S'pore 'a small player in AIIB but ensure its views are heard'

Singapore is a small player in the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) in terms of its monetary commitment but it should still ensure that its views are heard, Mr Ong Teng Koon (Sembawang GRC) said yesterday.

Mr Ong also noted in Parliament that Singapore has a lot to bring to the table despite its small size.

The Republic can leverage its "reputation as an honest broker on the international stage" to make sure that the AIIB finances a diversified and representative range of projects and does not advance "the narrow interests of one or two dominant shareholders".

Mr Ong was speaking during the Parliament debate about a Bill that will allow Singapore to contribute US$250 million (S$352 million) towards the AIIB, or about 0.25 per cent of the bank's US$100 billion starting capital.

This would give Singapore 0.48 per cent of the total voting share.

Senior Minister of State for Finance Josephine Teo told the House that the bank will facilitate better infrastructure and connectivity in the region and, in turn, provide positive spin-offs for the Singapore economy.

The China-led AIIB is set to begin operations next year.

MPs supported Singapore's participation, although some cautioned that the bank has met with criticism from some quarters.

One concern is that the AIIB might become a competitor to other international financial institutions, especially the Asian Development Bank, Mr Ong noted.

There are also concerns that the AIIB will come to be seen as a vehicle for advancing the national interests of its largest shareholders, specifically China. He called on the Government to ensure that the AIIB's directions "will indeed be to the broad benefit of all of Asia, while also being consistent with Singapore's own national interests".

In response, Mrs Teo said that the Government has been taking a proactive approach in shaping the development of the AIIB, and aims to help make it an "open, inclusive and modern institution".

"(Singapore) has participated actively in the negotiations and worked with other prospective founding members to establish a strong governance structure and high operating standards for the AIIB," she added.

There are 57 prospective founding members - 30 regional countries and 27 non-regional countries.

Nominated MP Thomas Chua called on government-linked companies to open up opportunities for local small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to participate in AIIB projects.

SMEs see many business opportunities arising from regional infrastructure projects, but as the scale and size of these are usually large, they are beyond the reach of any single company, Mr Chua noted.

"If there is government support, and if government-linked companies are willing to take the lead, the success rate of local enterprises in bidding for the projects would be substantially higher."

The Bill, which was passed yesterday, gives certain immunities, privileges and exemptions to the AIIB and its officers, on par with those Singapore has accorded to other international financial institutions.

In response to Non-Constituency MP Lina Chiam, who raised concerns about the implications of these immunities and privileges, Mrs Teo said it is "not every day that a new international organisation like the AIIB is set up".

"I think the (worries) that we will suddenly be flooded with all these international organisations in Singapore, all enjoying privileges and immunities, is not a major concern at all," she added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 18, 2015, with the headline 'S'pore 'a small player in AIIB but ensure its views are heard''. Print Edition | Subscribe