Opening Remarks by Mr Heng Swee Keat, Minister for Finance, at the Joint Board of Architects Singapore (BOA) (BOA) – Association of Consulting Engineers Singapore (ACES) Conference 2018, on 22 May 2018 at Marina Bay Sands22 May 2018
Architect Tan Shao Yen, President of the Board of Architects, Singapore
Engineer Chua Tong Seng, President of the Association of Consulting Engineers Singapore
Ladies and gentlemen
- Good morning.Thank you for inviting me to join you at the joint BOA-ACES Conference, with a very important theme of “Collaborate Alliances: Building a sustainable business.”
- This conference was inaugurated in 2017. It is a timely and important platform to bring together the many players of the built industry to foster greater co-operation and build deeper partnerships. In Parliament last week, Minister Lawrence Wong sketched out the many exciting plans to build Singapore as a vibrant global city as well as an endearing home for us. He sketched a number of new and interesting developments in the north, south, east, and west of the island – all very exciting plans. At the same time, he also spoke about the need to rejuvenate many parts of Singapore, including many of our heartlands; many of our HDB towns were built in the 1980s. There is a need for us to continue to renew and rejuvenate our towns.
- As a Member of Parliament for Tampines, we have benefited from this discussion and this renewal. We had two very interesting projects. One, in terms of building new things, was “Our Tampines Hub” and Architect Chee Huang is here with us. What is interesting is whenever I meet my parliamentary colleagues, they all say, “I also want one.” Fortunately, I wasn’t the one who started this. It was Mr Mah Bow Tan who started conceptualising this idea of building up Tampines Hub. When I said, as Finance Minister, “Money not enough. Got to go and find money first”, I was quite credible. I didn’t just as Finance Minister put money for this project.
- The other thing which was a very interesting project, was a project that we did with a number of very prominent planners and architect called “Imagining Tampines”. We had to rethink how an old town, a town that was built in the 80s, can be rejuvenated. What new features do we add and how do we enhance liveability, how do we advance active mobility, and how do we engage the community better? We also have an exciting plan which we are now trying to find resources to do.
- All of you here have contributed to building Singapore over the years. As we look around Singapore, every time when I receive visitors, they say, “Wow Singapore looks different every time I come!” I say, “Well, thank you very much”. At the same time, the one thing that many visitors also commented to me is this: “Despite the fact that you are so urbanised, you are so green, that is what makes Singapore so special.” This idea of starting with a garden city and now a city in the garden and in the future, possibly a forest city or a city in the forest, are all very exciting. Many of you have contributed into building Singapore to what it is today. All of you would have even more to contribute in the coming years as we embark on building a smart, vibrant city and a green and liveable city.
- It is heartening to see leaders and players from the built environment coming together for this conference. Your plans to grow this collaboration to include all the key players and six agencies next year. It is actually very, very exciting and I wish you all the very best, including REDAS (Real Estate Developers’ Association of Singapore), SCAL (Singapore Contractors Association), SIA (Singapore Institute of Architects), PEB (Professional Engineers Board), together with BOA (Board of Architects) and ACES (Association of Consulting Engineers Singapore) to organise next year’s conference. Congratulations to BOA and ACES for your hard work and for your work in including everyone.
Built industry critical for a well-connected, world-class city for Singaporeans
- The built industry is emerging from a slowdown in previous years. Total construction demand is expected to increase. The volume of contracts of $24.5 billion in 2017, is expected to rise to between $26 to $31 billion in 2018.
- Further ahead, construction demand is expected to grow steadily as we embark on major infrastructure projects such as the Changi Airport Terminal 5, and the Cross Island Line, while at the same time, maintaining a steady supply of public housing, healthcare and educational developments.
- The prospects in the region are just as exciting. The significant changes which are happening around us is that the economic centre of gravity is moving back to Asia. When I discussed with economists in the World Bank, IMF and our Asian Development Bank, I look at all their projections. They all have very positive outlook for the Asian region.A number of key drivers are driving this change. Good economic policies and the way in which technology is being used all around us. What does the movement of the economic centre of gravity back to Asia mean? It means that the urbanisation trend and the building trend will grow very sharply in Asia, whether it is China’s Belt and Road Initiative on building infrastructure or the rate of urbanisation. If we look at the rate of urbanisation in Asia, how does Asia accommodate a growing population? A very major way is urbanisation and the number of towns that have to be rejuvenated, the number of towns that will grow will be extremely significant.
- The other major trend is climate change. Climate change will compel all of us to think very hard about what sustainable development means. How do we deploy green technology, how do we future proof our buildings and our infrastructure? For Singapore, we have to take this very seriously because we are a little island and when the sea level goes up, we may “disappear”. Therefore, it is quite critical that we take this challenge seriously. That is why I announced that we are going to have a carbon tax. We will have to redouble our efforts on this green movement not because we are ideological in a particular direction, but because this is a practical challenge. To deny that there is such problem is to forget about solving the problem.
- The third major thing that is happening is the technology. The pace of progress in technology including in the built environment. The Internet of Things, the ICT movement is going to change the way that we manage buildings, the way that we build buildings in the first place, the way we manage, maintain and operate buildings. All sort of exciting possibilities is opening up. And unless we make full use of this, we will be left behind. On the other hand, for a place like Singapore, when we are short of manpower, the technological development is most exciting because it will help us to multiply the human capabilities that we have in Singapore.
Everyone has a part to play
- Our urban challenges will become more complex and more inter-connected but the opportunities for us to innovate, to leverage on technology to grow, to internationalise has never been greater. It is a very exciting time but the key is that we must deepen capabilities. We must deepen capabilities in individual firms so that every firm has that muscle to compete and to do well. At the same time, we have to bring the whole industry together to foster collaboration. Together, we can do a lot more. I am very happy to hear about bringing six different bodies together to think about what we can do together to optimise our resources, to save cost and to produce even higher quality work. Raising the industry’s capability is at the heart of the industry transformation plan which will involve individual firms, all taking actions.
- Having progressive and collaborative firms is the key of the Construction Industry Transformation Map (ITM), launched in October last year by Minister Desmond Lee. The ITM itself was designed after extensive consultations between the Government, industry, institutes of higher learning, and unions. I understand that there has been good progress and BCA CEO Hugh Lim will elaborate on this later.
- The Government is committed to supporting our workers and companies through the transformation process. We will continue to monitor the industry closely, and will adjust the pace of public sector projects to facilitate the transformation process. We have also reviewed our tender evaluation frameworks to place a greater weightage on quality. This will help to curb excessive price competition and recognise firms for consistent good performance.
- The Government will also invest heavily in research and innovation within the sector. Last year, we set aside $150 million for the Cities of Tomorrow (CoT) R&D programme – a collaborative effort between Government, the research community, and the industry to develop innovative, tangible urban solutions for a more liveable, sustainable and resilient city. In 2018, I announced the expansion of the National Robotics Programme to cover the built environment and construction sectors, to develop robotic solutions to transform work processes in areas such as Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (DfMA). This is part of a broader effort to tap on the RIE (Research, Innovation and Enterprise) capabilities in our research institutes, and in universities and polytechnics. Our aim is to help our local companies innovate and stay competitive. Now that I am Chairman of the National Research Foundation, if you have particular ideas that you would like to pursue, you are welcome to raise it with me.
Focus on capabilities, partnerships, innovation
- While we work to implement the various ITMs, invest in our infrastructure and encourage new and creative ways to support the industry and businesses, the real work lies in what you do with the new technologies, insights and opportunities and how you forge closer partnerships. I hope this conference will provide a forum for you to think about how you can deepen your firms’ capabilities and the industry’s capabilities; how you can work more closely together, make new connections within the industry but even across the industry as part of our industry transformation. I hope that this will also be a good opportunity for us to build collaboration beyond Singapore. We are the chair of ASEAN this year and I am very happy that our ASEAN friends are with us today.
- ASEAN economy is expected to be the fourth-largest by 2030, which is quite a major change with an annual growth forecast of around 5 percent per annum. I hope our ASEAN friends can come together to explore how we can work together, how we can collaborate and do great things together. I hope all our agencies will work closely together to better support our small and medium enterprises, address immediate needs such as financing, capability development and internationalisation.
- We have made some progress in this, with the setting up of the new Infrastructure Asia. The office will bring together local and international partners across the value chain, to provide information exchange of infrastructure opportunities in Asia, and also bring the financiers, the one who will finance the projects together. Minister Indranee Rajah is driving this very interesting project, working together with Enterprise Singapore Group, and she will announce more details of what we are going to do. I have spoken on this with the ASEAN finance ministers. I am very happy that they are all very supportive. I spoke about this with our finance ministers from China, Japan and Korea, the ASEAN+3. They are also very supportive. We have also been working with ADB, AIIB, and the World Bank. The World Bank Infrastructure Hub is based in Singapore. I hope that we can do more together for Singapore and for our region.
- On that note, I’m confident that the Singapore economy will continue to generate good job opportunities for Singaporeans who are willing to upgrade their skills and work in growth sectors and for our firms in Singapore to transform and do even better.
- Thank you very much and I look forward to the dialogue with you. Thank you.