Boosting Singapore's links is critical for its continuing relevance

Boosting Singapore's links is critical

Embracing various forms of connectivity can improve the country's agility to change.


Blessed only with the natural resources of people and location, Singapore as a country has overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges to get to where it is. Achieving first-world status has been possible through training a literate workforce, instituting a strong rule of law and building world-class infrastructure, among other moves. This is the essence of the Singapore story - strong, trusted establishments and efficient processes that has made the city-state a great place to do business in and with.

However, while our accomplishments have propelled us into the ranks of the world's top cities, our potential for growth is challenged by our small size and limited natural resources. It is no wonder that the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) therefore identifies developing Singapore as a vibrant and connected city of opportunity as a key strategy. The keyword here is "connected", which is critical to keeping Singapore relevant and bringing the world to our doorstep, plugged into the global economy and soon, the digital world.



Connectivity exists in many forms. Whether as an air, shipping, finance, petrochemical, life sciences, medical or education hub, relevance means staying as a city that is a springboard to the region.

The competitive advantage that Singapore has is in providing reliable, safe products and services, and a high-quality user experience. But regional competition is increasing. The solution therefore is in keeping Singapore as a hub with an integrated and efficient air, sea, land, rail and road connectivity which serves the region seamlessly. While doing this, we will have to continue to innovate, improve our value proposition and manage costs to remain a choice node in the global network.

This is why the CFE recommendations on enhancing connectivity with the construction of the Changi Airport Terminal 5, a next-generation sea port in Tuas and the planned Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail project are important.

At a strategic level, enhancing external connectivity through greater collaboration, with more free trade agreements and international connections proposals will also open up new markets.



Without social connectivity, Singapore would never be a home. We would be a big hotel, where residents both local and foreign come and go. Sustaining Singapore's reputation as a great place to work, play and live in is, therefore, critical to attracting and retaining talent.

To do so, the CFE has made many recommendations, including planning boldly for city rejuvenation such as creating new spaces through an underground master plan or multi-purpose floating platforms. These generate new possibilities in our land-starved cityscape, improving the quality of life through more diverse cultural, sports and lifestyle activities.

However, our local community must continue to embrace non-citizens contributing towards the development of Singapore. Keeping them connected to the Singapore community will go a long way to help us being "plugged" in globally long after they go home.



When we can attract good talent, we have the opportunity to grow our intellectual connectivity. This not only positions Singapore as a value-creating economy, but also adds another dimension to its "soul".

The CFE has therefore promoted the idea of Singapore as a centre of excellence for research and thought leadership to spur growth. Fresh ideas and innovation will position Singapore as a vibrant hub. Given our size, this is something challenging to do on our own.

We must capitalise on our strengths as a multiracial society, working collaboratively with other global players.



The CFE strategy to build strong digital capabilities is also timely. As more economic activities take place in the virtual space, digital connectivity could magnify Singapore's competitiveness by enabling access to large pools of data. This allows Singapore-based enterprises to prototype solutions for densely-populated urban centres.

As the CFE report notes, digitalisation will support the growth of the infocomms technology (ICT) and media industries and may also transform and catalyse growth in many other industries. One recommendation therefore is to enhance our national ICT infrastructure to make Singapore a key node in the digital world.

Embracing the various forms of connectivity - human, intellectual, physical and digital - can improve Singapore's agility to change and ability to innovate. This is the heart of the CFE's proposal, which is a strategy rather than a plan. Seeking instead to set direction, it should, as the CFE report notes, give us "plenty of optionality for years to come".

The writer is Ong Pang Thye, managing partner at KPMG in Singapore. This is an abridged version; the full piece is available at The views expressed are his own.

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