Quality is a flamboyant concept. It’s just hoax because it means different things for different people according to their experience, perception, desire or orientation. For some quality is being the best, for others it means being unique. Still for others quality means serving purpose. There are also others who consider quality as being different from the past. Therefore, discussions on quality issues may not bear results unless they are started with conversations that contribute to creating a common understanding.The international aid industry has been keen towards the concept of quality infrastructure for quite some time. It was however since the November 2014 Brisbane G20 summit in Australia that the issue of quality infrastructure has been getting a wider and global attention. The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Declaration in the same period stated in its blue print that developing, maintaining and renewing quality infrastructure will be at the top of the list of agenda for the countries that advanced their economic power.
G7 Leaders further encouraged the relevant stakeholders, namely governments, international organizations, including multilateral development banks (MDBs), and the private sector, such as in private public partnership projects to align their infrastructure investment and assistance with the principles, including the introduction and promotion of a procurement process that takes full account of value for money and quality of infrastructure.
However, it was in June 2016 that G7 Leaders endorsed Ise-Shima principles for promoting quality infrastructure investment which crystallized the definition of quality infrastructure investment. The principles are ensuring effective governance, reliable operation and economic efficiency in view of life-cycle cost as well as safety and resilience against natural disaster, terrorism and cyber-attack risks. They include ensuring job creation, capacity building and transfer of expertise and know-how for local communities, addressing social and environmental impacts, ensuring alignment with economic and development strategies such as climate change and environment at national and regional levels. They also include enhancing effective resource mobilization through various mechanisms including private public partnership (PPP).
The principles highlight on the crucial importance for stakeholders to work coherently to bridge the existing global demand-supply gap of infrastructure investment by promoting quality infrastructure investment to promote strong, sustainable and balanced growth. This enhances resilience in societies. It also contributes to the global effort of meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The 2030 agenda for sustainable development to achieve inclusive, sustainable, and resilient “quality growth,” underlined that it is necessary to promote “quality infrastructure investment” for bridging the infrastructure gap, which has become a bottleneck against global economic growth. This is being referred as visionary agenda that helps to contribute more balanced and inclusive development in different parts of the world.
Excerpt from Leaders’ communique at the September 2016 G20 Hangzhou summit in China states that the Governments “stress the importance of quality infrastructure investment, which aims to ensure economic efficiency in view of life-cycle cost, safety, resilience against natural disaster, job creation, capacity building, and transfer of expertise and know-how on mutually agreed terms and conditions, while addressing social and environmental impacts and aligning with economic and development strategies.”
In that important global submit, member governments once again pledged to invest in infrastructure in advanced economies to boost growth, and in the developing world to fight poverty. However, the promise is still a pledge and the world remains in short supply of funding.
According to the McKinsey Global Institute, the world invests USD2.5 trillion annually in transportation, water, power, and telecommunication networks. This is 25Pct short of the estimated USD3.3 trillion investments needed. In fact, most G20 countries actually invest less resource today in infrastructure than they did before the 2008 financial crisis. This is happening even as national leaders acknowledge that these investments can spur further growth. That’s why the issue of quality infrastructure somehow becomes a luxury for many especially developing countries as the world is already under funded to expand infrastructure even by past trends.
Yet, it is important to develop a common understanding of the concept of quality infrastructure to promote the idea. This includes common understanding, by showcasing examples of “quality infrastructure investment” carried out by different actors in the sector at local and global levels, and by examining how they are contributing to the development of respective local economies.
A further discussion in the quality infrastructure investment casebook by the government of Japan identifies five elements in ensuring quality infrastructure. These are economic efficiency, inclusiveness, safety and resilience, sustainability, convenience and amenities.
The case book further discusses issues of economic efficiency as durability, strong operation and maintenance capacities, construction management and reduction in environmental burdens and social costs.
Inclusiveness is seen from the perspectives of improvement of welfare and economy of residents, promotion of well-balanced development between rural and urban areas, gender consideration and barrier-free utilization. Safety and resilience is illustrated from the points of view of resilience against natural disasters, systems taking into account durability, backups, and prompt recovery and ensuring safety in use and operation as well as security in and around construction sites.
Sustainability encompasses harmony with the environment, maintaining high performance and optimized operation and continuation of management. While there are a few more issues in convenience and amenities, high trustworthiness of the service, high affinity with local culture and lifestyle and reduction of users’ burdens through a highly integrated system are important considerations.
While the issues given attention in quality infrastructure are critical ones especially in promoting inclusive and sustainable benefits, the practical implantations need genuine and consistent follow up. One possible means often suggested by professionals in the field is to setup platforms that help voices of the concerned ones heard at local, national and international levels.
There are also academic who welcome the issue as an important niche for research undertakings that can supplement the policy frameworks that help guide practices in the movement for quality infrastructure for all as the movement in education for all.
According to Christopher Smart, a senior fellow at the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, while the infrastructure-investment shortfall is a global challenge, the solutions are mostly local. He says, investors must look at the specific risks and rewards of the project in front of them. This means that governments at all levels need to start on a long list of granular, targeted reforms that will slowly increase transparency and reduce the risk of these inherently large, complex, and immovable outlays.
The fellow highlights the benefits of improving investment climates by making laws clearer, taxes simpler, courts faster, and bureaucrats cleaner to attract private investment in infrastructure and other areas. He says investors avoid projects where it is too hard to complete feasibility studies or secure licenses. Governments should also improve their own long-term planning to anticipate future needs and make it easier for investors to understand the context of a project, and to sign up for a second one if the first one goes well.
5th Year • June 2017 • No. 51