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Digitalisation essential to Asean’s post-pandemic fortunes

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Asean countries need to prioritise digitalisation, platform creation, agility, resilience and sustainability as methods to steer them towards recovery mode in the wake of the pandemic, say leading economic and business figures.

“Digitalisation in everything, through all levels of both the public and private sectors, is now the new normal. This is a must to survive,” said Sopnendu Mohanty, chief fintech officer at the Monetary Authority of Singapore.

He was speaking at a virtual seminar examining Asean countries’ approaches to recovery from the crisis, part of the Techsauce Virtual Summit held June 19 and 20.

Resiliency and sustainability are now more important than efficiency and productivity, Mr Mohanty said.

“Digital platforms are among key elements that need to be delivered,” he said. “E-commerce, food ordering and any digital platforms require an ecosystem that has open data and application programming interface.”

To foster recovery, policymakers need to support national digital identity, payment and data systems, he said.

Countries also must have digital infrastructure that can cater to interoperability of data and systems.

To survive and even thrive during this challenging time, three Cs — cash flow, customer flow and capital flow — need to be taken into account, Mr Mohanty said.

“The government needs to empower citizens having access to data and staying connected as a means of survival,” he said.

Also speaking at the same event, former finance minister Korn Chatikavanij said the pandemic is fuelling more volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.

“All operating levels in government, companies and even individuals need to be more agile, flexible and resilient,” he said. “They need to have a stronger balance sheet and leverage more digitisation.”

Mr Korn, who is now the leader of the Kla Party, said the government’s bureaucratic process may need disruption for improvement.

Examples of the Thai government’s agility include the adoption of the contact-tracing app Thai Chana and the enabling of individuals to purchase government bonds via mobile apps, Mr Korn said.

The country’s economic model needs to be decentralised and the financial system redesigned by promoting the issuance of digital banking licences, similar to what Singapore has done, he said.

The move could promote soft loans being accessed by small and medium-sized enterprises, Mr Korn said.

Gita Wirjawan, chairman of Ancora Group, an Indonesian company with interests in private equity investing, natural resources and real estate, said Asean, which has an economy of US$3 trillion, has a huge opportunity to embark on a digital transition.

During the crisis, Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia have rolled out substantial stimulus packages to shore up their economies.

“Within the next 2-5 years, we will see the difference and how well each country uses the stimulus package and is able to redesign their digital future,” Mr Wirjawan said.

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