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Navigating 2023 with Cautious Optimism and Closer Collaboration

Infrastructure Asia’s Executive Director, Mr Lavan Thiru, looks back at 2022 and shares his thoughts for 2023

As I wrapped up our 12th and final work trip for 2022 in December, I reflected on the year that whizzed by. The resumption of travel in early 2022 meant that we could once again sit across the room, in-person with our partners and work with them to further develop infrastructure projects. Our virtual conversations prior to that in 2020 and 2021 were understandably focused on how they were dealing with the pandemic, putting in place building blocks to prepare to live with the pandemic and develop sustainable infrastructure. 

Coming together again, stronger and better

Our in-person conversations in 2022, whether in meetings or over meals, were so much richer. Coming off from the strong commitments made during COP26, everyone was speaking about sustainable infrastructure and what it meant to them. At the same time, the conversations were also realistic as we were dealing with global challenges such as the war and inflation. How do we deal with energy security, affordability while ensuring that it is done sustainably?

We were glad to host the infrastructure community from the region and Singapore during the Asia Infrastructure Forum 2022 where we shared and learnt from each other on dealing with these issues. The issues were similar across countries but at different levels of intensity. Our infrastructure community had the opportunity to interact, rekindle old friendships and forged new ones. I am grateful to our MoU partners, especially regional government officials from Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, India, Philippines and Vietnam for their strong support for the event. A special thank you to our sponsors and programme partners for their continued commitment to be an integral part of this event.

We also launched the Infrastructure Asia Project Portal to address a constant pain point I hear from our stakeholders on the high search cost they faced when seeking solutions to tackle infrastructure issues. While there are many bespoke solutions out there, there is an absence of neutral parties that can help curate holistic end-to-end solutions. The portal provides visibility to a pipeline of projects and encourages collaboration amongst various solution providers with InfraAsia as the intermediary to ensure best-fit solutions. Over the coming months, we will work with our partners to showcase more projects. 

I am also glad to have had the opportunity to speak at various partner engagement events including the G20 and OECD. It allowed me to share the work that we do as well as our views on how to accelerate sustainable infrastructure. In these sessions, I spoke about the Growing Infrastructure Course organised by InfraAsia together with the World Bank Group and Singapore Management University. This year, we were able to restart in-person sessions with overwhelming positive feedback from the regional participants. To-date, over 200 government officials have benefitted from this programme. The ability to prepare well-structured infrastructure projects is key to attracting private capital in a more meaningful way.  

Moving infrastructure development forward
Coming into the first few days of 2023 was sobering with cautionary news about the challenges in 2023 and beyond. But let us get down to basics and in my view, it has not changed significantly: 

i.     First, infrastructure development is critical for economic growth with a strong focus on sustainability 
ii.    Public finances will continue to be strained
iii.   Private money continues to look at infrastructure opportunities
iv.   Therefore, collaboration is key amongst stakeholders to navigate complexities

The last point is crucial in moving infrastructure development forward. Projects are getting more complex not just because they need to be sustainable but also because the demands from stakeholders have increased. Developing countries look to infrastructure as a way to leap-frog. Increasingly, it will be more difficult for a single party to undertake an entire infrastructure development. The good news is that Singapore is a fantastic convening location for all stakeholders. From developers to professional services to financing, many key solutions providers have established a presence in Singapore and InfraAsia works with them to take their solutions into the region. I am grateful to the multilateral banks (e.g. ADB) and the development finance institutions (e.g. US DFC, PIDG) for working closely with us and I look forward to more of such collaboration. 

But more needs to be done to further unclog the pipeline of marginally bankable projects or else the space will become heavily contested, resulting in sub-optimal outcomes for all. Not only do we need to unclog, but it needs to be done at a significantly higher magnitude. InfraAsia will continue to focus on capacity building, market sounding and project development to improve the bankability of projects with our partners. 

We also need to better use technology and we will spend more time in 2023 on infrastructure technology (Infratech). We dipped our toes in Infratech in 2022 with our focus on non-revenue water. Going through that exercise provided more “a-ha” moments which demonstrated how technology can significantly help improve the efficiency and sustainability of existing infrastructure assets. Think about the potential in energy efficiency, reducing non-technical losses etc. 

Developing smarter and sustainable infrastructure for Asia

Although I am cautiously optimistic about infrastructure developments in the region, I am confident that together with our partners, we can deliver best-fit solutions for the region’s infrastructure needs. Let us join hands and embark on this journey to deliver smarter and sustainable infrastructure projects that will have a positive impact on our community. 

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