Report calls for ASEAN to appoint permanent chief exec and staff

By on 22/11/2017 | Updated on 24/09/2020
ASEAN Gala Dinner

The Association of South East Asian Nations should increase its funding by a factor of ten and adopt a permanent staff led by a chief executive, according to a new report co-written by the World Economic Forum and Asian Development Bank

The ASEAN secretariat will need an annual budget of US$220m by 2030 – up from about US$20m today – to manage the ASEAN community effectively, the report argues.

The report, which was launched at the 31st ASEAN Summit in Manila on Tuesday 14 November, analyses how emerging technologies will reshape South East Asia and urges ASEAN leaders to take seven steps to prepare for “the deep transformations that lie ahead”.

Adapting to a new world

Changes to the regional inter-governmental organisation are needed, the report argues, so that its member states can adapt to the rapid socio-economic change occurring within the “fourth industrial revolution” – involving fields such as robotics and the Internet of Things.

Justin Wood, WEF’s head of Asia Pacific and a member of its executive committee, said: “The fourth industrial revolution is unfolding at tremendous speed. Indeed, the pace of change is accelerating. All over the world, governments are struggling to keep up.

“The traditional ways of shaping policy, writing regulations and setting standards are too slow, too top-down and too backward-looking. What is needed is an approach that is much faster, more agile, more experimental and more iterative.”

ASEAN as a platform

The report adopts the model of companies such as Apple and Google that provide the operating system for smartphones –and thus a platform on which software developers can produce new apps – as an organisational metaphor for intergovernmental organisations.

ASEAN should refashion itself as a “platform organisation” that runs the “operating system for regional integration” and allows “multi-stakeholder groups of experts” to do “the heavy lifting of integration”, it states.

For the secretariat, this would mean playing a stronger role in convening and governing working groups, but a reduced role in producing the content of integration, such as new standards and regulations, which would be proposed by the expert groups.

It should delegate more functions to affiliated third-party groups that could operate on the platform in a more independent way, and replace long-term planning with three-year rolling plans that can be adapted in the face of rapid change, the report states.

Delivering the new model

ASEAN could also use online portals to increase citizen participation in policymaking, and set up cross-border innovation hubs and multi-country regulatory trials for products and services that are enabled by new technologies.

ASEAN’s chair and secretariat are currently filled on a rotational basis, with each member state appointing a chairperson for the year during which it leads the organisation, while senior officials are appointed for two or three years. Now in its 50th year, ASEAN promotes economic and other collaboration in the region.

But the report recommends that it appoints a permanent staff, including a “CEO”-type leader with experience in crafting regulation and policy. As a “platform organisation”, ASEAN would need staff who are highly skilled in new technologies, it notes.

Nazir Razak, chair of the ASEAN Regional Strategy Group, who is chairman of CIMB Group Holdings in Malaysia, said: “This revolution will transform everything, from economic structures to social systems. Many aspects of our lives will improve.

“But there will also be many worrying challenges, such as how automation and artificial intelligence are replacing jobs. We have to understand these issues and have appropriate policies to address them.”

About Liz Heron

Liz Heron is a journalist based in London. She worked on daily newspapers for more than 16 years as an education correspondent, section editor and general news reporter. She was Education Editor of the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong and has contributed to a wide range of British media including The Independent, The Guardian and the BBC.

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