TOKYO - Singapore's single-layer system of government means it can be more decisive about testbedding new technology than most other countries, and this makes it an ideal partner for countries to test out innovation, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said on Wednesday (June 13).
One of them would be Japan, which has municipal and prefectural governments with their own laws and regulations, on top of the national government.
And Singapore is keen to grow its collaboration with Japanese agencies and companies, Mr Heng told Singaporean media at the end of a six-day visit to Tokyo. He visited banks, technology and robotics companies, and also met Japanese politicians, businessmen and financial regulators during his visit.
There are many opportunities for collaboration. As both Japan and Singapore have an ageing population, they can work together on, say, eldercare.
"The advantage of Singapore is that because we are one layer of government, we can do it at a systems level - not just one or two projects but actually a whole range of projects that cover particular themes," Mr Heng said.
"We also have regulatory sandboxes where usual rules do not apply, and that allows for innovation to be tested and tried in a proper setting," he added.
These also allow issues to be identified quickly and for regulators to jump in, though any regulation "must not impede development", he stressed. But he added that regulation is necessary in order to make the environment safer and at the same time allow for "the growth and development of new and interesting ways of doing things".
Mr Heng also cited other areas such as urban solutions, sustainability, smart mobility and fintech as being "also very relevant to the infrastructure agenda". This comes as Singapore has recently established its Infrastructure Asia Office (IAO), which can bring together local and international players to develop, finance and execute regional projects.
Mr Heng discussed with Japanese stakeholders how the IAO can play a role in ensuring good risk management, while ensuring a good flow of funds at competitive rates so as to sustain debt investment.
In this regard, he cheered Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's announcement on Monday (June 11) of a new US$50 billion (S$65 billion) infrastructure fund that involves both Japanese public and private sectors to drive infrastructure development in the Indo-Pacific region.
"We need a mix of public and private sector funding in order to meet the very significant infrastructure needs in the whole region," he said. "But at the same time, in order for this capital to be fully and properly deployed, we need to deal with both demand and supply."
While there is no lack of projects that need funding, what is key is to structure such projects properly, which means requiring expertise in accounting, auditing, law, project management, among other things, Mr Heng said. This will be brought together under the IAO.
And while there is a whole range of investors on the supply side - from the Japan-led Asian Development Bank to the Chinese-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, as well as private lenders - the risk return profile is very different.
"Structuring the deals will mean to structure them in such a way that, at different stages, we can provide financing in ways that meet the needs of the project and of our investors," he said, in laying out the framework of the IAO, which comes under the supervision of Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Indranee Rajah.