Singapore-based Infrastructure Asia aims to serve as a bridge for different players across the infrastructure ecosystem, multilateral development banks (MDBs), and the public sector.
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The agency, a brainchild by Enterprise Singapore and the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), also sets itself up as a one-stop platform for information exchange and sharing of best practices of Asia, says executive director Seth Tan.
“We seek to catalyse the development of infrastructure projects in the region by bringing together players along the infrastructure value chain, enabling more transparent information exchange, facilitating investments and financing infrastructure projects,” he tells Capital Cambodia.
Enterprise Singapore, a statutory body of Singapore’s Trade and Industry Ministry, and MAS launched Infrastructure Asia last October.
According to Asian Development Bank (ADB)’s Meeting Asia’s Infrastructure Needs report, developing Asia will require an annual investment of $1.7 trillion for infrastructure until 2030 to maintain its growth momentum, tackle poverty and respond to climate change. Tan keeps this in mind when addressing the purpose of the organisation.
“We spend some time in the countries we are active in, and come up with a pre-feasibility plan to discuss possible solutions with governments on specific infrastructure problems in the country,” he says in an interview during his second visit to the Kingdom.
Tan adds that the agency has several ecosystem players as partners and with a public-private partnership model, it is ready to share what has worked in other emerging economies. This can be adjusted for solutions to better fit local issues.
Waste management issue
Tan’s second visit to the Kingdom sees deeper discussions with officials in the country, particularly in the area of waste management.
“Many cities in Asia are only beginning to tackle the waste management. Due to rapid urbanisation, it is now becoming more pronounced and existing solutions like landfills may not fit future needs,” says Tan.
In comparison with Philippines, it has less than five waste-to-energy projects in the entire country.
He believes that Infrastructure Asia will be able to assist in catalysing better and good fitting waste management projects as there is a lot of expertise and solutions in Singapore’s infrastructure ecosystem.
“Singapore has experienced this issue and we have government-built, private participation projects, and multinational corporations that can provide more solutions,” says Tan.
Cambodia has been facing waste management issues and its high reliance on plastic bags has been fuelling that increase.
In an October 2018 report by Cambodia’s Ministry of Environment, the amount of garbage produced in the country had surged at a rate of 10 percent per year, all caused by population growth, changes in lifestyle and packaging, and the lack of understanding on ways to sort out waste. About 3,000 tonnes of garbage is collected in Phnom Penh daily and nearly 600 tonnes in Sihanoukville.
“We could share our views on what policy needs to be adjusted, commercially and financially. We can help set up the financing structure, bring in technical solutions and put them together,” Tan says.
Challenges that come
However, Infrastructure Asia acknowledges the challenges.For policies to be successfully formed and implemented, there has to be the right infrastructure and workforce to aid it. Having a skillful and properly trained workforce is important to ensure they can tackle the pertinent issues in the country.
Tan recognises the issues and addresses them via trainings by Infrastructure Asia and its partners. Its recent training programme was a public-private partnership workshop in Singapore that was co-organised by ADB and the High Commission of Canada, which is one of Infrastructure Asia’s partners.The programme saw some 40 participants from Asean who oversee their countries’ public-private partnership initiatives to exchange views and insights into opportunities and challenges in the infrastructure space. Another training programme in Singapore was conducted by the Global Infrastructure Hub – a G20 initiative – along with the World Bank Group to discuss more granular details and considerations in such projects.
There is certainly a strong desire within the international community to be involved and Infrastructure Asia is able to come up with specific capacity building courses. He is also optimistic of Infrastructure Asia’s efforts in making projects bankable.
“We spend a lot of time upstream to get it right. While there is a lot of liquidity flowing in Asia, these projects might not fit in with the investors’ appetite but with the right structure in place, private sector players should participate in infrastructure projects more readily,” he adds.