1. Connectivity in ASEAN encompasses the physical (e.g., transport, ICT, and energy), institutional (e.g., trade, investment, and services liberalisation), and people-to-people linkages (e.g., education, culture, and tourism) that are the foundational supportive means to achieving the economic, political-security, and socio-cultural pillars of an integrated ASEAN Community.
2. Since the adoption of the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity 2010 (MPAC 20101), notable progress has been made. As of May 2016, 39 initiatives in MPAC 2010 have been completed. 18 of these completed initiatives relate to physical connectivity; 15 to institutional connectivity; and 6 to people-to-people connectivity. However, much remains to be done to realise the vision of a seamlessly connected ASEAN. Particular areas to be addressed include the various services sectors, which are lagging goods sectors in terms of connectivity as a result of tighter investment restrictions, as well as challenges relating to the mobility of skilled labour, and energy and rail connectivity. The remaining 52 uncompleted initiatives in MPAC 2010, which have a clear sector owner and do not overlap with the newly proposed initiatives, will be included in the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity 2025 (MPAC 2025).
3. Given the dynamic environment in which ASEAN Connectivity takes place, it is crucial to consider the emerging trends that will influence the ASEAN Connectivity 2025 agenda. These include: a doubling of the number of ASEAN households that are part of the “consuming class” over the next 15 years; the challenge of improving productivity to sustain economic progress as growth in the size of the workforce starts to slow; the movement of 90 million more people to cities within ASEAN by 2030; the need for infrastructure spending to more than double from the historical levels; the challenge of equipping the world’s third-largest labour force with the skills needed to support growth and inclusiveness; the emergence of disruptive technologies; the opportunity to transform natural resource efficiency in the region; and the imperative to understanding the implications for ASEAN as the world shifts towards a multipolar global power structure.
4. The vision for the ASEAN Connectivity 2025 is to achieve a seamlessly and comprehensively connected and integrated ASEAN that will promote competitiveness, inclusiveness, and a greater sense of Community.
5. MPAC 2025 will focus on five strategic areas to achieve this vision:
i. Sustainable infrastructure. The aim of this strategy is to coordinate existing resources to deliver support across the full life cycle of infrastructure projects in ASEAN, including project preparation, improving infrastructure productivity, and capability building. This strategy also includes exchanging lessons on “smart urbanisation” models across ASEAN Member States that can simultaneously deliver economic growth and a good quality of life.
ii. Digital innovation. Digital technologies in ASEAN could potentially be worth up to US$625 billion by 2030 (8 percent of ASEAN’s GDP in that year), which may be derived from increased efficiency, new products and services, etc. Capturing this opportunity requires the establishment of regulatory frameworks for the delivery of new digital services (including data management and digital financial services); support for the sharing of best practices on open data; and equipping micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) with the capabilities to access these new technologies.
iii. Seamless logistics. Enhancing ASEAN Connectivity presupposes excellent logistics. However, logistics efficiency has not improved at the pace originally envisaged by MPAC 2010, as measured by the length of time taken and cost of transportation in the region. One of the underlying challenges is coordination issues between government departments and a lack of sharing of best practices. There is the opportunity to create mechanisms to support greater collaboration between logistics firms, academic institutions, and ASEAN Member States: this would help to identify bottlenecks across key areas of the region’s supply chains; collect and share best practices about how to tackle those issues across the region, and identify critical policy areas requiring attention.
iv. Regulatory excellence. There is a need to embed good regulatory practice (GRP) in the preparation, adoption, and implementation of rules, regulations, and procedures in the region. The aim of this strategy is to support implementation of key policies critical for the ASEAN Connectivity agenda, particularly focusing on standards harmonisation, mutual recognition and technical regulations, as well as addressing trade-distorting non-tariff measures.
v. People mobility. Restrictions on travel for ASEAN nationals within the region are largely a thing of the past. However, there are still opportunities to improve mobility in ASEAN. Opportunities include facilitating travel for tourists by addressing the lack of information on travel options and providing simpler mechanisms to apply for necessary visas. Additionally, there is an opportunity to strengthen skills mobility in the region and, where appropriate, by establishing high-quality qualification frameworks in critical vocational occupations, and to encourage greater mobility of intra-ASEAN university students.
MAKING IT HAPPEN
6. To ensure efficient and robust implementation of MPAC 2025, it will be crucial to address six core areas that past academic research has found to be critical for effective government delivery:
i. Strong focus and targets. Successful strategies normally have no more than three to six priority areas. Given resource constraints in ASEAN, it is important to focus on a small set of programmes, which are prioritised for potential return and speed of implementation. MPAC 2025 has focused on just five new strategies in order to maximise the likelihood of success. It is also vital to have targets that are specific, measurable, actionable, realistic (but challenging), and timely (SMART). Not only does each of the five strategic areas have clear outcome-level goals associated with them, but there are also clear output and input-level metrics to measure progress for each of the initiatives within these strategic areas.
ii. Clear governance and ownership. The presence of empowered leaders who are held accountable for delivering results is often a clear distinguishing factor between successful and unsuccessful implementation. For each initiative in MPAC 2025, there is a clear lead implementing body. In addition, each of the five strategies will have two ASEAN Connectivity Coordinating Committee (ACCC) representatives assigned to help review and accelerate progress.
iii. Clear and aligned plans. The starting point for successful implementation is to ensure that there is a vision which is both realistic and clear, with alignment and clarity at all relevant levels of government and with external stakeholders. To enhance the alignment going forward, MPAC 2025 will bodies will be critical to the successful delivery of MPAC 2025. There is a need to strengthen the ASEAN Connectivity Division to support the implementation of MPAC 2025.
v. Proactive stakeholder engagement. Proactive stakeholder engagement requires the cultivation of relationships that will be critical to the success of the programme, alongside regular communications about the delivery effort and associated priorities. To support this, the ASEAN Secretariat will provide regular (e.g., annual) updates to key business associations and other external stakeholders on the progress in implementing MPAC 2025. In addition, the ASEAN Secretariat will develop the ASEAN Connectivity website to include regular updates on progress, and look to offer spokespeople for the connectivity agenda at key conferences.
vi. Robust performance management. An impartial and rigorous performance-tracking system must be a data-driven, fact-based process with a regular cycle of updates. There should also be mechanisms to ensure problems are identified and flagged up at an early stage, and then solved in order of priority. To achieve this, semi-annual progress reviews will be held for each of the five strategic areas; these will be conducted with the ACCC leads for the specific strategic area, the ASEAN Secretariat, the National Coordinators and National Focal Points, and the Chairs of the relevant ASEAN Sectoral Bodies.