Monday, 26 September 2011

Singapore’s ‘one million a decade’ population growth rate

In reality, the MRT's service quality has not declined. Trains still run regularly. Breakdowns or delays are rare. It is simply that MRT trains have become extremely crowded. During peak hours, it is not unusual for commuters to wait for the third or fourth train before boarding.
Deterioration, in other words, is a euphemism for crowded. 
Job creation Japan style: SMRT 'carriage management agents'

Singapore's MRT trains do not operate in a vacuum. Crowded trains reflect the increasing numbers of people inhabiting this small island of 687 square kilometres, slightly more than 3.5 times the size of Washington D.C.
Washington, D.C. has a 'weekday' population of over one million and a resident population of approximately 600,000. Singapore's total population is 5.1 million.
The five years from 2005 to 2010 saw Singapore's population grow by 800,000 inhabitants, from 4.3 million to 5.1 million. The country's population has increased by almost exactly one million persons in each of the last two decades. Government statistics show a population of 3.0 million, 4.0 million and 5.1 million in 1990, 2000 and 2010 respectively.
In other words, the number of people living on the island has increased by almost 70 percent since 1990. (I am pretty sure my math is correct!)
The impact of population on Singapore's trains is noticeable. During 2003, the MRT's monthly ridership was 32.4 million. In 2011, the MRT's average monthly ridership is 52.3 million (data for January – August 2011), an increase of just over 60 percent.
Surely, Singapore's train network also expanded during the last few years. Many Circle Line stations opened in May 2009 and some extensions to other lines were implemented. Hence, the comparison of average monthly train travellers is not 'like for like.' However, MRT trains are visibly crowded.
The numbers do not lie, ask any commuter.
Unfortunately, train travellers should not expect any respite in the next decade. Notwithstanding Minister's 'experiencing' MRT travel first hand there is little planned which will make a dramatic difference to overcrowding in the short term.
Longer term, the Downtown, Thomson and Eastern Region lines will open between 2017 and 2020. Signal improvements over the next eight years will allow trains to run at intervals of below 100 seconds versus the current 120 seconds. In due course, these 'systemic' enhancements should have a positive impact on train travel.
Like the rest of Singapore's infrastructure, the country's MRT system is feeling the effects of dramatic population growth during the last few decades. Sadly, train travellers cannot expect the quality of subway journeys to improve dramatically anytime soon – if ever.
Perhaps the real issue at hand is not the government's immigration policies but the perceived benefits of a trade-off between economic growth and quality of life.
Imran is a business and management consultant. Through his work at Deodar Advisors, Imran improves the profitability of small and medium sized businesses. He can be reached at 

Monday, 19 September 2011

New Ottomans, Persian Iran and diminishing American influence

In the sixteenth century the Mediterranean Sea was an Ottoman lake. From their capital Istanbul, the Ottomans held sway over lands including Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Syria. Perhaps as a result of Ottoman suzerainty of Arab lands, Arabs have traditionally not held sympathetic views about Turks.
Like most modern Turks, the Ottomans identified themselves as a European power with a constant desire to modernize in the footsteps of industrializing Western Europe. However, controlling Islam's Holy cities of Mecca, Medina and other vast areas of the Arab world granted Ottoman's political legitimacy as Defenders of the Faith.
A map of the Ottoman Empire during various periods (source: Wikipedia)
The Ottoman Empire may no longer exist but Turkish influence in the region is seeing a renaissance of sorts. Turkey's renewed regional role is predicated on a confluence of events. It is a reminder of days former Ottoman governorates took orders from Istanbul's Topkapi Palace before making key policy decisions.
After decades of watching non-Muslim Eastern European nations waltz into Brussels, the Turks finally decided European Union (EU) need not be the raison d'etre of Turkish foreign policy. To Turks, the EU looks more and more like an exclusive Christian Club with which Muslims are only permitted 'association agreements.'
The Turkish political elite have finally tired of being humiliated by Brussels.
Consequently, as the snubs by Europe became more frequent, Turkey adopted a less 'western-centric' foreign policy. One facet of Turkey's new approach is greater economic and diplomatic ties with the Arab world.
The Arabs, fearing greater Irani encroachment into the Sunni Islamic world, grudgingly reciprocated Turkey's outreach. The fear of Iran feeds into Arab acceptance of Turkey in more ways. When the US invasion of Iraq unwittingly opened the door for aggressive Iranian influence, Sunni Arab nations calculate that Turkey can act as a possible counterweight to Iran.
Arab nations have other reasons to be fearful of a power vacuum in the region. US credibility has suffered with its inability to score an outright win in Iraq or Afghanistan even after ten years of fighting. Moreover, traditional Arab monarchies were aghast with the ease with which the Americans dropped long time ally and client, Egypt's Hosni Mubarak. The more vulnerable monarchies have decided that reliance on US support for survival is dangerous. America cannot be trusted.
Turkey's increasing economic power plays a vital part in Turkey's revival of fortunes. Based on 2010 data, the Turkish economy is the seventeenth largest in the world. That puts Turkey ahead of nations like Australia, Switzerland and long time rival Greece. 
The Ottoman Navy fleet during its eight month 'wintering' in the French port of Toulon in 1543
Turkish private sector corporations have demonstrated tremendous capacity to expand overseas in support of Turkish diplomacy. Large Turkish companies, having sewn up markets in recently independent Central Asian and Caucasus states, have moved aggressively into Arab countries to undertake a variety of projects.
Money has a way of increasing influence and Turkey has been pumping Liras into its neighbourhood.
Politics is not a zero sum game but Turkey's shift towards the Islamic world has not gone unnoticed with erstwhile ally, Israel. A Turkey more confident of its leadership role within the Islamic world has taken a harder line against Israel's Palestine policies.
Turkey's rise to prominence amongst the Arab nations has not occurred overnight. Al-Qaeeda's 9/11 attacks set off a series of global political realignments, many of which are still in motion. Introspection and a reassessment of political Islam are occurring across the Islamic world. Turkey is no exception. The NATO member's historical post World War II tilt towards the west is being recalibrated in line with new realities.
Imran is a business and management consultant. Through his work at Deodar Advisors, Imran improves the profitability of small and medium sized businesses. He can be reached at  

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Is Singapore’s Administration of Muslim Law Act immune from debate?

Since my return to Singapore in 2009, the Straits Times has published many of my letters. Subjects have included Temasek Holding, Singapore Post, the Singapore Law Society and SMRT amongst others.
However, try as hard as I might, the Straits Times refuses to publish any of my opinions on Singapore's Administration of Muslim Law Act. I have sent many letters on the subject to the Straits Times.

Islamic law being implemented in the Indonesian province of Banda Aceh
My experience certainly gives me the impression that public discourse, constructive or not, remains controlled. An opinion given greater credence by  allegations contained in a document recently revealed by Wikileaks on Singapore's Straits Times newspaper.
It's fine to speak about common space and freedom of action –unless one is a Singaporean Muslim. In which case, she is denied many rights which are freely available to non-Muslim Singaporeans. Surely, discussion about Singapore's sharia and its implications for 'Common Space' cannot be beyond Singapore's self imposed 'out of bonds' markers?
Below is the text of a letter sent to the Straits Times on September 4, 2011. It represents my latest attempt at initiating a debate on Singapore's Administration of Muslim Law Act.

The Straits Times,

September 4, 2011
To the Editor:
It was heartening to read the Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports Chan Chun Sing's recent statements about efforts to increase Singapore's common space.
I hope these efforts will include a review of Singapore's Sharia legal system. The imposition of Sharia upon Singaporean Muslims creates a legal barrier between Muslims and Singapore's other races. Additionally, sharia law has the potential to create rifts between Malay and non-Malay Muslims.
Legislation applicable to citizens only on the basis of religion has little place in a modern republic such as Singapore. It is high time the government initiate efforts to make all Singaporeans, irrespective of race and religion, subject to a unified legal code.
Imran Ahmed

For more articles on the subject please see:


Imran is a business and management consultant. Through his work at Deodar Advisors, Imran improves the profitability of small and medium sized businesses. He can be reached at

Monday, 5 September 2011

Singapore’s ‘Arabian Spring’ and its new political landscape

A gust of the Arabian Spring breeze blew straight across West Asia and found itself on the shores of East Asia's Little Red Dot. Arab discontent had few release valves, ultimately forcing citizens onto the streets. Fortunately, Singaporeans have the chance to use a less disruptive method: elections.
Surprising many observers, Singapore's democracy demonstrated vibrancy not anticipated even a few years ago. Complacency and apathy have given way to mild forms of activism, first during the 2011 general elections and subsequently during the presidential polls.  
Although Singapore's ruling People's Action Party (PAP) won both contests, shifting voting patterns indicate that the traditional patriarchal relationship between the PAP and Singapore citizens is dying.

Both main candidates in the recent Presidential Elections were former PAP members.

Singaporeans appreciate the economic advances engineered by the PAP during its four decades rule but those advances are history – voters are looking to the future. Today's voter asks, 'What have you done for me lately?'
Singapore's changing political landscape lends itself to a few observations.
The 'Fear Factor' (or is it a 'Guilt Factor?') associated with voting for a non-PAP candidate has disappeared. Earlier, individuals, rightly or wrongly, believed that voting for non-PAP candidates might have real consequences.
The argument went that the PAP can identify persons who vote for the opposition voters and might 'punish' them for doing so. Perhaps tax documents would come under intense scrutiny, private companies would lose government business or expired professional licenses may be more difficult to renew. This perceived fear partly explains the large quantum of 'spoilt' votes at each general election – spoilt votes are effectively votes against the PAP.
Singapore's New Media is a powerful agent of change. Surely, the mainstream media is far from irrelevant. Nonetheless, the traditional media's credibility as an independent source of news has suffered with the proliferation of New Media. Recent revelations by Wikileaks will certainly not help the traditional print media's reputation.
Singaporeans' appetite for a truly independent media has risen exponentially in the last few years. A non-state controlled newspaper may yet be years away but it is a discussion very much in the making.
In the coming years, the grey areas where the Singapore state and the ruling PAP overlap will come under increased scrutiny. The recent controversy about the use of HDB public areas and the People's Association is likely the beginning of many more such debates. The complex, often incestuous, relationships between various organs of state and government will change as political consciousness increases with time.
It is likely that voters will continue to demand greater transparency surrounding financial entities such as Temasek and GIC. A system to distribute a portion of Temasek and GIC's long term investment gains, 'Temasek Bonus Shares,' may be the logical result of greater transparency.
Singaporeans must be encouraged by the beginnings of genuine national debate about the republic's future. Recent political changes may be subtle but they are significant. Singaporeans, the PAP and the opposition alike, have a responsibility to build upon the foundations of the last four decades. Incremental change which builds upon past successes will be more sustainable than radical, ad-hoc change.   
Imran is a business and management consultant. Through his work at Deodar Advisors, Imran improves the profitability of small and medium sized businesses. He can be reached at