A Singapore government office set up by the Monetary Authority of Singapore and Enterprise Singapore, an economic statutory board under the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Infrastructure Asia (IA) seeks to support the industry’s financing and development in the region. It harnesses the network and collective capabilities of public sector agencies, private sector firms and partner stakeholders across South and Southeast Asia to meet the region’s infrastructure needs.

In Cambodia, IA has helped bring together various stakeholders – from the government to international private sector players – to implement sustainable infrastructure development in the logistics, water and waste management spaces. IA is working with the Cambodian government and the Kingdom’s private sector to accelerate infrastructure development to support Cambodia’s socio-economic growth.

IA executive director Lavan Thiru sat down with The Post’s May Kunmakara to discuss the company’s Cambodian projects.

What are the Cambodia-based projects you are currently working on?

One of the prominent projects we’ve embarked on in Cambodia is the facilitation of the partnership between Cambodia’s Ministry of Public Works and Transport (MPWT) and Singapore’s YCH Group to develop the Phnom Penh Logistics Complex (PPLC). Cambodia announced its vision to be a regional logistics hub in its National Logistics Master Plan in 2019. The strategic intentions are to (a) better capture the Thailand-Vietnam trade, (b) connect the Indochina region with China, and (c) attract more investors to set up businesses and factories in Cambodia.

The first project to be implemented in the master plan is the PPLC. The development is predicated on YCH’s “Super Port Plus” concept. In addition to being a modern, world-class logistics complex, PPLC will also feature the use of logistics technology to improve resilience, visibility and logistics process flow, and a training academy to develop Cambodia’s local human capital in the logistics sector.

The PPLC will be part of the Smart Growth Connect initiative, and the second project under the ASEAN Smart Logistics Network (ASLN), that supports the ASEAN Connectivity Master Plan 2025. It is expected to help strengthen Cambodia’s connectivity with the broader intra-regional trade flows, particularly among the Mekong countries (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam) and Southwestern China, and contribute towards Cambodia’s long-term economic growth.

IA supported the Cambodian government in structuring and subsequently showcasing the project for discussion at the Asia Infrastructure Forum 2019, which was attended by various international entities in the logistics sector. Subsequently, we facilitated discussion between MPWT and Singapore-based private sector companies in order to identify best-fit solutions to develop the PPLC.

The PPLC is undergoing a feasibility study, with the project launch expected to be conducted by 2022. IA will continue to onboard to the project professional service providers, financiers and players in the logistics ecosystem.

This partnership will support Cambodia in realising its vision to be a regional logistics hub and achieve its target of being an upper-middle-income country by 2030 and a high-income nation by 2050, signifying a strong commitment between the Cambodian government and YCH Group in this Cambodia-Singapore flagship logistics project.

The Cambodian government spent more than $11.376 billion between 1993 and June 2020 to finance public investment projects supporting long-term, sustainable economic growth and increasing economic productivity and production. How have you observed this significant investment put in practice in building the infrastructure of the country? What is IA’s focus in Cambodia in the next few years?

Aligned with this notion, IA has been in discussions with the Cambodian government on possible solutions to various infrastructure challenges in the country, ranging from logistics, renewable energy and water & waste management, to newer infrastructure development in energy efficiency and green mobility development. We’ve also seen Cambodia embarking on more sustainable infrastructure initiatives, such as partnerships mentioned above, and helming public-private partnerships (PPP).

With more information and data, financing sources, and better use of the right technology in Cambodia, it is possible to start planning infrastructure so that cities are more sustainable economically, against future disruptions, and against the existential risk of climate change. Ultimately, sustainable infrastructure is critical not only for the future but also for resolving the problems of today. Sustainability is now a mainstay of conversations, investments, and projects in the infrastructure space.

The Cambodian government is planning to build Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville, and Siem Reap as smart cities. Can you share some ideas of how these smart cities would work? What do you think about the concept of smart cities in the ASEAN context? How does IA’s projects figure in a smart city?

From a regional perspective, there are opportunities for ASEAN countries to leapfrog development phases by prioritising sustainable infrastructure. ASEAN is a vast region, with approximately 662 million people. About 7% of the population does not have access to safe drinking water while another 15% lacks access to improved sanitation. ASEAN is also rapidly urbanising, with almost half of the region’s population living in urban areas and a further 70 million citizens being city dwellers. The increasing urban population could potentially exacerbate these problems.

Fortunately, many countries in the region are prioritising sustainability when developing the next generation of infrastructure. For example, Vietnam is rapidly developing renewable energy sources to support further growth and implementing energy transition strategies. In pursuing the smart city agenda, Cambodia is taking a step in the right direction towards ensuring sustainable and resilient growth.

IA will focus our efforts to strengthen the enabling environment for the development of climate-resilient, sustainable infrastructure through bringing together key players from the infrastructure ecosystem, identifying best fit solutions and mobilising public and private investment for sustainable infrastructure development.

There is also an abundant supply of smart solutions and service providers to augment the development of sustainable infrastructure. For instance, Enterprise Singapore supported the collaboration of 19 Singaporean companies to form the Singapore Smart City Consortium to provide smart security, mobility and sustainability solutions to cities. IA can support the bringing together of such expertise to complement the development of sustainable infrastructure and smart city development in Cambodia and the region.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.