Sunday 19th August, 2007


Singapore... Tourism with a difference

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We entered the land of the Merlion, Singapore, via a drive-up immigration facility on the Malaysia border. Complete with smart card machines and X-ray scanner booths, the officers were a lesson in expert customer service—you simply drove up to the booth on a green light and presented your documents while sitting in your car.

The Merlion stands tall over its country, with its lion’s head and fish body. It was commissioned for tourism in the 60s campaign that began to promote Singapore as a destination.

Sentosa is the premium destination of the rich. It is wholly resort: five-star hotels, fancy food and a free island shuttle bus. A cable car can take you back to mainland Singapore, and some two million tourists take that ride every year.

Our tour guide spoke to us of a population density of some 6,400 persons per square kilometre, and a total land area of 683 square kilometres. Ninety per cent of Singaporeans live in public housing. The Tampines (pronounced Tam pe nees) in east Singapore is a classic suburban housing development that was acclaimed by the UN in its World Habitat Award for excellent housing design.

Economic facts

Known as one of the Commonwealth’s Tiger economies, this tiny east Asian country has emerged as a regional services hub for Asia, on the cutting-edge of transport, banking, communications and information technology. GDP growth rate ranged from 8.7 per cent in 2004 to 6.9 per cent in 2006, with inflation in check at 1.8 per cent in 2006.

Its manufacturing sector recorded output growth of 14 per cent in 2006. In transport engineering, it grew 46 per cent, and the marine and offshore engineering sector grew 60 per cent in the same year. Their biomedical industry also grew by 21 per cent. On top of that, our tour guide was more than pleased to emphasise that Singapore commands 25 per cent of the world market as an exporter of ornamental fish.

In addition, they command a major share of the world’s market in oil refining and distribution, apart from boasting to be the busiest port in the world with over 600 shipping lines.

On the other side of the coin, there are harsh critics of the Central Provident Fund (CPF), the national pension fund for all citizens, especially since there are no private pension plans. Employees contribute 20 per cent of income to the CPF, and employers contribute 12.5 per cent. However, retirees still do not get enough to live on, and are forced to sell off their homes and purchase smaller housing units.

At the same time, the average working citizen is happy for the government built housing flats, and the opportunity to own and occupy such units, as well as the health care facilities. But the problem of an ageing populations, and low returns on pension savings is a forcing a rethink of the whole system.

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