Dual approach to developing Asia

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 September, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 September, 1997, 12:00am

Asia's currency crisis and its negative impact on investor confidence has reinforced calls for continued close monitoring of the development of infrastructure in the region.

Private infrastructure financiers, speaking at the World Economic Development Congress yesterday, said the weight of private-sector financing, which dominated infrastructure investment, must be accompanied by pressure from institutions such as the World Bank.

The comments came on the eve of a World Bank report on infrastructure in the region, in which the bank intends to further promote private sector involvement and propose new measures such as policy and regulatory reform.

Turbulence on foreign exchange and equity markets during the past two months has shaken investor confidence in several countries around the region, and prompted a huge outflow of capital.

William Liley, executive director of the Asia Infrastructure Fund, one of the first pure infrastructure plays in the region, said privately financed infrastructure projects would continue to increase, but the multilateral agencies were still important as 'a catalyst for the mobilisation of capital'.

Mr Liley said governments must be made more accountable, and added that some populations in the region had been poorly served.

'Certainly in South Asia they have been very badly governed by the political classes, and recent turmoil in Thailand and Malaysia does not fill you with enormous hope that the people who run these economies get it yet,' he said.

The main role of the multilateral agencies should be 'to force forward regulatory, legal, banking and currency reforms that gives the major institutional investors the comfort they need that only governments can provide'.

Everett Santos, chief executive officer of the Latin American group at Emerging Markets Partnership, which runs a US$1 billion infrastructure fund, said: 'The lack of transparency and a clear regulatory framework is the factor that is most holding back investment, and keeping these markets inefficient.

'There is still a lot to be done to marshal the focus of money and to marshal the focus of technology on money's behalf.

'Thailand had a current account deficit that was dangerously high and international reserves which were dangerously low . . . and that has an immense impact on a country's ability to mobilise capital.' Mr Santos said the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank 'had an important role in assuring monetary stability and fiscal discipline is adhered to'.

Lending by the World Bank for energy projects in Asia has dropped this financial year to $1.1 billion from $1.2 billion last year, and the trend is set to continue as the private sector becomes more involved.

It estimates that the developing world will need to invest more than $2.5 trillion by 2005 in basic infrastructure. It is preparing a new policy addressing project development, guarantees and risk mitigation, domestic capital markets and information exchange and training.