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Spirit of sharing and helping in ASEAN
EIGHTEEN years ago, ASEAN's leaders launched the Initiative for ASEAN Integration (IAI) to narrow the development divide and accelerate the economic integration of newer ASEAN Member States at the time, in particular the CLMV (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam) countries.
Another key aim of the initiative was to enhance ASEAN's competitiveness as a region to provide a framework for regional cooperation through which the more developed members could help others that most need it.
As part of the initiative, Singapore established IAI Training Centres in each of the CLMV countries - namely in Phnom Penh, Vientiane, Yangon and Hanoi.
The idea was for the centres to provide vocational training and capacity-building programmes in areas such as trade development, human resource development, agriculture and food business and tourism.
The initial courses at the time were "train-the-trainer" courses focused on education and IT skills to help prepare the government officials to meet the challenges of the New Economy.
The range and content of programmes provided at the IAI centres has changed over the years to reflect the various countries' changing development priorities, ASEAN's priorities as well as new areas of expertise that Singapore is able to share.
As at October 2018, Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said about 1,900 programmes have been conducted at the four centres, with over 39,000 government officials having participated in classroom-style courses.
They have benefited from courses in areas ranging from the English language to public administration.
A spokesperson from MFA noted that the participants are very serious learners and eager to improve themselves and their countries.
"They try to derive practical and real solutions tailored for their local operating environment, and not merely engage in academic exercises," the spokesperson said.
"Many of them participate actively in our programmes. They do not hesitate to ask questions or to voice their comments, and provide useful insights on issues of concern to their countries."
The spokesperson said there is a need to be sensitive to the different development priorities in other countries.
"There is no one-size-fits-all solution. We do our best to understand their structure and customise programmes to best suit their context," the spokesperson said.
"During their training, participants often share their experiences and how they would apply what they have learned. Sometimes, we find that the other countries have a different way of doing things, and that helps us to reflect on our own policies and processes."
The development needs of the CLMV countries have evolved and become more complex over the years, and there have been requests for training ranging from disaster risk reduction to technology and smart cities solutions.
As such, there is a need for a more flexible platform of technical assistance to cater to their various needs.
In August this year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that Singapore will upgrade three of its IAI centres - in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos - to become Singapore Cooperation Centres (SCCs).
This, said Mr Lee at the opening of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting, is part of the wider effort to boost regional economic integration and adoption of technology in ASEAN.
"The new SCCs will expand our range of technical assistance and offer new modalities for capacity building that go beyond classroom training. Singapore hopes to share our experiences, and at the same time, learn from our neighbours and partners," said Mr Lee. "The new centres will expand our range of technical assistance and offer new modalities for capacity building that go beyond classroom training. Singapore hopes to share our experiences, as well as learn from our neighbours and partners," he added.
With the upgrade, these SCCs will serve as an integrated platform to coordinate and deliver development assistance holistically, and facilitate a wider range of projects in areas such as urban planning, volunteer work and humanitarian assistance from entities including the Singapore Red Cross (SRC), Enterprise Singapore and the Temasek Foundation.
The SCCs in Cambodia and Vietnam have been revamped and are currently operational. The Laos SCC, meanwhile, is undergoing expansion works and will be operational by the end of 2018. For Myanmar, both sides are currently working out the operational modalities of the Myanmar SCC.
The MFA spokesman said that following the launch of the ASEAN Smart Cities Network (ASCN), there are opportunities for projects in urban solutions in the near future.
JOINT DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMMES
Discussions are already underway with third countries and international organisations to run joint development programmes.
Singapore has commenced talks with the European Union on joint capacity building related to the ASCN/sustainable cities, climate change, and education support.
The SRC, meanwhile, has indicated that they would be interested to hold training and activities related to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief at the SCCs, and use the SCCs as logistic centres during emergencies or disasters in the four countries.
The Singapore International Foundation is keen to use the SCCs to launch community and volunteer projects. A potential area is to help locals with eco-tourism through the Young Social Entrepreneur platform.
"Such partnerships combine the experience, expertise and resources of two partners for the benefit of these countries," the MFA spokesman said.