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Can Gwadar be developed on Singaporean Model?

BY Adnan Ahmed

Prime Minister Imran Khan in a recent statement said that Gwadar will become a focal point of growth in Pakistan. The premier, speaking at a groundbreaking ceremony for several development projects in Gwadar, bemoaned the fact that Pakistan is on its way to become a great country, and that growth in Balochistan is related to Pakistan’s development.

He said that the Gwadar International Airport would boost regional trade and boost the province’s economy. The prime minister stated that initiatives relating to energy and water supply will promote Gwadar’s development and that the pact would help the city grow.

Indeed, for long it has been incessantly promulgated in the news that Gwadar is being developed as a ‘smart port city’ by the incumbent provincial and federal governments.

Also, Gwadar Development Authority (GDA) Director previously told a gathering at the Association of Builders and Developers of Pakistan (ABADP) that Gwadar would emerge as a smart port city, much like Singapore; as the Gwadar Master Plan is being prepared for the next 50 years and the city would achieve a per capita income of $15,000 by 2050.

Apart from that, as the Gwadar Port is now open for transit trade; and much prevailing perception in this regard is that Gwadar’s main competitors will be Singapore and Dubai ports.

However, proclaiming is easy; making a reality is a bit different phenomenon! So, the questions which tax the power of the wisest are: can Gwadar really be developed on Singaporean Model, or would it just be a midsummer madness, and a much-preconceived dream of establishing Gwadar vis-à-vis the Singaporean success model would remain an ever-lasting dream? How Singapore became a prosperous state and how did Singapore transform into a world-class city-state? And is the progress of Singapore relevant to that of Gwadar by any means?

A glance at the history of Singapore divulges that it was a small village where fishers used to roam. For centuries, this tiny, impoverished island has been colonized, occupied, and abused. When it gained independence in 1965, few expected Singapore to survive. As it was an island without its hinterland, a heart without a body. Its citizen lacked formal education, unemployment was high and there was a housing shortage due to the influx of foreign immigrants. The city-state imported all its food, energy, and fresh water and the surrounding region was embroiled in ethnic conflict, nationalist fervor, and communist insurgencies.

Singapore leaders- especially Lee kuan Yew and the People’s Action Party understood that, without any resources to depend on, firstly the country had to look outwards and position itself as a global brand where foreign investors can set up businesses. Hence, to attract foreign capital, the business environment must be stable. And to achieve stability, the standard of living for the country’s citizens had to be raised. Secondly, for peace to thrive, Singapore had to create societal conditions, in which the rule of law would prevail. Corruption had been eliminated, and crimes had to be decimated via severe and harsh punishments.

So, in the first five years of its existence, Singapore invested heavily in public housing and health care. Most citizens were forced to be relocated from the slums to newly built 10-story flats equipped with modern sanitation, electricity, and water supply. The government’s economic strategy at the time was to move Singapore from a third-league, labor-intensive economy to a second-league, capital, and skill-intensive country. To do so, citizens had to be educated. The government made education compulsory and adopted English as the language of instruction. With an educated, skilled, and bilingual workforce, governed by a just and meritocratic system, Singapore had created an environment where businesses want to be.

By the 1990s, less than two decades since independence, Singapore was drawing world-class manpower, building state-of-the-art infrastructure, and had excellent air and sea linkages. As more citizens became skilled, the unemployment rate fell to just 3 percent. Singapore’s highly educated society also prompted the government to shift its economic focus from the trading of commodities to creating higher-technology industries. Just 55 years since independence, Singapore went from a third-world impoverished nation to become a first-world model city-state known for its cleanliness efficiency, and safety.

Quite astonishingly, Singapore is the only country to date to gain independence unwillingly; as on August 9, 1965, Singapore was expelled from Malaysia; and it is so small that one can drive end to end in under an hour. But today Singapore is not the Monaco of the East as previously known; it is now the world’s Data Nerve center. Singapore is genuinely a smart city. For city management and efficient civic and public services delivery, Singapore launched its smart action program in 2014 and add more cameras so the Government can efficiently monitor crowd density, cleanliness of public spaces, and even the exact movement of every locally registered vehicle via the established IT Artificial Intelligent networks. Much of the data it collects is fed into an online platform called “Virtual Singapore” that gives the government access to how the city is functioning in real-time. It helps the government predict how the crowd may react to exploitation in a shopping mall or how infectious diseases might spread.

It has infused technology into just about every aspect of the city’s operation; in public transport, IT connectivity, Water and Power supply, sanitation, solid waste management, urban mobility, e-governance, citizen participation and it does from every technology (Internet of Things). For instance, in Singapore, the city-state makes extensive efforts to collect data on daily living; the government now deploying systems that can tell when people were smoking in prohibited zones.

As of 2020, Singapore is ranked the most competitive economy; its airport is ranked the world’s best. As per the Bloomberg Innovation Index, it has the world’s best education system and is one of the topmost innovative cities globally. The National University of Singapore is the best in Asia according to Times Higher Education rankings. According to IMD index of Smart Cities, Singapore is atop the list as the smartest city in the world. In Healthcare systems, Singapore is on number 2 according to the ranking of the Healthcare Efficiency Index by Bloomberg. Generally, Singapore’s rankings in almost any important indices remain at top 10 of the list not only in Asia but also in the world- be it ‘Human Development Index, ‘Social Progress Index’, ‘legatum Prosperity index’, ‘Henley Passport Index’, ‘Ease of Doing Business Index’, ‘Global Peace Index’ or any other.

For Pakistan in general and Balochistan in particular, indeed Singapore’s success model shines like a star in the galaxy of most prosperous regions of the world by which the provincial and federal governments can learn a lot. If the government of Pakistan and Balochistan like Singapore, just focus on human resources and with an excellent educational system create a skilled and bilingual workforce, govern the masses by a just and meritocratic system, combined with political will create an environment where especially high tech manufacturing businesses flourish and eco-system of startups and entrepreneurship prevail; indeed Gwadar is developed on Singaporean model.

Additionally, as Singapore with around 5 million population only and now no natural resources exports goods and services worth 330 billion dollars, why can’t Pakistan and Baluchistan which has millions of populations under 30 can follow the Singaporean model of success! And this can be achieved if the government utilizes this talent especially for the development of science and technology in Gwadar; there is no gainsaying the fact that Gwadar can be the competitor of Singapore port.

Finally, as the government of Balochistan claimed that the Gwadar Master Plan is being prepared for the next 50 years based on a Smart City concept; Singapore is a testament to us that with no natural resources, the country leaped from the third world to first in just 50 years. Balochistan and Gwadar are facing quite similar issues which a tiny fisher’s village was facing around 50 years ago. Singaporean success model indeed has established that governing a nation is premised on three outcomes: the effectiveness of the establishment; the sustainability of the economy; and the well-being of its citizens. If there is an imbalance, the system will falter.

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