Municipal bonds will transform our dirty old cities

05 Apr, 2024 - 00:04 0 Views
Municipal bonds will transform our dirty old cities Bulawayo City Council

eBusiness Weekly

Economy Uncensored with Tapiwanashe Mangwiro

In the intricate tapestry of urban development, city councils wield significant power and responsibility.

They are tasked with addressing the daily needs of their constituents, from maintaining infrastructure to facilitating technological advancements that enhance quality of life.

People are demanding more accountability in the delivery of services in return for the taxes and fees that they pay.

In order for local governments to live up to these higher expectations and maintain credibility with their citizenry, they must have the financial resources to deliver expanded and more efficient services.

In Zimbabwe, urban local authorities (urban councils) carry out a range of responsibilities that is broader than that of many other local governments around the world.

It includes lighting, street paving, street cleaning and parks maintenance as well as water, sanitation, solid waste management, housing, education and health care.

Urban councils also operate a number of enterprises, including beer halls and farms.

The desire for national economic growth puts pressure on cities and also fuels the demand for urban investment capital, since in economies at every development stage, economic activity depends on adequate investment in water, power, sanitation, roads and other forms of infrastructure.

This infrastructure is often the responsibility of local governments. While the private sector is being asked to provide a significant amount of the needed investment, governments—including local governments—will continue to play a crucial role in creating the conditions for economic growth.

However, funding these endeavours often poses a formidable challenge, requiring innovative solutions that can bridge the gap between aspirations and financial feasibility.

One such solution lies in the strategic listing of municipal bonds on stock exchanges, an approach that not only provides access to capital but also fosters transparency and accountability in municipal governance.

Traditionally, city councils in Zimbabwe once relied on issuing municipal bonds to finance crucial projects such as refuse collection, road repairs, street lighting and technological upgrades.

These bonds, essentially loans borrowed from investors, offer a means for municipalities to raise large sums of money upfront while spreading the repayment over an extended period.

This mechanism has long been a cornerstone of municipal finance, enabling cities to undertake ambitious initiatives that might otherwise be financially untenable.

However, the traditional municipal bond market has its limitations. Bonds are typically sold through over-the-counter transactions, which can restrict access to a broader investor base and result in higher borrowing costs for municipalities.

Moreover, the lack of transparency in the secondary market can hinder efficient price discovery and liquidity, further impeding the attractiveness of municipal bonds to investors.

By contrast, listing municipal bonds on stock exchanges can unlock a host of benefits for both cities and investors alike.

Firstly, it broadens the investor base, allowing individual investors, institutional funds and even foreign entities to participate in municipal financing.

This increased demand can drive down borrowing costs for cities, translating into savings that can be reinvested into critical infrastructure projects.

Listing bonds on stock exchanges enhances transparency and liquidity in the market as investors can easily access real-time pricing information and trade bonds with greater efficiency, fostering a more dynamic marketplace for municipal securities.

This transparency not only instils confidence in investors but also holds city councils accountable for their financial decisions, as they are subject to scrutiny from a wider audience of stakeholders.

In addition to these structural advantages, listing municipal bonds on stock exchanges can facilitate the integration of innovative financing mechanisms, such as green bonds and social impact bonds.

These instruments enable cities to raise funds for specific projects aimed at environmental sustainability, social welfare, or technological innovation.

For instance, Bulawayo City Council could issue green bonds to finance the installation of energy-efficient street lighting systems or deploy social impact bonds to fund programs aimed at reducing homelessness through innovative technology solutions.

The potential impact of listing municipal bonds on stock exchanges extends far beyond traditional infrastructure projects.

In an era defined by rapid technological advancement, cities are increasingly turning to innovative solutions to address complex challenges.

Whether it’s implementing smart waste management systems to optimise refuse collection or deploying sensor networks to identify and repair potholes proactively, technology plays a pivotal role in shaping the cities of tomorrow.

However, embracing these technological advancements requires significant upfront investment, which can strain the financial resources of cash-strapped municipalities.

Listing bonds on stock exchanges offers a viable avenue for cities to access the capital needed to finance these initiatives, thereby accelerating the pace of innovation and fostering economic growth.

In conclusion, the need for city councils to list bonds on stock exchanges represents a compelling opportunity to enhance municipal finance and accelerate urban development.

By broadening access to capital, fostering transparency, and facilitating technological innovation, listing municipal bonds on stock exchanges can empower cities to tackle pressing challenges and chart a course toward a more prosperous and sustainable future.

As we navigate the complexities of urbanization in the 21st century, embracing innovative financing mechanisms will be paramount in unlocking the full potential of our cities and building vibrant communities for generations to come.

Tapiwanashe Mangwiro is a resident economist with the Business Weekly and writes this in his own capacity. @willoe_tee on twitter and Tapiwanashe Willoe Mangwiro on LinkedIn

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