The Asian Development Bank (ADB) urged Southeast Asian countries to expand investments in digital infrastructure and ensure equitable access to technology as economies recover from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
Masatsugu Asakawa, ADB president, said that member nations must close the digital divide and expand existing investments in digital infrastructure by building more and higher quality mobile broadband infrastructure to ensure affordable internet access and coverage.
“These steps can also enhance access to basic social services such as health and education and access to financial services,” Asakawa said in a keynote address at ADB’s first Southeast Asia Development Symposium.
“These investments will better equip countries to address the worsening income inequality and disparities in opportunities brought about by the pandemic,” he added.
The Southeast Asia Development Symposium aims to provide government officials and other stakeholders with a wide range of perspectives on critical development issues as countries continue to grapple with COVID-19 response.
Asakawa highlighted five key policy areas, among them is addressing regional disparities and ensure more equitable access to technology, including an expansion of investments in digital infrastructure to close the “digital divide”, while addressing cyber security.
He said the region also needs to facilitate a green and resilient recovery by promoting investments that drive economic activity toward low-carbon and resilient practices.
The ADB chief also urged nations to T strengthen regional cooperation and integration by improving cross-border digital connectivity, e-customs systems, and electronic cargo tracking systems.
The region should also deepen institutional capacity for mobilizing domestic resources to finance public services, while ensuring debt sustainability, Asakawa said.
Lastly, Asakawa said the countries need to incubate, develop, and congregate small and medium-sized enterprises with entrepreneurship and technology, supported by an aggregated financial, academic, and business ecosystem to help set the stage for tech-based growth.
As digitalization has become an integral part of longer-term economic recovery, participants also discussed how to boost economic recovery through digital innovation, how to foster an environment for technology adoption, and how to leverage technology for health care and remote learning.