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ADB Helps Philippines Bring in High-Technology Support for ‘Build, Build, Build’ Projects

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The Infrastructure Preparation and Innovation Facility (IPIF), supported by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), has contracted out the first of three consulting packages to help the Philippine government prepare several complex infrastructure projects worth more than $11 billion.

The Philippines’ Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) signed the contract today with Ove Arup & Partners Hong Kong Ltd (Arup) in a ceremony at ADB headquarters witnessed by senior officials from the government and ADB. In October 2017, ADB approved a $100 million loan for the IPIF to support the Philippine government in accelerating the delivery of high-quality public infrastructure projects under its ambitious “Build, Build, Build” program. Arup was selected by DPWH using ADB’s procurement standards.

“The Philippine government is embarking on an ambitious, but much-needed infrastructure development program,” said DPWH Secretary Mark Villar. “Major infrastructure projects involving the construction of tunnels through mountainous areas and long-span bridges across islands are unprecedented in the Philippines. A world-class firm like Arup will help our government generate large-scale, state-of-the-art infrastructure projects, optimize public investment, and realize our infrastructure vision.”

Arup will help DPWH prepare feasibility studies and detailed engineering designs for new inter-island bridges, tunnels, and highways worth over $11 billion.

“DPWH’s selection of Arup, which has decades of experience in mega transport projects, shows that the Philippine government is becoming increasingly savvy in managing large-scale infrastructure projects,” said Hiroaki Yamaguchi, Director of the Transport and Communications Division for ADB’s Southeast Asia Department. “We expect Arup to share its cutting-edge technology, innovation, and know-how with the government. ADB looks forward to continuing to work with both DPWH and Arup to help the government realize its ambitious projects under the ‘Build, Build, Build’ program.”

The facility, along with the recently approved $5 million technical assistance grant, serves as a catalyst for the government’s project management and monitoring system. It aims to strengthen the government’s project facilitation and monitoring systems, reduce infrastructure bottlenecks, and help relevant agencies systematically monitor project progress and address operational issues at every stage of project planning, construction, and operation.

The remaining two contracts covering the preparation of DPWH’s flood management projects and the Department of Transportation’s projects are expected to be finalized shortly.

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Africa Today

Kenya’s GDP Contracts Under Weight of COVID-19, Impacting Lives and Livelihoods

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The latest World Bank economic analysis for Kenya projects the economy to contract by between 1.0 percent and 1.5 percent in 2020, as ongoing COVID-19 containment measures and behavioral responses restrict activity in Kenya and its trading partners.

The Kenya Economic Update, Navigating the Pandemic, notes the downturn in economic growth reflects the more severe economic impact of the pandemic to date than had been initially anticipated, including a large impact on the national accounts of the closure of education institutions since March. In response, the government has deployed both fiscal and monetary policies to support the healthcare system, protect the most vulnerable households, and support firms to help preserve jobs, incomes and the economy’s productive potential. With a sharp decline in tax revenues due to the weakening in economic activity, and tax relief, and an increase in COVID-related spending needs, the fiscal deficit has widened, and debt vulnerabilities have risen. The fiscal deficit widened to 8.2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), up from the pre-COVID budgeted target of 6.0 percent of GDP, and Kenya’s debt to GDP ratio has risen to 65.6 percent of GDP as of June 2020, up from 62.4 percent of GDP in June 2019.

“As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to threaten both the lives and livelihoods of Kenyans, we remain committed to supporting the government to allocate sufficient resources to the health sector to combat the pandemic, continue with mass testing, support self-quarantine, social distancing, and protect the most vulnerable groups,” said Keith Hansen, World Bank Country Director for Kenya. “It is equally critical to provide well-targeted support to the most vulnerable affected households.”

Beyond strengthening health systems and protecting incomes, the report recommends several near-term actions that can play a role to combat recession and revive the economy’s productivity, creating the conditions for a resilient and inclusive recovery. Ensuring continued access to safe healthcare, including for non-COVID-19 related health concerns, remains a priority. Given fiscal constraints, this will require redirecting expenditures to the highest priority areas, whilst maintaining a focus on raising the efficiency of spending and ensuring the transparent use of funds.

Following the job and income losses precipitated by the crisis, the report notes support is needed for the “new poor” whose livelihoods have been affected. This could be achieved through a horizontal scale-up of social protection programs, appropriately targeted, timely, and temporary while the crisis persists.It is critical to ensure continued support to vulnerable households, while safeguarding human capital through expanded access to digital technology, combined with better access to information to mitigate usage of negative coping strategies (i.e. asset liquidation) and combat food insecurity while offsetting the increase in poverty.

“Following the extraordinary economic support efforts necessitated by the crisis, Kenya’s economic recovery can be supported by the authorities returning to an appropriately-timed and balanced fiscal consolidation path, to reduce mounting debt vulnerabilities and safeguard macroeconomic stability,” said Alex Sienaert, World BankSenior Economist and lead author of the report. “Kenya will also need to enhance its existing institutional setup for monitoring and responding to future communicable disease outbreaks, and further the still-critical “Big 4” agenda for medium-term inclusive growth, including realizing the government’s vision of sustainably providing universal healthcare.”

Kenya’s economic outlook remains highly uncertain, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold in the country, and globally. Under baseline assumptions, the economy is projected to rebound quickly in 2021, lifting real GDP by 6.9 percent y/y. A major factor in this strong rebound is the unusual impact on the national account’s treatment of education sector output normalizing, which is projected to add 2.2 percentage points to real GDP growth next year.Delayed availability of vaccines, and prolonged social distancing and other needed COVID-19 countermeasures, could undermine the projected recovery in economic activity.

The report’s policy section focuses on options to strengthen healthcare system and testing capacity, to support firms, and to protect the most vulnerable households to cope with the COVID-19 global pandemic.

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The future of work: promoting gender equality, diversity and inclusion

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Image: European Wilderness Society

The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the Vienna Regional Office of the International Organization for Migration  (IOM) have organized a webinar on flexible working arrangements (FWAs) and the future of work. The webinar was part of the 19-23 October 2020 Enabling Environment Week, a joint initiative of the Gender Focal Points and Focal Points of Women of the Vienna-based United Nations organizations (VBOs) and the International Gender Champions initiative.

Enabling Environment Guidelines (EEGs) and their accompanying Supplementary Guidance for the United Nations System were developed in 2019 in response to the UN Secretary General’s System-wide Strategy on Gender Parity. The EEGs provide UN system-wide guidance to create a more diverse, inclusive and respectful work environment – both as a precursor to achieving gender parity and a key to sustaining it. Implementing FWAs is one of the measures recommended in the EEGs.

“Workplace flexibility can be mutually beneficial to an organization and its personnel, and is recognized to help achieve gender parity,” said Fatou Haidara, Managing Director of the UNIDO Directorate of Corporate Management and Operations, who moderated the webinar. “Our transition into the Fourth Industrial Revolution has been marked by the COVID-19 pandemic, which for many employers and employees represented their first-ever experiences with flexible working arrangements.”

Dr. Heejung Chung, Principal Investigator of the Work Autonomy, Flexibility and Work-life balance project at the University of Kent, shared insights from her research on how work from home during the lockdown has impacted a series of work-life issues. She said  that employees have been able to spend more time with their families and expressed better well-being and improved work schedules and productivity. The pandemic has caused a cultural shift towards work from home, with employees feeling more trusted and supported by managers during this time, and many employees who did not want to work remotely before now changing their mind.

The pandemic has undoubtedly shaken up how we work – what we thought would be the future of work has been abruptly made the present. “Corona has somehow accelerated this way of using flexible working hours,” said Ambassador Pirkko Hämäläinen, Permanent Representative of Finland to the UN in Vienna. ”You don’t even need to be in the office to give a service to your customers, like this webinar. That is so important to realize and, with corona, we have realized it.”

The Finnish government codified flexible working arrangements as early as 1996 through the Working Hours Act, a policy which was updated this year to allow employees to decide when and where they work for at least half of their hours. “It’s a win-win situation for people. Gainful employment must be options for both women and men,” said Hämäläinen.

Whether men and women will be able to equally benefit from gainful employment will largely depend on the future of work, which will be impacted by frontier technology brought about by the Fourth Industrial Revolution. As such, digitalization may facilitate telecommuting for those jobs that can be carried out remotely. Prof. Damian Grimshaw, Professor of Employment Studies and Associate Dean for Research Impact at King’s Business School, noted that challenges remain in ensuring that everyone can benefit from workplace flexibility. This is especially linked to the need to create a culture of trust between managers and employees, and to phase out rigid workplace structures revolving around a time-keeping and high presenteeism approach.

Evidently, a sophisticated and reliable digital infrastructure is a precondition for the successful implementation of FWAs, which raises the issue of the digital divide which is especially pronounced in the developing world. The COVID-19 pandemic has already exacerbated inequalities, notably for women, hence inclusive, human-centered digitalization is needed to leave no one behind and to ensure all can reap the benefits of workplace flexibility.

In implementing FWAs, employers can contribute to addressing these inequalities and achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women. Chung revealed that by allowing mothers the option of staying in the labour market and maintaining their incomes, workplace flexibility can help reduce the overall gender pay gap. It also encourages fathers to take a greater role in unpaid domestic care work, which contributes to transforming social norms.

“Flexwork helps change the culture of whose responsibility it is to care,” Chung said. The still heavily unequal distribution of household duties continues to be especially visible and pronounced during the current pandemic, as school closures have added homeschooling to the unpaid domestic care work predominately carried out by women.

The private and public sector around the world, as well as many UN system entities, have recognized the benefits of FWAs in fostering a more enabling, diverse working environment and promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women. Michael Emery, Director of Human Resources at the International Organization for Migration, noted that there has been a general call through the High-Level Committee on Management (HLCM) of the United Nations’ Chief Executive’s Board for a more flexible approach. “A lot of research shows the more flexible we are, the more attractive we are as an employer – particularly to women,” he said.

While acknowledging difficulties in implementing FWAs in the UN’s field operations due to digital infrastructure issues, the recent increase in remote work has challenged the idea of international civil service as we know it. Emery shared that UNICEF has just cancelled a lease on one of its buildings as it expects a lot of its staff will continue to work from home. “We can perfectly survive with 20% of staff in Headquarters in the office.”

Juliane Drews, Advisor at UNAIDS, explained that already six years before the COVID-19 pandemic, UNAIDS abolished core working hours and defined office opening hours from 7am to 7pm to provide staff with a twelve-hour window to complete their workload at their ease. The objective was also to empower employees and teams to have conversations about healthy ways to organize their work. “The United Nations and a lot of international organizations need to recognize there’s a new generation of employees coming that have different expectations of an employer,” Drews said. “We need to use training and reskilling to prepare middle managers and senior leaders to be ready to welcome the next generation in the workplace. It’s about thinking differently and taking this disruption as an opportunity to leap forward to a better, different normal.”

She also raised the issue that remote work allows individuals to safely work on issues that are criminalized in their home countries: UNAIDS works, for example, with sex workers, users of intravenous drugs and the LGBTIQ+ community. It is not just about the binary approach to gender equality. “We need to take this gender conversation and put an intersectional lens on it,” she added.

The discussion concluded that implementing FWAs has many benefits, for example increased well-being, efficiency and business continuity, as well as decreased absenteeism and operating costs. FWAs also play a crucial role in fostering diversity and inclusion, and promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women. At the same time, the COVID-19 pandemic has fast-forwarded us into the future of work, with many managers now recognizing and trusting that employers can and will deliver when using any form of flexible working arrangements, such as remote work, compressed hours, and scheduled breaks for external learning activities. The Enabling Environment Guidelines provide the UN with an overarching framework to successfully implement FWAs and foster a welcoming, safe, equal and discrimination-free workplace that allows the UN to produce better results for the people they serve. That’s the beauty of the UN System,” Drews said. “Most of us are driven by our passion, not by doing our eight hours and ticking the box.”

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EU-Australia Leaders’ Virtual Meeting

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The President of the European Council, Charles Michel, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and the Prime Minister of Australia, Scott Morrison, held a Leaders’ Virtual Meeting on 26 November 2020.

The leaders reconfirmed their resolve to work together to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and underlined their commitment to take effective measures to protect health and build more innovative, sustainable, inclusive and resilient economies.

The leaders reaffirmed the shared values that underpin the bilateral relationship as enshrined in the EU-Australia Framework Agreement. The EU and Australia share a commitment to democracy, the rule of law, the protection and promotion of human rights, and gender equality. They are strong supporters of the international rules-based order and an effective multilateral system with the United Nations at its core. The leaders discussed enhancing cooperation in international fora.

Underscoring that global cooperation is vital in overcoming COVID-19, the leaders welcomed the outcomes of the G20 Leaders’ Summit on 21-22 November. They referred to the significant contributions the EU and Australia have made towards the global response to COVID-19. They welcomed the support provided to each other’s citizens affected by travel disruptions.

The EU and Australia are committed to ensure universal, equitable and early access to safe, effective and affordable COVID-19 vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics. Both sides have notably committed substantial funding to the almost €16 billion (A$26 billion) raised through the EU-led Coronavirus Global Response pledging marathon. The leaders stressed the importance of continued international support for the Access to COVID-19 tools (ACT) Accelerator and its COVAX Facility. They agreed to strengthen bilateral research and innovation cooperation and to share research data to combat the pandemic.

The leaders agreed that the EU and Australia will continue to work together to strengthen the World Health Organisation and global preparedness and response to health emergencies. They called for continued and timely implementation of the World Health Assembly resolution of 19 May 2020, including with respect to the independent evaluation of the international response to the pandemic.

The EU and Australia are stepping up cooperation on post-pandemic socio-economic recovery and are implementing the G20 Action Plan. They will also discuss the recovery at the next Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) Summit. The leaders committed to recovery plans that accelerate emissions reductions, and ensure communities and institutions are more resilient and able to adapt to future impacts of climate change, as well as accelerating the digital transformation. They emphasised that global supply chains need to be more resilient and sustainable. They agreed to further cooperate on critical raw materials and on the promotion of diverse critical technology markets.

Both sides reconfirmed their commitment to open and fair trade. They underlined the need to support the multilateral rules-based trading system and to render it fit for current challenges. The EU and Australia will continue to work together, including in the Ottawa Group, to reform and strengthen the WTO, including its negotiating and monitoring function, in particular with regard to level playing field. On reform of the WTO’s dispute settlement system, the two sides reiterated their desire that the WTO membership collectivelyfind a timely and long-lasting solution that would restore a binding, two-tier and independent dispute settlement system in the WTO. The EU and Australia will engage constructively in areas of common interest on the WTO agenda, including sustainable development, e-commerce and fisheries subsidies.

The Leaders noted good progress in the negotiations for an ambitious and comprehensive bilateral trade agreement. The timely conclusion of such an agreement would create growth opportunities, deepen economic integration and reinforce our shared support for rules-based trading arrangements.

The leaders agreed to enhance cooperation to promote shared interests in security and prosperity in Asia and the Pacific, spanning the Indian and Pacific oceans. They recognised the importance of the principles of regional engagement set out in the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific, including openness, transparency, a rules-based framework, good governance and respect for sovereignty and international law. In this regard, they agreed to work together in the ASEAN Regional Forum and also to continue their dialogue on cooperation in other ASEAN-led processes. The leaders expressed serious concern about the unilateral and destabilising actions in the South China Sea and underlined the importance of upholding international law, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. They underlined that dialogue is the only way to achieve peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and urged the DPRK to comply with all relevant UN Security Council resolutions. 

The leaders stressed that other regional issues should also be resolved through peaceful dialogue and in accordance with international law, including in relation to Belarus and the Eastern Mediterranean.

Underlining the importance of assisting the most vulnerable countries, including in Africa, the leaders welcomed the extension of the G20/Paris Club Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) and the recently endorsed Common Framework for Debt Treatment beyond the DSSI.

The leaders emphasised their commitment to working with Pacific Island countries and Timor-Leste to build resilience in line with the Agenda 2030. In 2020 the EU has committed €120 million in support of the COVID-19 response in these countries and will continue to provide development assistance to them. Australia has made an allocation of €188 million to assist the region respond to COVID-19 over the next two years as well as separate funding to support vaccine access.

The leaders agreed that resolute and coordinated action is key to tackling the urgent challenge of climate change and environmental degradation. The EU and Australia underlined their commitment to the full implementation of the Paris Agreement and to step up global action to tackle climate change in the lead up to COP26 in 2021. The EU highlighted its commitment to achieve climate neutrality by 2050, while Australia will also demonstrate significant ambition on reducing emissions and pursuing a low emissions development strategy in order to achieve climate neutrality as soon as possible in accordance with the Paris Agreement. The leaders recalled the request by UNFCCC COP21 to communicate or update their Nationally Determined Contributions reflecting the highest possible ambition. The EU and Australia have agreed to collaborate on international technology partnerships. The leaders also underlined their commitment to move towards the circular economy and called for an ambitious global biodiversity framework at the UN Convention on Biological Diversity COP15 in 2021.

Committed to promoting digital transformation based on shared values, Australia and the EU have initiated a digital economy and technology dialogue and agreed to cooperate on artificial intelligence, blockchain, the use of digital tools to address climate change and disaster resilience, quantum technology and the role of platforms. Recognising the importance of a fair and sustainable international tax system, the leaders reaffirmed their commitment to reach by mid-2021 a global solution that addresses the tax challenges arising from the digitisation of the economy.

The leaders welcomed the recent UN resolution on responsible behaviour in space. They also welcomed the establishment of a bilateral space dialogue to advance collaboration.

The leaders restated their commitment to promote sustainable, comprehensive and rules-based connectivity and to implementation of the G20 Principles for Quality Infrastructure Investment. They agreed to explore synergies between their cooperation on connectivity with third countries, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region. They confirmed their resolve to launch in the near future an EU-Australia Transport Dialogue.

On security and defence issues, the leaders looked forward to strengthened cooperation in areas such as counterterrorism and prevention of radicalisation leading to violent extremism and terrorism, cyber and critical technology issues, countering disinformation and foreign interference, protection of critical infrastructure and maritime security. They agreed to continue engagement in crisis management as provided for in the EU-Australia Framework Participation Agreement.

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