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Keynote Speech by Ms Indranee Rajah, Minister in the Prime Minister Office and Second Minister for Finance and Education, at The CLC-IA Webinar on 'Emerging Stronger: Healthy and Sustainable Infrastructure' on 17 July 2020

17 Jul 2020

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and gentlemen


1. Good afternoon. I am pleased to join you at today’s session co-organised by the Centre for Liveable Cities (CLC) and Infrastructure Asia. 

2. COVID-19 has dealt a major shock to the global economy, public health systems and infrastructure as well as disrupted lives and livelihoods of many. It has also accelerated many structural changes that were already evident pre-COVID, such as digitalisation.  The impact and challenges to major cities and business models are even greater, considering the high density of populations, inter-connected economic activities, people movements and social interactions, Many cities around the world have undergone lockdowns and border closures, and some cities are tightening measures again after reopening following spikes in new cases.  The International Monetary Fund expects the global economy to contract by 4.9% in 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a larger impact on the economy in first half of 2020, and recovery is projected to be more gradual than previously forecast. Governments around the world have been working hard to develop recovery strategies to help their nations improve resilience during these unprecedented times and to be better prepared to ride the recovery and seize new growth opportunities when the storms subside. 

3. Amid these challenging times, there are growth opportunities to mitigate these strong headwinds. One such opportunity is in infrastructure, which continues to be a bright spot that contributes to the long-term economic growth of many countries, increasing business activity and creating employment opportunities. The pandemic has amplified the importance of having resilient and adaptable infrastructure that can operate effectively in a crisis. The benefits of cleaner air and clearer skies resulting from a temporary pause in business and industrial activities over the past months have also prompted cities to redefine their priorities in creating a cleaner environment. Therefore, strategic projects that directly stimulate economic growth or are critical to public health are still underway. For example, Thailand allocated US$12billion to rehabilitate its economy through projects that build local infrastructure and create jobs. A Keppel-led consortium has also won an Engineering, Procurement and Construction contract worth approximately S$1.5 billion for the development of a Waste-To-Energy facility and a Materials Recovery Facility for Singapore’s new Tuas Nexus Integrated Waste Management Facility in April this year. 


4. Infrastructure for environmental public health has emerged as a critical sector, alongside logistics and clean energy. The pandemic has demonstrated the importance of cities’ infrastructure for public health such as sanitation, hygiene and adequate access to clean water and waste disposal services. Reliable access to clean water and proper waste management have conventionally contributed to a country’s sustainable development goals and have become even more important post-COVID. 

5. In Southeast Asia alone, waste generation has been increasing rapidly. By 2030, the amount is estimated to more than double the volume of year 2000. Proper solid waste management is critical in building sustainable and healthy communities. The adoption of sustainable waste management systems such as waste-to-energy (WTE) technologies is necessary to enable cities to manage their municipal solid waste. This could be achieved through environmentally friendly and efficient combustion or biotreatment processes, to recover the heat value of the waste and convert it to usable steam, electricity, or fertilisers. Similarly, in Asia today, 300 million people do not have access to water, and 1.5 billion lack basic sanitation. These gaps have to be addressed.


6. Singapore’s founding leaders recognised that basic public health standards would serve as a strong foundation for economic growth. It was only with the right policies that we could systematically address these challenges. Strong governance, and a well-planned road map have provided a robust structure to guide Singapore’s infrastructure development.

7. The pandemic calls for greater collaboration between the public and private sector. To build sustainable and healthy cities, it is critical to get governance, legal processes in place and adopt a systems approach towards tackling issues such as water and waste management. Through its various initiatives, the Centre for Liveable Cities seeks to bring together Singapore’s expertise on sustainable urban development and facilitate sharing of knowledge and best practices among cities in the region and globally. 


8. Singapore has accumulated strong players and capabilities in the infrastructure for public health ecosystem over the years:

a) On the technical front, the public and private sectors have solutions for water treatment and waste management. Singapore also houses significant activities in research & development involving clean technologies

b) In terms of governance and planning, we have long term masterplans to cope with waste volumes, increase our water security, and put in place monitoring mechanisms to ensure our infrastructure perform effectively and efficiently.

c) On the financing front, Singapore houses major project finance banks, funds, insurers, and international investors. As a regional financial hub, Singapore is well-placed to facilitate the financing required for the region’s infrastructure development.

But why do these factors matter and how do they interplay? 


9. When governments lay out clear directions for infrastructure plans and put in place the right governance structure, the private sector will have more confidence to participate in the implementation process, through the provision of technical and financial solutions. 

10. Singapore has an extensive range of companies offering solutions for water and waste management to meet increasing demands.  For example, water treatment technology today aims to drive down treatment cost in areas like reverse osmosis to make the supply of water more secured and viable. Additional condition-monitoring tools such as sensors can be adopted to detect water leaks in water supply pipelines.  These help to make projects more economically viable whilst allowing governments to keep the water tariffs affordable.


11. Funding from alternative funding sources may also become more important post-COVID.  With resources being diverted towards COVID-19 recovery efforts, there is a strain on the government to publicly finance infrastructure. 

12. Multilateral Development Banks have stepped in quickly to provide fast and flexible responses to help developing countries recover from the pandemic. For example, the World Bank Group, Asian Development Bank and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank have all rolled out schemes to help countries cope with COVID-19, by providing funding, which can be used to finance the development of infrastructure for public health.

13. However, funding need not only be limited to those provided by development finance institutions. Newer combinations of financing and tools to unlock international private sector capital is the way forward for infrastructure for public health. Today’s webinar aims to seed some of these ideas. The newer financing combinations could comprise:

a) Firstly, working with multilateral development banks to develop newer ways of guaranteeing projects to increase investability;

b) Secondly, increasing access to and tapping social funds; and 

c) Third, adopting new technologies to increase commercial viability.


14. Infrastructure Asia, an infrastructure project facilitation office set up by the Singapore government, has been actively working to develop and connect the newer approaches and solutions to meet the projects requirements. 

15. For example, they have been working w ith facilities such as Danida Sustainable Infrastructure Financeand ADB’s ASEAN Catalytic Green Facility to promote the deployment of funds into this space. I believe that we have with us today two experienced practitioners who will be sharing more on increasing financing possibilities for infrastructure for public health in the next segment.  


16. So in closing, I would like to thank all the attendees today for your time, and I look forward to a fruitful discussion and your active participation.