Reflections on the Singapore National Day Rally 2017

The Singapore National Day Rally 2017 took place on the 20th of August 2017. The full video of the rally can be viewed here. However, the salient points of the rally are depicted in the image (copyright: Reza Ali) below. (For a PDF version of the image, please download it here: NDR2017)

My personal reflections on the rally can be found below the image.

NDR2017

Reflections

The emphasis on childhood education and development is an important one. As the Prime Minister noted, this helps ensure greater social mobility over time.

In my earlier article on income inequality, I wrote the following:

Governments and policy makers should also consider more directed interventions to enhance the social conditions of lower income families. For instance, in the UK, the Child Benefit offers a weekly allowance to parents for every child they raise. The transfer could be better targeted by making the income taxable as personal income, which will reduce the size of the benefit for those in higher tax brackets or who do not have face any other mitigating circumstances. In the UK, child poverty has dropped sharply whilst in the USA; it has risen by a third between 1969 and 2013. A child-benefit programme will help make a major dent in child poverty and also represent a powerful investment in the future. Introducing a child-benefit program in the US will make a major dent in child poverty and represent a powerful investment into the future.

The focus towards building greater support and increased investment towards the KidStart programme  – which ensures lower income families are supported in their children’s education and development – will have a huge impact on the recipient families. It will support greater social mobility and enhanced potential for economic empowerment.

The support being provided to expectant mothers even before the children are born is also similar to the Finnish system – and one which I admire deeply. Parents of new-born babies are given books to read to their children so as to inculcate greater reading, social and cognitive development amongst their newborns.

The second pillar of the National Day Rally was on healthcare, and particularly diabetes, is an interesting one. The Prime Minister’s emphasis on a good quality of life, rather than a long life is an important one. Whilst potential solutions, including the imposition of a sugar tax or better consumer awareness of high-sugar food are being reviewed for efficacy, the government needs to provide a clearer framework as to how the war on sugar and diabetes will be fought.

The final area of consideration at the Rally was that of a ‘Smart Nation,’ or the development of an integrated approach to information technology, employability and productivity in light of massive developments in the areas of big data, the Internet of Things (IoT) and blockchain technology.

The Prime Minister spoke of a need to further enhance areas such as mobile payment – but beyond merely the technological enablers, there needs to be a greater consideration in terms of educating and socialising to people the benefits of such solutions and also help convince them that this is indeed the way to go by also clearing up some of the pain-points and fears around online security and their own protection.

The Prime Minister spoke of how technological innovations are driving areas of retail, logistics and security. However, the examples he chose also demonstrated how employability is going to be impacted – with less people able to do more. The Prime Minister spoke of how new areas of employability such as big data analytics will be created but urgent measures are still required to support the employment dislocation that is inevitable as companies use greater technology with less manpower. Whilst programmes such as SkillsFuture will go some way towards alleviating the challenges, there needs to be further measures to support individuals who are further down the education spectrum who need more help and assistance.

The close of the Rally with a fantastic story of three generations of the same family achieving social mobility through education was inspiring and inspired! It carefully encapsulated the central theme of the rally around how education allowed for the son of a gardener to become a rail engineer and how his son, through the investments being made in the areas of technology, has all the opportunities to succeed.

Ultimately, the National Day Rally was one in which the government’s duty to its people and building of the nation’s future was clearly demonstrated. The challenges are many, but not insurmountable.

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Nepal – reflections on opportunities

Image

Having just returned from Kathmandu, I realise that it is one of the few places in the world where there is a direct inverse correlation between the temperature of the environment and the warmth of the people. The colder it gets, the warmer the people!

The purpose of this is to share some personal thoughts on how Nepal could further develop its economy and deliver on its vast potential. It is not intended to give an economic analysis of Nepal’s development, but for robust information in that area, the following link will be a good place to start: http://www.adb.org/countries/nepal/economy  

Specific areas for development

  • Improvements in airport infrastructure and management (in brief: outsource to external private contractors)

The airport management system at Nepal currently is not optimal nor ideal to support increased volumes of tourist arrivals. The immigration queues are normally snaking through the entry doors and it takes an excessively long time for individuals to clear the airport customs. Airports tend to provide the first view to a new tourist and shape one’s own perceptions of a country. First impressions tend to be lasting ones.

Airport infrastructure improvements are extremely financially incentive affairs and governments often find it difficult to raise necessary capital and finances to support the required improvements. However, one possibility the Nepal government can consider is to outsource the management of the airport, immigration and customs duties to an independent private company and impose on them strict Service Level Agreements (SLAs).  This is widely practiced in countries such as Singapore where SATS (Singapore Airport Terminal Systems) Pte Ltd is the private contractor who manages the Changi Airports. This has led to better efficiencies and also improved the customer/passenger experience.

An improved airport management system will certainly encourage repeat tourists and business visitors owing to the ease of travel and entry/exit into Nepal. It also will lead to better clarity on immigration and customs procedures and systems (something that is not clearly available at the moment).

  • External tourist agency for Nepal in select countries (in brief: Nepal as a centre for tourism. Regional/international tourism centres established by  the Nepal government. Tie-ups with regional airlines serving Nepal airport. Consider new potential markets like the Middle East and South America aside from traditional visitor markets in South Asia, Europe, Australia and South East Asia). 

Nepal should also consider establishing tourism centres in a number of targeted countries to encourage tourist arrival numbers. The impact of a tourism centre in increasing the number of a visitors from a particular country cannot be underestimated.

This will require a significant investment on Nepal’s part, but with the increased tourism dollars as a result of these investments, we can be reasonably certain that there will be a significant returns on investment (with a relatively short payback period).

Nepal should also consider working with airlines serving Nepal (particularly regional ones like Silkair, Thai Airways and Qatar Airways) to promote Nepal as a centre for tourism destination and to set up joint country promotions. This will have an impact in increasing passenger volume for both the airlines and also Nepal.

In addition to the traditional markets of South Asia, South East Asia, Europe and Australia, Nepal should also perhaps consider new markets like the Middle East (where Nepal can be an attractive and relatively nearby destination during their sweltering, hot summer seasons) , South America (where the allure of the mountains of Nepal can prove to be an intoxicating difference) and Africa (particular the rising middle-class in Africa who seek to explore new places aside from the traditional European/American destinations).

  • Burgeoning MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, exhibitions) potential for Nepal (in brief: Nepal could be a choice location conferences, regional corporate meetings, exhibitions, staff retreats etc for most Asian countries)

Nepal’s geographical proximity to a wide number of countries (from Europe to Asia) and her natural advantages (beauty of surroundings, weather) and relative low costs could result in Nepal being a primary MICE location. Plenty of large corporate companies could host their regional meetings, staff retreats and conferences and exhibitions in Nepal.

Obviously this will necessitate investment in other areas including infrastructure (roads, stable electricity, etc), facilities (meeting halls, sufficient business grade hotels, etc) and training of local staff to accommodate the needs that come along with MICE.

  • Nepal as the medical destination of choice (in brief: Nepal could be a key medical hub for Asia and Europe and has natural advantages which can facilitate this development including great weather, relative low-cost and a generally spiritual environment conducive for healing)

Nepal has plenty of natural advantages that could potentially establish it as a key medical hub for medical visitors from Europe, the Middle East and Asia. There are already plenty of regional students pursuing their medical degrees (MBBS) in Nepal. If investment is made by a private medical health group and encourage some key physicians and medical experts to be based in Nepal at different times in the year, there is a real possibility of Nepal becoming a choice destination for individuals seeking medical treatment. Currently, Asian and European individuals go to Singapore, Thailand, India and Cuba (which has an excellent medical system). Nepal could also join the ranks of these nations.

Furthermore, Nepal also has a calming and enriching spiritual environment which is critical for healing. Emotional fulfillment is critical to physical recuperation.

  • Promotion of Nepal as an ecotourism destination and perfect location for movie/film shoots. 

Nepal has significant potential to be a key ecotourism hub. Nepal needs to ensure that in the wake of various industrial developments (particularly in the energy sector) that it does not neglect her own environmental obligations and protection of its rich biodiversity.

Nepal’s scenery and settings could also be a prime film shooting location for Bollywood and even Hollywood films!

The above are some suggested developmental opportunities for Nepal. A nation that has gone through significant changes in a relatively short span of time. However, it is a nation that has kept its heart and where people remain fundamentally passionate about the causes that matter the most for them and their loved ones. If this passion is retained, then I am in no doubt that the good times will be back soon!