Larger than trains

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When I joined MND 4 years ago, I spent a lot of time thinking about public housing, but I was mindful that MND is more than HDB, much more.  While HDB and housing were hot, I also could not lift my eyes off other issues: how to raise the quality of life of Singaporeans, transform our city, make Singapore a City in a Garden, enhance animal welfare, raise the professionalism of property agents, keep food safe etc.

Likewise, MOT is more than MRT trains, much more.  While I will spend a lot of time on rail reliability and buses, I know that I will also have to focus on other sectors, especially the aviation and maritime sectors.  These are significant sectors of our economy, the health of which can impact hundreds of thousands of Singaporeans.  Their jobs and their families depend on these sectors.  And there are strong headwinds and turbulence ahead.

insert pix_T1For example, the aviation industry accounts directly for about 6% of our economy and more than 160,000 jobs. It also enhances Singapore’s proposition as a business and financial centre. But passenger traffic growth at Changi Airport has slowed down in the last two years, even as some of our competitors continue to grow. We have to help it get back on the path of growth. Meanwhile, it has been reported that Indonesia wants to manage the flight information region (FIR) over the airspace above the Riau Islands. (The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) had approved for this airspace to be managed by Singapore to ensure flight safety as well as efficient flight operations of airlines and airports. This does not affect Indonesia’s sovereignty. In fact, there are many examples of countries which manage their neighbours’ airspace for the same safety and efficiency reasons.)

Likewise, the maritime industry contributes some 7% to our GDP and provides more than 170,000 jobs. Our sea port faces competition from neighbouring ports all the time. Alternative trade routes such as the Arctic Route and the proposed Kra Canal could also result in ships bypassing Singapore.

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A little red dot in an unfriendly, fiercely competitive world, requires us to be highly focused on these strategic issues, or many Singaporeans will get hurt. How we negotiate these huge geopolitical challenges can be life-and-death to Singaporeans. We do not say a lot about such challenges in public, and Singaporeans may not be fully aware. But we spend a lot of our management time and bandwidth on these critical issues.

This is not an excuse for the next train disruption. We are doing our best to make our rail system even more reliable. I just hope to get Singaporeans’ better understanding and moral support.

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