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A question of planning

With so much infrastructure to rebuild, Argentina, must prioritise.

Despite being a major driver for the economy of such a large country, the transport infrastructure in Argentina has been starved of cash for decades.

Not only has there been too little investment, but funding has often been poorly targeted or even wasted through corrupt contract management in the past.

One of the problems, according to former minister of infrastructure Jorge Kogen is that much of Argentina's transport planning is outdated - the Buenos Aires plan was completed in 1971 and the national plan finalised in 1981. This, he says, makes it hard to prioritise accurately.

Kogen is the former minister of infrastructure and was in charge of the commission that privatised the railways but resigned from the government three months ago.

'We are missing a key tool to plan and move forward, ' says Kogen. 'There is no basic information or statistics with which to make decisions.'

In fact, there was a World Bank financed project to update the BA study commissioned in 1995. However, due to contractual problems, this was never completed.

'Plans are not set by strategy but as a result of a series of changing policies, ' says Kogen.

However, according to minister of infrastructure and housing Carlos Bastos, the lack of an overall strategic plan is not so important as the backlog of projects and maintenance is so large.

'More and more we need better financing plans rather than new engineering plans, ' explains Bastos. 'We have some special projects. But in general, we are looking for new ways to raise finance - in engineering terms the problems are not so complicated.'

He adds: 'Of course, it would be better to have a complete plan for infrastructure development. We have a co-ordinated list of projects. But right now we do not have a single elaborate plan.'

Bastos is keen to bring on board ideas and expertise from the UK in particular in private financing and project execution. A delegation to London from his office last week underlined this commitment.

However, his underlying message - one common across Argentina - is of the need to deliver hard results.

Government focus at present is on the roads and rail infrastructure via the new trust funds for infrastructure, and in particular overcoming the problem of paying the private sector concessions.

But there are other key projects in the pipeline, including improvement of the Buenos Aires subway network - worth $800M (£500M), redevelopment of the Retiro train station area in the capital, and the extension to and redevelopment of the Aeroparke airport.

According to director of the World Bank's Latin American office, Myrna Alexander, the UK's reputation for delivering private finance solutions stands firms in good stead. However, she also warns that with so much to do there is a reluctance to spend more money on consulting studies.

Alexander also highlights that local competition is very tough.

'There are not many foreign consultants that win bids in Argentina now, ' she says. 'It is a tough market and not just for UK firms. A $150,000 (£95,000) consulting job is now considered big and is more easily and effectively handled by local firms.'

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