Singapore eyes skill-based knowledge transfer: Envoy

To strengthen Singaporean-Saudi ties through various commercial opportunities

October 13, 2017
Mahmoud Ahmad

Saudi Gazette

JEDDAH — Singapore wants to leverage its knowledge and development skills on young Saudis, by transferring practical skills, within the framework of the Saudi Vision 2030, said Singapore Ambassador Lawrence Anderson during a special one-on-one interview with Saudi Gazette here. There is great interest in the city-state to further boost bilateral relations thus strengthening Singapore-Saudi ties through various commercial opportunities that arise in line with Vision 2030 aspirations, he said, while lauding the growing commercial cooperation between the two nations.

The Ambassador was exclusively appreciative of the recent award of a contract to Changi Airport International (CAI), a subsidiary of Changi Airport Group, to manage King Abdul Aziz International Airport (KAIA). The new partnership between CAI and the General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) is being forged for the second time following the success of the King Fahd International Airport management and operation Project in Dammam from 2008.

Ambassador Anderson spoke during the occasion of the recent 52nd Singapore National Day celebrations in Jeddah, where he applauded CAI that personified Singapore manpower’s diligence and efficiency while elaborating on a wide spectrum of subjects that included cooperation in ports, transport and logistics, urban and industrial infrastructure development, environmental engineering, oil and gas, healthcare, education and other projects that could prove beneficial to both countries, in addition to seeking ways to support Saudization in accordance to Vision 2030.

CAI is operating in line with the Vision 2030, which plans to develop a sustainable aviation sector and a diverse workforce. It is in this area, where training will be a key feature, the group has shown its capability and will not only focus on preparing the team to get the new airport running, but build a talent pool of locals to support and lead the transition to a high-performance airport. Currently KAIA is still under operational expansion and is expected to be operational in mid-2018.

The Ambassador was of the view that it was the CAI’s superb fulfilment of its contractual obligations that led to it being considered again to get the new KAIA airport operational. He said, “Changi Airport International was contracted several years ago to help run Dammam Airport. They did a very good job, not only in running the airport, but building a good team of Saudis that ran the airport. You have to keep in mind that they came with a small team from Singapore.

“That fits very well with what the Kingdom is trying to do with its Saudization policy. They (CAI) did it in such a way that they involved many Saudis. This created jobs and skilled people who are capable of running and managing the airport. I think they did a very good job in that aspect also. Not only the running of the airport, but also working with Saudis. That is why I think they were awarded the contract to run King Abdul Aziz International airport, which is an impressive 20-year contract. I think it is a compliment with what CAI has done in Dammam.”

Speaking of KAIA being one of the busiest airports, with heavy traffic all year around because of Haj and Umrah season, and the challenges for the new company, he said, “I think KAIA is the jewel in the crown. It is not just a commercial airport, but it serves Haj and Umrah pilgrims all year around. The people in Changi Airport International, when I spoke to them, feel honored that they were chosen for this contract, not because of it being just a business contract, but because how important Saudi Arabia is as the custodian of the two holy mosques. It is a tremendous honor, but a great challenge, nevertheless, at the same time.”

Anderson said he was happy that Singapore companies have made a mark over a range of sectors. SATS became the first foreign cargo handler to be awarded a cargo handling license in Saudi Arabia in 2016. The Ascott Group has operated three properties in Jeddah since Sep 2015 and has recently opened a commercial property in Riyadh in April 2017. Hyflux is working on several desalination projects in the Kingdom. Wilmar International is involved in the development of the Durrah Sugar Refinery in Yanbu.

On shipping services and plans for increased participation in shipping activities in the Kingdom, Anderson said, “Our PSA is involved in building a container port in Dammam. PSA and other Singapore companies are looking around for fresh opportunities, particularly with the Kingdom’s far-sighted and ambitious plans to diversify the economy. Vision 2030 is a big challenge and Saudi Arabia has so much potential for development, for instance with normal ports and dry ports, like the one in Riyadh. With all the connectivity taking place, and the Kingdom being huge, there is so much potential. But the important thing is that people need to be aware of this. Our people are keen to find out more about this exciting phase Saudi Arabia is going through, and how they can be part of this great program.”

He said that Singapore is ready to leverage its knowledge and development skills to work with young Saudis, but added, “What’s most important is we want to know what Saudi Arabia has in mind. That gives us a better opportunity to understand what it is that we have that’s perhaps relevant to the Kingdom’s needs. That has always been the secret of our success. It is not like coming with a model and say one size fits all, because what has worked in Singapore, might not work elsewhere because of differing cultures and environment or the size and resources of our respective countries.

“The important thing is we have to understand where you are coming from. What do you want to achieve and what do you want to do? There we can see how best we can work with you to tailor a program, a package or a project that fits nicely with what Saudi Arabia wants. That is one of the key things we do. The other aspect is, Singapore is a small country. We do not have huge manpower. But what we do have is skills and knowledge which we can transfer to Saudis.

“So, the first order for us or our companies is to understand how things work and then, run with them. The Kingdom’s plan for Saudization has to be seen and understood. Then, we can assist and cooperate. Practical skills, not just academic knowledge that the young learn in the university. Relevant skills and the right attitude and mindsets, things that young people learn about in life and on-the-job are what we can bring to projects.”

When asked about the Saudi-Singapore business council and whether investment has increased, Anderson replied, “Over the last couple of years, there have been some changes in the business council in terms of restructuring and organization. Fortunately, that did not stop companies from Singapore from coming over to explore business opportunities. Our companies have always been welcome here. It is important that it continues. Business councils are useful in introducing business groups to each other. But the way business is done here, a lot of it is through family contacts and on personal level. It is very important to have greater interactions between Singapore and Saudi businesses, on both personal and professional levels. Even as more Singapore companies come to the Kingdom, we hope to see more Saudi businesses venture into Singapore. We at the Embassy and the Consulate are always ready to facilitate business and tourist flows both ways.”

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