Author: Ian Laski

Infrastructure for economic development in SE Asia

With some of the highest population rates expected by 2030, coupled with the vulnerabilities to extreme weather events, Southeast Asia may need $7 trillion in infrastructure investment to grow and develop sustainly. Bechtel's Ian Laski joins Raj Kumar, president and editor-in-chief of Devex, to discuss the dynamic and growing challenges in Southeast Asia, one of the most diverse regions in the world, and some possible solutions to address the challenges.

Transcript of interview:

"Hi. We're pleased today to have Raj Kumar, President and Editor-in-Chief of Devex, Media Platform for the Global Development Community, and Ian Laski, Region President, Asia-Pacific for Bechtel Corporation. Welcome gentlemen. 

Thank you 

Thank you. 

So today, we're here to talk about urbanization, and development, and infrastructure in Southeast Asia, one of the most diverse and dynamic regions in the world. With some of the highest population rates expected by 2030, coupled with the vulnerabilities to extreme weather events, Southeast Asia may need $7 trillion in infrastructure investment to grow and develop sustainably. Raj, as Devex is a leading voice for international development, how are development institutions such as the Asian Development Bank, and/or the newly-founded Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank responding to this challenge? 

Thanks for the question, Carolyn, and thank you, Ian, for having me here at Bechtel. Money is really the problem in a way, but it's really not the entire solution, when it comes to the infrastructure challenges in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. And in fact, I know you're based in Southeast Asia. when you spend time out there. 

Infrastructure is not something that is hard to see as a challenge, right? It's very obvious to people in the region. You're sitting in traffic, you're breathing smog and pollution. I mean, the needs are dramatic. So the $7 trillion dollar figure that you cited is really apparent, I think, to any citizen in the region. 

So that said, money really isn't so much the problem entirely. It's really more about finding the right projects and the right strategies to fund. But there is money that's needed, and so the Asian Development Bank, which has been around a long time, funding projects, and infrastructure, and sustainable development, is a really important player in the region. And I think they are welcoming this new bank, which is, in a way, seen as a competitor, but in a way, is a partner, and that's the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. 

And that bank is going to be bringing a lot of new expertise and new financing that, really, the region needs. And frankly, if you add up the funding available from those two banks that Carolyn mentioned, even together, they don't get as close to the $7 trillion required for infrastructure in the region. So I think, in general, you'll find that people are welcoming the new money that's there today, and realize that, even in and of itself, that new money is not enough, that we need a new approach and a new way of thinking about infrastructure in the region. 

Thank you. And Ian, increasingly we hear that the roles or expectations on the private sector are changing to promote infrastructure to support the region's development. How do you see Bechtel's role evolving, and what are you focused on? 

That's a very good question. I think, you know, as Raj just mentioned, needs are huge in the region. I think as we look towards various countries within the Asian community, of course, needs are as diversified as there are countries and cultures. So you're starting from, say, Singapore, with a highly-developed infrastructure, and you're looking at some countries like Malaysia and Thailand, which are reasonably well-provided for, in terms of infrastructure needs, although still requiring huge investment. But you still have areas like Myanmar which have essentially none, in terms of a viable infrastructure to support the sort of growth which we're expecting. 

So obviously, as we look towards these government needs, the role of the private industry and private finance is very, very significant. We're talking about shifting risk from the governments to the private sector in exchange for investment. And as Raj mentioned, investment is not the whole end solution. This needs to be a very comprehensive approach by all of the stakeholders. 

And I think part of the private sector role is to assist all the stakeholders with creating a climate and creating an environment for development of infrastructure. Of course, we are, after all, engaged in the most challenging and, I would say, demanding projects around the world. We've done infrastructure projects for generations. So I think our experience would be vital to help these countries in understanding how to go about structuring the right type of projects, which will attract the right type of investment, which will provide the certainty of outcome, which ultimately will prove that we can deliver infrastructure at a reasonable cost with reasonable risk-sharing profile. 

I think that's part of the solution, because role of the private sector has to be helping to shape the policy, in shaping the deal, in helping the local governments and authorities to understand at which point the International funding and execution will get engaged together with the community to deliver the solution. So I think that's where Bechtel, and our legacy, and our experience, and our capability all come together to demonstrate that we can actually be part of this overall solution for Asia-Pacific. 

Thank you, gentlemen, so much. We really appreciate it. Great ideas. Thank you for your time."

 

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