ASEAN and partners have initiated tireless efforts to address the development gap in ASEAN. To promote awareness and understanding on the importance of narrowing the development gap (NDG) in ASEAN, the “NDG Lecture Series” are taking place and the diplomatic community, research institutions, and media took part in the launching of a new publication “Narrowing the Development Gap in ASEAN: Drivers and Policy Options” at the ASEAN Secretariat on 17 May 2013.

With measures based on the universally accepted Human Development Index, the new publication states that this development gap has been narrowing in the last decade, but more needs to be done.

“This new publication will enhance our understanding of the development gaps, provide an important context for decision makers to identify strategic needs of the region, and suggest policy options to narrow the development gap,” said H.E. Le Luong Minh, the Secretary-General of ASEAN.

A collaboration of ASEAN and Australia through the ASEAN-Australia Development Cooperation Programme Phase 2 (AADCP II), the publication communicates the latest findings on the status of progress in ASEAN’s efforts in narrowing the development gap between the newer four Member States (Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Viet Nam) and ASEAN-6.

“Australia’s longstanding aid program in this region is an expression of our support to ASEAN’s efforts to build a resilient – and equitable – ASEAN Economic Community,” remarked Dr. David Engel, Deputy Head, Mission of Australia to ASEAN.

ASEAN has made great strides towards establishing the ASEAN Community. However, the potential uncertainties in ASEAN remain the current status of development gaps in the region.

“Differences in the level of development can cause inequality and limited opportunities to obtain benefits from an effective integration,” pointed H.E. Vu Dang Dzung, the Permanent Representative of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam to ASEAN and Chair of the IAI Task Force. “It is impossible to build a community if the gaps persist among the member countries.”

Ambassador Rodolfo C. Severino, Head of the ASEAN Studies Centre at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore and Former Secretary-General of ASEAN added how “the ASEAN leaders understood the political, as well as the economic, importance both of building the CLMV countries’ capacity to take part in integrating the region and of regional integration and community building in advancing those countries….The development gap between ASEAN members was accounted for not only by the difference in per-capita income but, more significantly, in terms of human resources and institutional capacity.”

Co-author Professor Mark McGillivray described the uniqueness of the first NDG book ever to have undergone the ASEAN process. The book also serves as a point of reference for ASEAN and partners in understanding the disparities, and seeks to incite further deliberation on policy options to enhance inclusive and equitable growth in the region.

While the book enunciates ASEAN’s efforts in narrowing the development gap and examines development strategies, the NDG Lecture Series explore salient issues in narrowing various forms of development gaps in ASEAN. Convening a set of expert practitioners, academics, and decision-makers, the series create a venue to share theoretical and evidence-based observations, policy suggestions and practical solutions to addressing NDG issues.

The first NDG Lecture Series: Regional Overview and Policy Issues Facing CLMV growth was kicked-off by Dr. Kensuke Tanaka, Head of the Asia Desk of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Development Centre in March 2013. He elaborated on the main drivers of growth in the Asia and the ASEAN region in particular, the untapped potential of ASEAN’s newer Member States of Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Viet Nam, and the policy challenges they each face.

The second NDG Lecture Series: Implementation of Regional Cooperation Initiatives to Narrow the Development Gap and the third NDG Lecture Series No.3: Defining the Gap, Zooming in on the Health Sector were held on 16 and 17 May 2013, respectively. The former tackled the more practical aspects on the modes and systems of development cooperation for NDG in ASEAN, while the latter examined health disparities in ASEAN.

As an active partner of ASEAN, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) knows the importance of effectively delivering the Blueprint measures to build an ASEAN Community. JICA co-organised the second NDG Lecture Series.

“From a development partner perspective, the implementation of ASEAN measures entails involvement of entities, such as the national development planning agencies, alongside line agencies and the national secretariat in member countries,” said Dr. Sachiko Ishikawa, Senior Advisor of the Japan International Cooperation Agency. “This will ensure smooth coordination and achieve effective outputs of projects at the ground level and importantly, sustainability of the outcome.”

But given the CLMV countries’ resource and capacity constraints, there are lessons that can be learned and applied in operationalizing regional programmes’ at the national level. Just as national decisions are required to formulate regional policy, laws are needed to implement them at the country level. National governments must ensure the commitment of required resources to enable local and provincial governments to transpose regional policy into effective and appropriate rules and regulations.

“The nature of regional programmes requires specific actions by national agencies to allow for broad-based support at the country level.” pointed Dr. Peter van Diermen, Chief Technical Adviser, Indonesian National Team for Accelerating Poverty Reduction.

The third installment of the NDG Lecture Series, co-organsied by AusAID, tackled development gap indicators in Health as a case study together with health sector experts Dr. Khanchit Limpakarnjanarat of the World Health Organisation (Indonesia representative) and Dr. Ferdinal Fernando, Head of the Health and Communicable Diseases Division of the ASEAN Secretariat.
Millennium Development Goal indicators show some CLMV countries lagging behind, with more deaths per 1,000 live births among infants, children under five, and women giving birth than most ASEAN-6 countries.

Dr Fernando emphasized that the state of health and non-health related initiatives that are being undertaken in ASEAN act as each other’s enablers and can affect not only the success of initiatives but also the outcomes that can be gained from them. There are several potential points of cooperation between health and non-health sectors to address the development gap. He mentioned convergence in the areas of governance, policy, microfinance, food security, disaster risk management, and social protection. Everyone needs to be involved in what he referred to as a whole-of-government and a whole-of-society approach.

Dr Limpakarnjanarat discussed the World Health Organization’s initiatives in the region and the state of health in the CLMV countries. Apart from the development gap in life expectancy, he tackled existing gaps in ASEAN in terms of human capacity in implementing policies in the sector. CLMV countries require more support to equip them in handling the spread of communicable diseases, including cross-border transmission, testing for HIV and AIDS, and increasing health coverage. “Spending for health is an investment, not an expenditure.”
The ASEAN Secretariat and the WHO have a standing MOU aimed at training ASEAN health officials in various medical fields of technical cooperation where the modalities of collaboration are pursued at the country, regional and global level.

ASEAN’s launch of the Initiative for ASEAN Integration (IAI) in 2000 was specifically meant to deal with issues on narrowing the divide where equitable and inclusive development will be a defining feature of ASEAN’s integration efforts. The IAI Work Plan II (2009-2015) serves as the main tool to remove obstacles standing in the way of an equitable growth path; 42% of its prescribed actions to support CLMV’s integration in the ASEAN Community, including those related to improving health and social protection, are socio-cultural in nature. Other cited activities are related to ASEAN’s economic and political security pillars. Strides have been made in Narrowing the Development Gap in ASEAN, but regional integration could benefit from further well-targeted, concerted efforts.
“Narrowing the Development Gap in ASEAN: Drivers and Policy Options” is available at the ASEAN Gift Shop of the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta starting June 2013. For a free copy, please contact: iai.asec@asean.org
More information on the NDG Lecture Series are available here.

Link to photos.

The NDG Lecture Series will continue to tackle contemporary topics of interest to ASEAN in the coming months as the ASEAN Secretariat intensifies its public outreach efforts to promote the IAI and the work of ASEAN. If you would like to be included in the mailing list, kindly submit your name to the IAI&NDG Division of the ASEAN Secretariat at iai.asec@asean.org .