Urgent Infrastructure Review Needed

Singapore believes in an ever expanding economy, our government bases its performance on GDP figures and the population has similarly grown to love the positive statistics about the economy. But as all economists will tell you – there are limits to growth and we are beginning to see this occur at this stage of our nation’s development.

Population figures have grown tremendously. From the 3 million 10 years ago we have nearly doubled at an alarming rate. The strain on housing, transport and just space for that matter is clear. Yet unlike the early 1970s to 1990s the focus on infrastructure has changed. Maybe because we aren’t really in the growth stage that we have shelved this important focus aside. There are two distinct areas that Singapore has to look in and develop quickly. We’re talking about 5 years here and that means planning has to clear within 1-2 years.

Transport (Rail) 

Rail networks need a permanent fix, fast.

Rail networks need a permanent fix, fast.

It is interesting to see the court battle between SMRT and LTA. But what is the point? It is a blame game. It is clear from the proceedings that our rail lines are in dire need of maintenance and upgrades. It is not as if December 2011 has passed and our trains are back at full speed. Nope. Trains are now slowing down to reduce stress on the tracks. I rode an MRT just a week back to realize the train was stopping every 300m and keeping a low speed. It took 1 hour and 30mins to get me from Lakeside to Tiong Bahru. Just a year ago 1.5 hours was what you need to get to Pasir Ris.

If our tracks need an upgrade, do it and do so quickly. Doing nothing is what got us here in the first place. It is amazing that the blame game has been accelerated and not work on the tracks. We gave this government a clear mandate for the sake of optimizing the political process so that we won’t be mired in slow finger pointing situations when quick decisive action is needed. This doesn’t seem to be the case here. The tracks need help and quick. Get it done LTA/SMRT. I wonder if you have a trained person doing a cost analysis on your end. Each day we are definitely losing thousands as it is now natural for train passengers to lose about 30 mins of productivity thanks to the train. The fact that I am now using the bus (which is slow but unfortunately more predictable than the bus) speaks volumes on the fall from grace of what was once a gleaming jewel of the transport system.

In multiple studies over the last 6 years, it is clear that rail is our long term hope. We are looking towards an expanded MRT system and with more minor LRT networks plying the now denser neighbourhoods. We cannot expand roads and we need the public to place their trust in the public transport system. If we can’t get it right with the little we have then stop dreaming further. You need this key network to be functioning optimally. Get it fixed and fast. If it requires turning off the train network for 2 weekends then so be it. We’re losing too much and sitting on our asses ain’t making anything better.

Communications 

Don't care whose fault it is. Let's meet communication standards.

Don't care whose fault it is. Let's meet communication standards.

Singapore for all its number ones have landed bottom 10 in mobile speeds. To top it off we’re behind our neighbours and traditional rivals Malaysia. It is shocking especially for a small country. As much as we tend to bask in the tagline of “so small yet so mighty” being small tends to give us major advantages over big countries. It’s funny how our education system doesn’t want to talk about it, isn’t it? A smaller country means many macro policies easily translate from paper to action. It means infrastucture is easy to roll out and benefits felt on the ground can be seen in a smaller time frame. It means an easier job for those in charge. Yet, we still suck at mobile connectivity and speeds. What does this tell you?

Our telecommunications industry was deregulated but SingTel still holds a major share and say especially in the area of infrastructure and this is crucial. OpenNet has criticized the manner that SingTel performed in its partnership to roll out fibre. Ask anyone who used fibre and you can see we aren’t even close to achieving standards. There is apparently artifical limits set for international speeds. It’s hilarious actually. Singapore hosts nearly no local content. Besides news sites and some local forums most of what we access are in foreign lands. If you’ve signed up for a 100mbps etc etc plan, you are still behind a 15mbps limit for international speeds. And that is for 95% of the content you surf and view. It’s shameful. Shameful that we allow our operators to do so in our local context. I laud MyRepublic (ISP) for breaking such artificial limits. Hopefully, it will spur better competition.

Looking Forward / Bypassing Limits 

The key infrastuctural points for a growing nation or one that has lofty GDP figures to hit lies in transport and communications. In order bypass our limitations of space, we have to encourage innovative working strategies such as working from home. There are multiple jobs that can be handled from home. It just requires a mindset shift and also for our communications network to be up to par. Ask yourself if what you do today in the office can be done at home. Most are so holed up in their cubicles that walking into an office is no different from walking into your room.

There are limits to growth but it takes innovation and a free mind to bend around that. The capitalist system was famously known to operate on a mechanism called ‘creative destruction’. If that is what differentiates leaders from followers, then Singapore would do well to bite the bullet early, fix infrastructural problems and defy its limits. Dream big but make sure that dream can be realized. Much of it has to be worked on right from today.



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