Thursday, February 19, 2009

Iskandar project offers immense potential

Feb 2, 2009

THE annual Institute of Policy Studies conference is always a good occasion for thinkers and decision-makers to take stock of our country's status and position in an ever-changing world. This year is no different except that, unlike in previous years, the world has changed somewhat and conventional wisdoms have mostly been blown away.

I attended this year's conference after an absence of four years, during which time I was in China, and found the discussion on rootedness interesting.

One of the big issues debated was Singapore's status as a worldwide hub for commerce. With Taipei and Bangkok joining Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing and Mumbai as our competitors as global cities of the future, what are our options given our limited resources?

Mr Philip Jeyaretnam commented that we should think big and think of partnerships. Mr Manu Bhaskaran suggested that the Iskandar development in Johor was a historic opportunity for Singapore to create a hinterland. While there is scepticism over whether Singapore can ever partner Malaysia in such an undertaking, these extraordinary times do call for an Obama-inspired 'audacity of vision'. We have transformed Jurong with Dr Goh Keng Swee's vision, and our timidity might have led us to miss out on Pudong in the 1990s.

Even though I was earlier sceptical about the Iskandar project, I am much more persuaded now that it might be the right deal for us and our future generation.

Chong Huai Seng

[I agree that Iskandar offers immense potential. Heck, Malaysia itself has immense potential. But the problem is not our shortness of vision, or aversion to risks, or inability to dream. There will be Singaporeans who will invest in and take a chance with the Iskandar project.

The uncertainty comes from unstable, and unpredictable Malaysian government or more precisely, their political leaders.

Witness the recent flip-flop on the AirAsia private airstrip. One moment Tony Fernandez was all ready to go. Next thing you know the govt yank the rug from under his feet.

Then there are the numerous "one step forward, two steps back" tango that the M'sian govt dances. Like ban on selling petrol to Singapore-registered cars in Johor, the need for the white immigration card and many other minor instances.

There is no single cause for this tango. The reasons are varied. Irrational pride or ego is one. This is the reason for the "crooked bridge". Political maneuverings and one-upmanship over other politicians is another.

Their own socio-political environment is another.

Without stability, predictability, and dependability, any decision made today can be reverse tomorrow. In the light of such uncertainty, growth will be unpredictable. Potential may well be wasted, or at best, untapped.]

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