Keynote address by Masatsugu Asakawa, President, Asian Development Bank, at the Forum on Successful Project Design and Implementation: Rising to the COVID-19 Challenge and Beyond, 10 November 2020


Good day to you, officials and project frontliners of our ADB members, colleagues in ADB, and members of the development community. Welcome to this virtual Forum on Successful Project Design and Implementation. 

While I hope to meet in person when it is safe to do so, I am glad that you have joined us online to exchange ideas and experiences that will improve project design and implementation, especially during the challenging times we face because of the pandemic. 

I. ADB’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic

The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has deeply affected public health, livelihoods, and the economies where we operate. At the same time, the crisis offers us opportunities to reaffirm our commitment to support our developing members, improve the quality of life of their populations, and strengthen our unified action. 

Let me outline how ADB has been supporting our developing members during the pandemic. As many of you know, ADB launched a $20 billion comprehensive response package in April, which consists of the following three pillars of support.

The first pillar focuses on helping to meet the immediate needs created by health crisis, through quick-disbursing grants to our developing member economies. This assistance is enabling governments to acquire critical medical equipment and supplies.

The second pillar focuses on providing fast-disbursing countercyclical funding to support strained government budgets. So far, we have committed $8.3 billion to 19 of ADB’s developing member economies to help fund emergency programs and recovery efforts. 

The third pillar directs support to the private sector. Some $1.7 billion is helping to rejuvenate trade and supply chains, and to provide enhanced microfinance and guarantees for liquidity-starved businesses, including those run by female entrepreneurs. 

The total commitment we have made to date from our $20 billion comprehensive response package is about $12.5 billion. Working closely with development partners, we have also mobilized an additional $8 billion in cofinancing. 

II. Improving project implementation to meet the challenges of the pandemic

Let me turn now to the crucial role of project implementation, which ensures that our planned commitments are put effectively into action.

As you know, project implementation is never easy, as projects can be ambitious, complex, and diverse. Strong capacity from project management units and ownership by governments are the necessary drivers of quality, effectiveness, timeliness, and efficiency in meeting the development objectives. 

Because of the pandemic, our operations face new and significant challenges, such as lockdowns and community quarantines that limit the movement of people and the operation of services. As a result, project management units can no longer operate in a business-as-usual environment. I fully understand the difficulties that executing and implementing agencies, development partners, and ADB staff face in their roles as project implementers.

But please rest assured that executing and implementing agencies have our full support and commitment, as ADB works with each of you to enhance the quality and speed of project implementation. At the same time, please ensure that your inputs meet the highest standards, because ADB cannot accomplish our project objectives without full effort from everyone. 

To be specific, let me suggest three short-term measures that I believe will be relevant for ongoing projects, especially during the extraordinary circumstances created by the COVID-19 crisis.

First, let us identify issues affecting problematic projects by carefully assessing whether or not the problem has been caused by the pandemic. This careful review will enable us to undertake the most relevant mid-course restructuring when needed.

Second, when presented with potential loan savings, please initiate their cancellation as early as possible—so that we can repurpose the savings for COVID-19 related interventions.

And third, let us strengthen our communication by making full use of virtual project team meetings and review missions—so that we can collectively monitor project implementation as closely as possible, in spite of the ongoing travel restrictions.

III. Addressing long-term issues to strengthen project implementation capacity

In addition to taking action to grapple with these immediate issues, we should also ask ourselves how we can address the longer term issue of strengthening capacity for project implementation. Let me emphasize that project implementation capacity is the key to delivering development impact. Staff of both ADB and project implementation agencies should enhance project implementation capacity through effective and sustained collaboration.

Let me offer three suggestions in this regard.

My first suggestion focuses on enhancing the quality of project design and project readiness, which is always so critical to reduce start-up delays. I suggest that you tap into ADB’s “Project Readiness Financing Modality” and the “Small Expenditure Financing Facility” to support project preparation and design activities in a faster and more responsive manner. 

Second, we should direct our focus further on Strategy 2030—specifically, Operational Priority 6 on strengthening governance and institutional capacity to improve public service delivery. For example, ADB will work with developing members to promote the use of e-procurement systems and robust financial management throughout the project cycle; and to prioritize capacity building and knowledge work in countries where project implementation and service delivery can be further strengthened. 

For my third suggestion, I strongly urge you to capitalize on the opportunities that technology can offer. Please find ways to take advantage of the increasing opportunities to use new technologies in your work—such as through artificial intelligence, big data, robotics, satellites, and cloud-based systems, which can have a positive impact on project outcomes. 

For example, in Nauru, a drone is flown over the new deepwater port project site to provide remote monitoring through images that are captured and fed into a 3D model. The data can then be used to track deliverables and outcomes, and to identify gaps and potential risks. 

Furthermore, let me emphasize that we will continue to enhance the One ADB approach for strengthening project implementation capacity. This forum is one such example of the One ADB approach to capacity building, as we promote even closer collaboration with regional and nonregional departments and resident missions by leveraging our diverse expertise, best practices, and lessons learned during project implementation.  

IV. Closing  

So, please take advantage of this event, and embrace it as an opportunity to work together on difficult but necessary questions in project management and implementation. Let us ask, for example, questions such as: 

  • What are the guiding principles to make our investments deliver their intended development outcomes on the ground? 
  • How does due diligence help us make informed decisions and manage project risks? 
  • Where is the value for money? 
  • How can we make the government’s ownership of the project even stronger, in order to accelerate the achievement of development goals?

I will follow with keen interest the smart new directions that you take project design and implementation “beyond” COVID-19—because solid project management and quality implementation are the key to helping Asia and the Pacific back on track in its path toward achieving Sustainable Development Goals. 

I hope that this forum can provide you with lessons and renewed commitment to help build a more prosperous, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable region after COVID-19. Let us work more closely than ever before to make this possible.

Thank you and please stay safe.