business Project of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Georgetown, Virginia, Washington, D.C.

“First, it is clear that managers consider political instability and/or political risk, typically quite loosely defined, to be an important factor in the foreign investment decision. Second, It is just as clear that rigorous and systematic assessment and evaluation of the political environment is exceptional. Most political analysis is both superficial and subjective and not integrated formally into the decision making process. It would appear that the resulting subjective perceptions of ‘political instability’ are equated on almost a one to one basis with a poor investment climate. The response frequently is avoidance; firms simply do not get involved in countries or even regions, they perceive to be risky. Last, managers appear to rely primarily on internal (to the firm) sources for environmental information. Wlien they look for outside data, they are most likely to go to their banks or the general and business media.” KOBRIN, Stephen Jay (1978). Political risk : a review and reconsideration. Cambridge, Mass. : Alfred P. Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

In any cross-border financing, parties (banks specially) take a political risk in the sense that a collapse of the existing political order in the borrower’s country or the imposition of new taxes, exchange transfer restrictions, nationalisation or other laws may jeopardise the prospects of repayment and recovery. In project financing, the political risks are more acute for many reasons, including:

a) the project itself may require governmental concessions, licences or permits to be in place and maintained, particularly where the project is for power generation, transport, infrastructure or the exploitation of the country’s natural resources – oil, gas and minerals; and

b) the project may be crucial to the country’s infrastructure or security and accordingly be more vulnerable to the threat of expropriation or requisition – power projects, airports, seaports, roads, railways, bridges and tunnels are obvious examples.

The term political risk is widely used in relation to Project Finance and can conveniently be defined to mean both the danger of political and financial instability within a given country and the danger that government action (or inaction) will have a negative impact either on the continued existence of the project or on the cash flow generating capacity of a project. Different projects and different project structures will obviously encounter different types of political risk. However, examples of events that might be classified as political risks are set out below:

a) expropriation or nationalisation of project assets (including the shares of a project company);

b) failure of a government department to grant a consent or permit necessary for starting, completing, commissioning and/or operating a project or any part of it;

c) imposition of increased taxes and tariffs in connection with the project, including products generated by the project, or, perhaps, the withdrawal of valuable tax holidays and/or concessions;

d) imposition of exchange controls restricting transfer of funds outside of the host country or availability of foreign exchange;

e) changes in law having the effect of increasing the borrower’s or any other relevant party’s obligations with respect to the project, e.g. imposing new safety, health or environmental standards or other changes in law that result in changes being necessary to the design of any equipment or process;

f) politically motivated strikes; and

g) terrorism.

There is no single way in which a lender can eliminate all project risks in connection with a particular project. One of the most effective ways of managing and reducing political risks, however, is to lend through, or in conjunction with, multilateral agencies such as the World Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and other regional development banks such as the African Development Bank and the Asian Development Bank.

There is a view that, where one or more of these agencies is involved in a project, then the risk of interference from the host government or its agencies is reduced on the basis that the host government is unlikely to want to offend any of these agencies for fear of cutting off a valuable source of credits in the future. This is a persuasive argument and certainly one that has some historical basis. For example, when countries such as Mexico, Argentina and Brazil were defaulting on their external loans in the early 1980’s, they went to some lengths to avoid defaulting on their multilateral debts, whether project-related or not.

Other ways of mitigating against political risks include:

a) private market insurance – although this can be expensive and subject to exclusions. Further, the term that such insurance is available for will rarely be long enough;

b) obtaining assurances from the relevant government departments in the host country, especially as regards the availability of consents and permits;

c) the Central Bank of the host government may be persuaded to guarantee the availability of hard currency for export in connection with the project; and/or

d) as a last resort, but an exercise which should be undertaken in any event, by a thorough review of the legal and regulatory regime in the country where the project is to be located to ensure that all laws and regulations are strictly complied with and all the correct procedures are followed with a view to reducing the scope for challenge at a future date.

In some countries, host governments (or their agencies) may be prepared to provide firm assurances on some of the above matters to foreign investors and their lenders. Obviously such assurances are still subject to a performance risk on the host government concerned, but at a minimum they can make it very difficult, as well as embarrassing, for a government to walk away from an assurance given earlier in connection with a specific project and on the basis of which foreign investors and banks have participated in a project.

As indicated by ASHLEY and BONNER:  “Political risk identification, measurement, and management are key to successful international construction contracting. Multinational contractors are particularly sensitive to quick, unexpected change in the political environment that affects principal cash-flow elements of their projects. Traditional political risk analysis used by manufacturing or heavy industrial firms for capital investment decisions does not adequately address contracting risks. An alternate approach is presented to fill this important gap. Essential to this treatment is the identification of the primary political source risks and their impacts on project cash-flow elements. Recognition and planning, rather than gambling, is emphasized as a contractor’s best approach to successful international construction.” Let’s learn with them.

Reference:

AHARONI, Yair (1966). The Foreign Investment Decision Process. Boston, Harvard University Press.

ALFARO, L., KALEMLI-OZCAN, S. and VOLOSOVYCH, V. (2008). Why doesn’t capital flow from rich to poor countries? An empirical investigation, Review of Economics and Statistics, Vol. 90, pp. 347–368.

ASHLEY, David B. and BONNER Joseph J. (1989). Discussion of ‘Political Risks in International Construction’, Journal of Construction Engineering and Management, Vol. 115, Issue No. 1 (March/April, 1989), pp. 161-161.

FITZPATRICK, Mark (1993). The Definition and Assessment of Political Risk in International Business: A Review of the Literature, The Academy of Management Review, Vol. 8, No. 2 (April, 1983), pp. 249-254.

FRYDMAN, R., GRAY, C., HESSEL, M., and RAPACZYNSK, A. (1999). When does privatization work? The impact of private ownership on corporate performance in the transition economies, Quarterly Journal of Economics, Vol. 114, No. 4, pp. 1153-1191.

GLEASON, K. C., MCNULTY, J. E., and PENNATHUR, A. K. (2005). Returns to acquirers of privatizing Financial Services Firms : An International Examination, Journal of Banking and Finance, Vol. 29, pp. 2043-2065.

KOBRIN, Stephen J. (1979). Political risk : A review and reconsideration, Journal of International Business Studies, Vol. 10, pp. 67-80.

KOBRIN, Stephen J. (1980). Foreign enterprise and forced divestment in the LDCs, International Organization, Vol. 34, pp. 65-88.

LEWIS, M. (1979). Does political instability in developing countries affect foreign investment flow?, Management International Review, Vol. 19, No. 3, pp. 59-68.

REEB, D. M., KWOK, C., and BAEK, Y. (1998). Systemic Risk of the Multinational Corporation, Journal of International Business Studies, Vol. 29, No. 2, pp. 263-280.

SCHMIDT, D. A. (1986). Analyzing political risks, Business Horizons, Vol. 29, No. 4, pp. 43-50.

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