Smaller public projects to start earlier to boost construction sector

Radin Mas Community Club is among several facilities being upgraded. Other projects in the pipeline include sports facilities such as Bedok Sports Complex.
Radin Mas Community Club is among several facilities being upgraded. Other projects in the pipeline include sports facilities such as Bedok Sports Complex.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

The $700 million worth of infrastructure projects that will get off the ground earlier will be smaller public projects, such as the upgrading of community clubs, sports facilities and police posts.

The move is to "help smaller firms tide over this period of economic slowdown", the Finance Ministry said yesterday.

It was elaborating on Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat's announcement in the Budget speech on Monday that public projects will be brought forward to start in the 2017 and 2018 financial years.

They are at different stages of planning, the ministry spokesman said, adding: "Some are still in the preliminary design phase, while others are in the process of finalising their project requirements."

He said government agencies will call for tenders when they are ready.

The ministry also said that the Government will help construction firms adopt technology that will boost productivity and upgrade the skills of their workers.

It did not disclose the types of projects with the earlier start date, but government expenditure estimates list a multitude of projects in the pipeline for the next financial year, starting on April 1.

Some of the community clubs that are being upgraded include Radin Mas ($3.36 million), Hougang ($3.83 million) and Kebun Baru ($800,000).

Sports facilities in the pipeline include developing the Bedok Sports Complex ($11 million).

Industry players welcomed the decision, but feared the planned spending would not be enough to give the sector a big boost.

Mr Lam Kong Hong, executive director of the Singapore Contractors Association, said that "$700 million is a very small percentage of the overall demand".

Last year, $26 billion worth of construction contracts was awarded, of which $16 billion was for public- sector projects.

Still, the fresh tranche of projects will go some way in relieving the current lack, said Mr Lam, adding that the squeeze has left some companies with construction equipment lying idle.

Noting that competition for public-sector contracts is stiff, LSK Engineering managing director Roger Heng said: "As many as 25 contractors will bid. With that kind of competition, prices dive and are not sustainable."

Wee Chwee Huat Scaffolding and Construction managing director Edward Wee suggested that projects be reserved for local companies because the intent is to support the home industry.

MP Saktiandi Supaat, a member of the Government Parliamentary Committee for National Development, said the total value of the projects might not seem large, but it would still give a bit of a boost to smaller players.

"It will benefit main contractors and have spillover effects on their subcontractors, which are Singaporean companies that employ Singaporeans," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 24, 2017, with the headline 'Smaller public projects to start earlier to boost construction sector'. Print Edition | Subscribe