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Island nations offer advice on development of infrastructure

A cargo container is lifted for shipping earlier this year at the Sihanoukville Autonomous Port.
A cargo container is lifted for shipping earlier this year at the Sihanoukville Autonomous Port. Sahiba Chawdhary

Island nations offer advice on development of infrastructure

At a regional conference held in Phnom Penh yesterday, international officials met to discuss how Cambodia needs to adopt a more resilient infrastructure strategy to ensure stable economic growth by taking lessons from regional counterparts and seeking out their guidance.

Speaking at the conference, Pheng Sovicheano, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, said that despite Cambodia’s rapid economic growth, the Kingdom needs more financing to develop infrastructure to ensure long-term prosperity.

“Recent growth in the Kingdom can be connected to the booming construction and tourism sectors, as well as a healthy flow of foreign direct investment,” he said. “But we understand there is still more to be done.”

Specifically, he cited an immediate need for an enhanced logistics sector that improves trade within the Kingdom.

The conference, which was co-hosted by the United Nations Office for Project Services (Unops) and Catholic Relief Services (CRS), brought together representatives from Sri Lanka, the Maldives and the Philippines.

Patali Champika Ranawaka, the minister of Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Megapolis and Western Development, noted that Cambodia could look to the island nation on how to address the development of its infrastructure.

“Cambodia can learn from Sri Lanka’s experiences, because Cambodia is facing a lot of the same challenges we have faced, including becoming a middle-income country and improving methods of transportation for exports,” he explained. “Cambodia can work to ensure the Mekong River is a commercial waterway, and can also learn from Sri Lanka’s plans to become a high-income country by 2030.”

Despite Sri Lanka and Cambodia both currently being classified as lower-middle-income countries, Sri Lanka is on the cusp of being solidly middle-income and has been lauded by the World Bank for years for its resilient economic policies despite consistent natural disasters.

Fathimath Shaana Farooq, director general of the Ministry of Housing and Infrastructure for the Maldives, explained that while her country is primarily concerned with developing harbour infrastructure between the nation’s 26 atolls, both countries could still learn from each other on how to manage development spending.

“Cambodia is very different [than the Maldives], but Cambodia can learn how we are focusing our investment in areas that will lead to sustainable development in the future,” she said.

“We can also learn from how Cambodia is integrating itself within the Southeast Asian community and becoming a viable economic partner for surrounding nations.”

She added that she saw great potential in bankability and options for future financing between the two nations.

Eleazar Ricote, deputy executive director at the Philippine Public-Private Partnership (PPP) Center, said that Cambodia needs to do more to ensure economic prosperity by meeting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Of paramount importance, he stressed, should be initiatives to improve bankability, sustainability and risk management in the Kingdom.

“At the heart of SDG targets are infrastructure facilities in key sectors, including public health and energy, that will enable and sustain investments, jobs, consumption growth and poverty reduction,” he said, adding that Cambodia should follow the Philippines’ model for incorporating the goals into national plans.

“There’s an annual financing gap at current levels of investments, and the private sector accounts for most jobs, capital flows and GDP while also bringing efficiencies in innovation,” he said. “There is a need for private financing to better meet these goals.”

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