Indonesia is seeking European investors for $9 billion worth of water, road, air and seaport projects in what will be a litmus test of Southeast Asian countries' ability to seize on ripe financial conditions to upgrade decrepit infrastructure.
Easy global liquidity and investors' eagerness to tap one of the world's few fast-growing regions should create a sweet spot for the region to fill the $600 billion in infrastructure needs the Asian Development Bank identifies over the next decade. But infrastructure experts say a shortage of projects offering compelling returns, coupled with stifling bureaucracy and regulatory uncertainty, threatens to undermine the ambitious plans of Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines.
"There's a lot of money floating around but it's money looking for a return," said Bert Hofman, the World Bank chief economist for East Asia and the Pacific. After years of chronic underspending, governments in the region of 600 million people have begun to sharply raise their infrastructure budgets to improve transport and energy networks.
Indonesia, the biggest regional economy, estimates it alone needs $150 billion worth of new infrastructure, but is only willing to finance 15 percent and has seen few takers so far for the public-private partnerships (PPPs) it is relying on. Jakarta hopes that will change after a roadshow to Europe this year to market 16 projects from water treatment to ports. "We're market-sounding," Chatib Basri, chief of the country's investment board, told Reuters. Speaking in Jakarta after a trip to Paris to meet potential investors, Basri said he saw demand coming from France and Germany.