Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Goodbye, Ricky Wong. Singapore Will Miss You

In latest developments regarding Singapore's NGNBN, City Telecom, formerly the consortium lead of Infinity consortium, has pulled out of the race for NetCo, reports Reuters:
StarHub leads group in S'pore broadband network bid
Wed Aug 20, 2008 1:13am EDT

SINGAPORE, Aug 20 (Reuters) - StarHub Ltd, Singapore's No. 2 telecoms firm, will lead the consortium bidding to build the city-state's next-generation broadband network, consortium member MobileOne said on Wednesday. StarHub replaces Hong Kong's City Telecom (CTI) who has dropped out.

Qatar Investment Authority, the Middle Eastern state's investment vehicle, has also joined the consortium, the statement said. (Reporting by Jennifer Tan; Edited by Saeed Azhar)

© Thomson Reuters 2008.
The silence of City Telecom on why this happened will certainly leave interested observers puzzled and curious as to the cause of this recent events. This is especially so considering the tremendous enthusiasm displayed by Ricky Wong, CEO of City Telecom and de facto leader of Infinity, for Singapore's NGNBN.

Ricky's interview with the Business Times demonstrated that he was a man with a dream – to ensure that in five years there would be fibre to most homes in Singapore. Ricky's vision was for Singapore, along with Hong Kong, to become a model for the rest of the world.
"The Americans and Europeans will come here to learn and follow us. We will become the technology leaders.”
This was a dream that would surely have benefited Singapore, and Mr Wong reckoned that tech-savvy people worldwide would then see that Singapore would be the best place to live, work and play – better than Silicon Valley, because it would have the best infrastructure. Unfortunately, for better or for worse, Ricky and his team are no longer in the running for the multi-billion dollar NGNBN project.

Can Infinity deliver without him? CTI's departure must have been due to significant developments in the NGNBN NetCo tender. Starhub and M1 are still around, but CTI's involvement was Infinity's trump card. CTI's unparalled experience with FTTH networks in Hong Kong is no longer part of Infinity's package. Now that the Hong Kongnese are no longer around, one wonders how much steam there is left in Infinity's bid.

Meanwhile, OpenNet's consortium members will surely be quietly smiling to themselves in the light of this new development. With CTI gone, there is no foreign technical expertise in the Infinity consortium, OpenNet will surely hold the edge with Axia's solid experience in operating open access fibre networks, along with mighty SingTel backing the group.

Yet, the tender process is not over, and we might see surprises again.

But for now, all I can say is, goodbye Ricky. Your vision for Singapore was an inspiring, compelling one. Those who knew your vision for the country will surely miss you.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Singapore's Quality of Life vs Sweden's

This has got to be one of the best written letters in the ST Forum on Singapore's quality of life and how it's not really as good as the Singapore government makes it out to be. I append it here for my future reference. Emphasis added by me.

For more information on this topic, see "Quality of Life is more than Material Wellbeing: GDP as an Incomplete Measure of Singapore's Development"
Swede quality of life

I REFER to Ms Heng Siew Cheng's letter, 'Why one couple is resettling in Sweden'', (July 17) and the replies by Singapore Senior Minister of State for Finance and Transport, Mrs Lim Hwee Hua (July 22), and 'Where else can you buy your home in 5 years?'' by Mr Peter Wadeley (July 24) My Singaporean wife moved to Sweden in 2001. She gave birth to our first child, a boy, last November. We are now on holiday, extending our first flush of joy of parenting in Singapore with my wife's family.

My wife, a teacher, is on a year's maternity leave. I am on paternity leave for 45 days here. When I return home, I shall still be on paternity leave for three more months. The generous duration of our parental leave is mandated by the state. Mr Wadeley implies that Singaporeans can buy a home in five years. I disagree. Last year, the median household income was $4,870. Even with grants, an average family cannot pay off a flat that quickly. It is also unachievable for Ms Heng and her Swedish husband, even if their collective income barely breaches the HDB's $8,000 bar.

Mrs Lim's comparison is incomplete. Nine in 10 Singaporeans merely lease their homes (HDB flats are typically 99-year leaseholds). Freehold ownership is higher in Sweden: Forty per cent live in landed property, 20 per cent in freehold condos and 40 per cent in rental flats. Swedish rental flats are akin to HDB flats. The main differences are that there is no downpayment, and the rental contract does not expire.

It is true, as Mrs Lim says, that Swedes spend 13 per cent of their income on housing. But for the money, half of us have our own garden - and precious time - to play with our children.

She suggests it is less expensive to raise children here. It is true that consumer goods are cheaper here and Singapore ranks third globally in per capita GDP (purchasing power adjusted) and Sweden 12th, according to the World Bank. But as more of Singapore's GDP comprises imports and exports, the statistic does not reveal the extent of benefit to its citizens.

The World Bank uses Household Final Consumption Expenditure (HFCE) as an affordability benchmark. Including goods and services provided by the government, it tells how much one has for useful spending, either directly or through tax. Sweden's HFCE per capita, in 2005 figures, is US$30,000, (S$42,000) double Singapore's US$14,000.

Ms Heng is concerned about raising children here. Having lived in both countries, I agree. The United Nations' Human Development Index, based on 350 indicators, tracks 'a long and healthy life, knowledge and a decent standard of living'. Sweden ranks sixth worldwide, while Singapore trails at 25th.

I am not advocating the adoption of Sweden's welfare system wholesale. But, if Singapore adopts a tiny part, giving parents flexibility and cheaper childcare, it probably means a tax hike of just a few per cent.

I would like to extend a warm welcome to Ms Heng to Sweden.

Jan Sundström