The View From Asia

Building better cities for a better future

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam visiting GovTech Hive at the Sandcrawler in Fusionopolis, on Aug 3, 2017.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam visiting GovTech Hive at the Sandcrawler in Fusionopolis, on Aug 3, 2017.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Asia News Network commentators take up issues that could significantly improve their cities. Here are excerpts:

HK civil service academy

Tony Kwok

China Daily (Asia), Hong Kong

Looking back 30 years, Hong Kong was then the envy of Singapore. Now Singapore has surpassed Hong Kong in a number of key economic indexes - including container ports, aviation, innovative technology, high-tech manufacturing - and its gross domestic product per capita well exceeds that of Hong Kong - US$51,855 (S$70,756) against Hong Kong's US$36,173.

It therefore makes good sense for Chief Executive Carrie Lam to visit Singapore in her first official foreign trip in the role. One idea she has taken back to Hong Kong is her pledge to set up a civil service training academy, similar to Singapore's Civil Service College.

As expected, her suggestion was immediately met with negative feedback from opposition quarters. This included a retired senior civil servant who has been a harsh critic of the government ever since he was not reappointed as a policy secretary. He said the new academy could be a means to conduct national education for civil servants!

At present Hong Kong's civil service training is conducted by the Civil Service Training and Development Institute (CSTDI). Some of the courses provided by CSTDI are indeed about national studies and the Basic Law. The institute also organises a staff exchange programme with major Chinese mainland cities. Hence the criticism that the proposed civil service training academy is to pursue national education only reflects the critics' incomprehensible ignorance and anti-mainland mentality.

The Hong Kong civil service enjoys a well-deserved reputation for efficiency and incorruptibility.

It is not difficult for us to relate to the creation of the Civil Service College in Singapore. In its annual report in 2016-2017, the college said: "Since 2013, the college has provided training support to the Singapore Public Service in embarking on a transformation journey with the aim of building 'One Trusted Public Service with Citizens at the Centre'. The focus is to improve the delivery of services to citizens and to build trust, partner and build stronger connections with our citizens." Isn't this exactly what Hong Kong needs at present!

Taiwan should have a power plan

Alan Fong

The China Post, Taiwan

The mass blackout on Tuesday has got the island talking about nuclear power again. The public discourse over Taiwan's power policy seems to point to only two bad options: have nuclear power and face calamity down the road, or abandon it and suffer more power instability in the future.

The island seems to be frozen by the tough choices it faces. While the government has advocated a nuclear-free future, it has yet to take concrete steps towards it. Case in point: no action has been taken on the future of Nuclear Power Plant No. 4, the technically unfinished plant that has been suspended for years with no clear resolution in sight.

Meanwhile, measures towards building replacement power sources have been less than robust. The government clearly does not regard the current power crisis as a symptom of a profound trouble, but instead seems to dismiss it as just an accidental short-term inconvenience. President Tsai Ing-wen told business leaders last week that the power crisis was caused by natural disasters and not human decisions.

Premier Lin Chuan referred to the Tuesday blackout as "something that lasted just for a few hours" and something that had nothing to do with the nuclear-free policy.

Both seemed to be unable or unwilling to acknowledge one of the main causes of the summer power crisis - the island's dangerously low power reserve capacity.

Good governance is less about finding the perfect solution than about being able to make the best out of all situations. To solve the true long-term power crisis, Taiwan needs to make a choice and act fast.

'Shanghai-ing' Dhaka

Mohammad Zaman

The Daily Star, Bangladesh

I am intrigued by the recent remarks made by Mr Zhu Ruo, a leading urban planning expert in China, suggesting that Dhaka follow Shanghai's example with regard to urban transformation and growth.

Mr Zhu was in Dhaka last month to attend an international conference on development options for Dhaka towards 2035.

As the dean of the Pudong Planning and Design Institute, he witnessed first-hand Shanghai's eastward growth in Pudong - watching the area transform from a marshy rice field in the 1980s to a powerful modern global financial centre packed with skyscrapers.

Mr Zhu reportedly found many similarities between present-day Dhaka and the Shanghai of the early 1990s. However, "Shanghai-ing" Dhaka would not be an easy task.

Shanghai epitomises what a world-class city means in terms of its economy, transportation, social infrastructure, environmental management and governance. Today, Shanghai is the principal commercial and financial centre of mainland China.

This year, it was ranked 13th in the Global Financial Centres Index and fourth-most competitive in Asia after Singapore, Hong Kong and Tokyo. Shanghai is also home to 300 of the Fortune 500 companies. Manifestly, it is an economic powerhouse in Asia.

Needless to say, cities are our future. Nearly 50 per cent of the global population will live in cities by 2035. Dhaka, the capital, is the country's only megacity. It is also the main business and commercial hub of the country. Currently, Dhaka has an estimated population of more than 15 million in the metropolitan areas.

With recent administrative expansion of the city area, Dhaka is rapidly expanding in every direction. Today, Dhaka is considered one of the most crowded cities in the world.

Does present-day Dhaka represent the Shanghai of the early 1990s, as suggested by Mr Zhu? It is hard to completely refute the assertion. Dhaka's civic amenities and public infrastructure, including transport, serve city dwellers very poorly. The growth of this megacity is increasingly taking the form of suburban satellite cities with no affordable transport infrastructure.

Dhaka must grow and develop as a world-class city. It will require huge foreign investments, proper planning, new policies, capacity, technical knowledge, leadership and political commitment to make Dhaka a truly global city.

  • The View From Asia is a compilation of articles from The Straits Times' media partner, Asia News Network, a grouping of 23 news media entities.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 19, 2017, with the headline 'Building better cities for a better future'. Print Edition | Subscribe