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Speech by Mr Lawrence Wong, Minister for National Development and Second Minister for Finance, at Asia Competitiveness Institute (ACI) Annual Conference on "Infrastructure Development for Economic Competitiveness" at Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel

23 Nov 2017

Excellencies and Distinguished Guests

Ladies and Gentleman


  1. I am very happy to join you this evening for this ACI conference on infrastructure development and I understand we have several guest who are from overseas, including a delegation from Indonesia. Let me take this opportunity to welcome all of you to Singapore.


  1. We all know that infrastructure is a key pillar for sustainable economic growth. It can attract more investments; It can help create good jobs; and it can provide a quality living environment for people.


  1. But at the same time, our approach to infrastructure development cannot be just about having more of the same. We should not be building for the sake of building. So it is vital that we get infrastructure right, and I think that includes developing infrastructure that is Sustainable, Inclusive, and Innovative.


Sustainable Infrastructure

  1. First is the topic of sustainable infrastructure. How can we have more sustainable infrastructure?


  1. The most obvious area for sustainability is in power generation where we would like to:
  • reduce coal and other carbon-intensive ways of power generation
  • if there is a need for fossil fuels, use natural gas which is the least carbon intensive of fossil fuels.
  • but beyond just fossil fuels, there is really a need to push for more renewable energy


  1. This was difficult to do so in the past because the cost of renewables was more expensive than fossil fuels. But things have dramatically changed in recent years and the cost of renewable energy has come down sharply.


  1. We feel and experience this in Singapore directly because we have been calling tenders for the deployment of solar panels on rooftops. When we first started calling the tenders, we had to pay money for people to put in place solar panels. These days when we call tenders, we do not have to pay a single cent because the solar panel operators can recover money from selling electricity into the grid, and that pays for the solar panels. So it is already great parity and it is cost effective.


  1. Of course, sustainability in power has to go beyond power and utilities; because it also applies to many other areas of infrastructure. It applies in buildings which are a major source of carbon emissions. So we need to push for green buildings. It applies in transport, where we need to push for cleaner vehicles.


9. There are also potential synergies across different fields and different sectors. So we do not have to necessarily look at it from a silo perspective but we have to look at integrated solutions. A good example is the way we do air conditioning in buildings. In Singapore there is high demand. Every building you go, lots of air condition usage. Even in our public housing, in our private condominiums, air condition is being used in almost every housing unit. So we see all these individual aircon compressors. They make the rooms very cool but they are emitting waste heat outside in the environment. And that is one reason why surface temperatures in Singapore are heating up.


  1. So we have been putting in place solutions like district cooling; even underground district cooling where cooling is done across a whole network of buildings. There is no longer a need for individual aircon compressors. And the waste heat, or the heat that is generated from district cooling, can even be channelled into productive use - for industrial activities nearby, for example. So you are operating as a closed system.


  1. Another good example is how we are now building a Water Treatment Plant and the Integrated Waste Management Facility co-located side by side. So the waste incinerator will generate electricity, it will reduce our dependence on landfills. The electricity generated from the waste facility will be used to power our water treatment plant. The water will then be piped back to the Waste treatment plan for cooling purposes. Again, an integrated solution that will reduce resource intensity, and will achieve more sustainable results.


  1. So these are examples where even as we think about new infrastructure, there is tremendous work to design and make it more sustainable.


Inclusive Infrastructure

  1. The second priority is to make infrastructure more inclusive.Because we want infrastructure that is accessible by everyone, and is built to serve people’s needs. And this especially applies to urban infrastructure. It is an important priority for all of us especially given the stresses and fault lines that threaten to divide societies.


  1. We don’t want people to feel that a particular new infrastructure or a part of the city is beyond their reach or is catered only to the wealthy or to a particular group. So in designing infrastructure, inclusiveness must be an important priority and it must be built to serve a broader public purpose, and to serve the real needs of people.


  1. That is something that we have been very careful about, even when we went about developing our city in Singapore. From the very start, we wanted to make Singapore a Garden City. Our founding Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew felt that this was not just a good to have, it was more than just a slogan. But it was about equal and public access to green and public spaces. It was nothing less than a matter of social equity.


  1. As he puts it, “this is a priority that was very high up on my list…it’s [about] a sense of equalness in society…Today, whether you are in a flat, executive condominium or landed property, it’s clean…you are not excluded from the public spaces for everybody.”


  1. That speaks with an ethos of inclusiveness when we design and build infrastructure, and you see that today in the way that we design our city. It is reflected in our public housing scheme where we build public homes for the mass majority of Singaporeans and we ensure that this are affordable and quality homes for them. It is reflected in the way we do long term master planning for our city and our housing estates so that wherever you live, you are close to community and recreational spaces, including parks, water bodies and sports facilities. There is convenient access to public transport and convenient access to social facilities be it childcare, schools, hospitals or even elder care. And master planning, public housing, all these are important parts of building inclusive infrastructure that will make it accessible by everyone.


Innovative Infrastructure

  1. Thirdly, we should try to make infrastructure innovative by leveraging on technology. There is tremendous scope to do this as technology is advancing rapidly with digitalisation, with data analytics, with new ways of building. So there is tremendous scope to not build the same thing in the same way but push the frontiers and do something different. And that is part of our process each time we think about investing in new infrastructure.   


  1. So the waste and water treatment plant I mentioned earlier is a good example. We could have just done a normal waste incinerator and a normal water treatment plant. But we looked at ways we can synergise, integrate and achieve greater resource efficiency.


  1. Another example is the new Changi Airport Terminal 4 that was just opened recently. We are very proud of this terminal because it is a truly seamless automated terminal. Start-to-end, there is “self-service system”. You can check-in, deposit baggage and clear immigration, all with automated systems. Highly productive and very convenient to use. And our friend for AirAsia, Mr Fernandes, which was on record said that this is one of the best airports in the world. It is very rare that he gives a compliment on airports but he knows and he has seen it. So AirAsia is there, and Cathay Pacific are some of the airlines that are using terminal 4 now.


  1. In fact, in Singapore, besides these projects, we have a major pipeline of projects that are being built. We are looking at expanding our air and sea ports. We are looking at planning Changi Terminal 5. We are planning a new mega port in Tuas. We are building a high speed rail, linking Singapore and KL, and that will be at the heart of the new CBD in Jurong called Jurong Lake District.  And we are building other regional centres around Singapore, in the North - in Woodlands; and in the Northeast - in Punggol.  So these are all opportunities for us to experiment, to innovate and push for new frontiers for infrastructure.


  1. Innovative infrastructure can also reinforce the other themes that we talked about earlier. Innovative infrastructure can enhance the inclusiveness of infrastructure too. For example, you talked about digital innovations in finance. I think there is tremendous scope, not just for innovation, but to make financial infrastructure more inclusive.


  1. Today, nearly 30% of adults in developing Asia have a bank account. But many have smart-phones and internet connection. So Fintech, perhaps can help them access cheaper and more efficient banking services. So that’s one example where innovation can achieve new breakthroughs and can also make things more inclusive.


  1. Another good example is remittance. Asia has experienced the fastest growth in remittance over the past decade in the world. We receive 55% of all global remittance inflows today. And that’s because of the workers that around Asia, and they move from country to country and there is a significant remittance flow that is generated from their work.


  1. The average remittance fees for them today, are more than 7 percent in South-East Asia. For every dollar that you remit, you have to pay 7 cents for remittance. These are hard-earned money that they worked for and that 7 percent eats into their savings. So if we can through Fintech, through innovations in financial infrastructure bring this down such a remittance fee, I think it will help tremendously. We should be aiming, for example, to cut remittance fees by half, to below 3%. If we can do that, it will save billions of dollars every year and it will help these workers remit more money and save more of their income.


  1. So I think innovation is not just for innovation sake. Innovation can help enhance productivity, can help make infrastructure more sustainable and it can help make infrastructure more inclusive as well. These are the other themes that I highlighted just now.


  1. So overall, we all recognised that Asia’s infrastructure needs are huge. And all of you would have heard statistics about how going forward, ASEAN need $200 billion dollars’ worth of investment every year till 2030. And that is why, from Singapore’s perspective, we fully support initiatives like the Belt & Road to help accelerate infrastructure development in the region.


  1. This is the key message I want to leave you with. It is crucial also to get infrastructure right. We should not be building for the sake of building. We should not be going for bigger all the time. If there is a need to expand, of course we should expand, but it is not just about “more is necessarily better.”


  1. We also have to make sure that the infrastructure that we put in place going forward is sustainable, inclusive and innovative. And I believe that is the best way to achieve outcomes that we would like to see which is sustainable economic growth as well as environmental and social harmony.


  1. Thank you.