International webinar panel outlines global Covid lessons

04 Jun 2020

news image

The 16th in the series of 18 FIDIC Covid-19 webinars took place on Thursday 4 June 2020 with an event exploring what different countries around the world have done in response to the spread of the Covid-19 virus and also their subsequent economic response and the key lessons to be learned from this, writes FIDIC communications advisor Andy Walker.

“Learning lessons from how countries and governments have dealt with the Covid-19 pandemic” was attended by around 321 attendees and looked at the multifaceted response to the pandemic by governments internationally and asked what lessons could be learned for future crises and to help inform how cocieties and economies operate in the future.

Moderated by FIDIC CEO Dr Nelson Ogunshakin, the multinational panel of speakers at the event included FIDIC vice president and board member Liu Luobing from China, Antonio Bonet, president of Club de Exportadores e Inversores (Exporters and Investors Club) from Spain, Steve Hall, senior vice president for advocacy at the American Council of Engineering Companies, Carla Moonen, president of the Royal Dutch Association of Engineering Companies, Henrique De Aragao, director of PMO Engenheiros Consultores from Brazil, Kabelo Joseph Motswagole, managing director of Herbco Technical Services and FIDIC Africa president from Botswana and Irawan Koesoemo, president of FIDIC ASPAC and executive chairman of Bita Enarcon Engineering from Indonesia. As ever, FIDIC president Bill Howard was also in attendance from Boston, USA.

Opening the event, FIDIC president Bill Howard said he was delighted to see such an international panel at the webinar, possibly the most multinational yet in this popular FIDIC series of Covid-19 events.

FIDIC vice president and board member Liu Luobing offered a perspective from China on what had been done there to combat the pandemic since its inception in Wuhan. Testing and isolation had been crucial to containing the pandemic, he said. 42,000 medical workers had been mobilised to Wuhan to tackle the outbreak and preventing further spread of the virus in the community. This mobilisation had been very effective said Liu and the infection figures showing a gradual reduction in the pandemic showed that the country’s efforts had been a success. Now, the country had entered a ‘new normal’ phase, with the challenges of the threat of the disease ever-present, especially given the delay in finding a vaccine. The effects on the economy had been profound, with the economy contracting for the first time in many years, but recovery was underway.

Antonio Bonet, president of the Exporters and Investors Club gave a view from Spain and highlighted the business uncertainty that had been engendered by the initial slow response from the government. There were a number of concerns from business organisations, Bonet said, including restrictions on mobility which made it difficult to undertake contracts and conduct business. There was also a concern about the lack of a level playing field between countries in terms of the government support being given to the commercial sector, he said. He also questioned whether the differing international approach would lead to unfair competition.

Steve Hall, senior vice president for advocacy at the American Council of Engineering Companies, said that he thought that the consulting engineering industry had a good story to tell about the way that it had assisted communities during the current crisis. The initial federal government response in the US had been slow and lessons needed to be learned from that, said Hall. Now, the country was in the process of coming out of shutdowns, but in a gradual way with restrictions in many areas. Hall also mentioned the potential impact of the current protests in the US on infection rates as a concern. FIDIC member association ACEC had been active in engaging the US federal government, which had designated the infrastructure sector as an essential industry. Having that designation was a big boost to the sector and a major success for ACEC, Hall said and something that had boosted membership. “This success underlines the importance of FIDIC member associations and the role they play all around the world,” he said.

Carla Moonen, president of the Royal Dutch Association of Engineering Companies, said that the Netherlands government was set to spend at least 80bn euro on its response to the crisis, including a ‘green deal’ programme. Construction organisations had been working jointly together in the Netherlands and lobbying the government to keep the work pipeline flowing in the public sector and agreements were signed with ministers that all public investments should be continued and speeded up to protect the construction sector. These agreements have also shaped the policy of the public sector at local level, said Moonen, which had been a significant support for the infrastructure industry. Part of the agreements included a 30-day payment clause to further support the sector, she said. “Our united lobbying work has made the construction sector much more visible and appreciated by government and is a huge opportunity for our engineering sector,” Moonen said.

Henrique De Aragao, director of PMO Engenheiros Consultores from Brazil, gave an update from Brazil and the country’s response to the pandemic, where there had been 584,000 Covid cases. The consulting industry had been active in pressing the government to consider the sector as a vital industry and one that is crucial in the Covid recovery. That work continues, De Aragao said. He also highlighted the increasing use of digital technology in the sector which had been crucial in firms continuing to work effectively during the crisis. Against a background of increasing economic uncertainty, he also warned against the rise of cut-throat bidding on construction projects and said that FIDIC should continue its lobbying for quality-based selection in this regard.

Kabelo Joseph Motswagole, managing director of Herbco Technical Services and FIDIC Africa president, contrasted the international position now with the economic 2009 crisis. “This Covid crisis has affected everyone and nations have had to look at their own countries first before helping anyone else. This is a much worse crisis than 2009,” he said. Motswagole said that governments was prioritising economic sectors that would boost the consultancy sector and this would present an opportunity for the sector to engage with international governments. “FIDIC has provided much needed guidance during this crisis which has been invaluable to member associations, especially in Africa,” he said. In Africa, it would take much longer to recover from the Covid crisis, Motswagole said, as there was a continuing urgent need for basic infrastructure on the continent.

Irawan Koesoemo, president of FIDIC ASPAC and executive chairman of Bita Enarcon Engineering from Indonesia, said that the government there had been very careful in its response to the crisis. As a nation comprised of islands it had a natural buffer to the spread of the disease, but caution had still been the approach with the lockdown in the country continuing until the end of June in an effort to get to grips with the pandemic. Koesoemo said that the construction sector was still ticking over during the crisis but it was having to fight its corner with the government which was giving more support to the manufacturing sector. FIDIC ASPAC was playing a key role in putting pressure on the government to support the sector, he said.

The role of FIDIC and its global member associations during the current crisis was highlighted during the discussion. Engagement with governments was crucial and the consultancy sector had a seat at the table, which was so important, especially as global economies began to recover from the pandemic. There is no doubt that FIDIC and its members will have an increasingly important role with governments around the world as they look to emerge from Covid-19. “It’s time for engineers to take leadership,” said Carla Moonen, summing up the mood of the webinar.

The next FIDIC webinar in the series is “How can the infrastructure industry improve its resilience to deal with future global pandemics?” which takes place on Tuesday 9 June at 12 noon CET. Please register your place today as we expect another large turnout for this event.

Click here to book your place on the ‘Industry resilience’ webinar.

Details of the final webinar in our Covid-19 series is listed below.

A pandemic that changed the world - lessons to be learned by the global infrastructure sector
Thursday 11 June 2020 at 12 noon CET.
This final webinar in FIDIC's popular Covid-19 series will reflect on all the lessons that have been learnt over the previous 18 events that have attracted thousands of attendees from around the world. This webinar is a must-attend for anyone working in the construction and infrastructure sector.
Click here to book a place on this webinar.

Click below to view a recording of the Learning lessons from how countries and governments have dealt with the Covid-19 pandemic webinar 

Related news

Consultancy contracts webinar highlights engineer’s crucial role

16-Apr-2020

African Development Bank signs five-year agreement to use FIDIC standard contracts

10-Jan-2020

CEO's Update - Coronavirus weekly: Issue 1

27-Mar-2020

Sustainability in the spotlight at FIDIC ASPAC 2019 in New Delhi

12-Jun-2019
FIDIC