Yaacob calls for closer S'pore-Saudi cooperation

Singapore and Saudi Arabia can look at working together more closely in infocommunications technology (ICT) and cyber security, Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim said, urging enterprises from both countries to collaborate on developing new capabilities and opportunities.

In an interview with Arabic newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat, published on Sunday and commemorating the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations, Dr Yaacob said that Singapore sees value in exchanging notes with Saudi Arabia, particularly on cooperation in cyber security.

He added that Singapore has invested significant effort in translating its Smart Nation vision into reality, and welcomes the opportunity to share and learn from counterparts involved in building the King Abdullah Economic City.

This mega-city on the Red Sea coast, near Jeddah, is one of Saudi Arabia's most ambitious real estate projects.

"Infocomm technologies are powerful catalysts for change which will improve the lives of citizens," said Dr Yaacob, who is also Minister for Communications and Information.

Both countries have collaborated on a broad range of industries, from transportation to environmental services, he added. For instance, Singapore water treatment firm Hyflux clinched a US$48 million (S$68 million) contract in 2015 to build a desalination plant in the industrial city of Yanbu.

Dr Yaacob was in Saudi Arabia for the annual Haj Ministerial Meeting, during which he discussed arrangements for Singaporean pilgrims performing the haj this August, and other related issues.

He said the Muslim population here has grown by about 20 per cent in the last 30 years, and reiterated his hope that the number of haj places for Singaporeans would be raised from 680 to 800.

The waiting time is now 37 years, so any places on top of the 800 would be greatly welcomed, he added.

"Nonetheless, we understand the challenges the kingdom faces in overseeing the annual haj ritual. We will continue to work with the Saudi authorities to ensure the smooth running of the haj."

He also commended the Saudi government on the redevelopment of Masjidil Haram in Mecca to accommodate more pilgrims.

Noting that Minister for Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli will visit Saudi Arabia this month, Dr Yaacob said: "We look forward to more high-level visits by both sides throughout the rest of the year."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 09, 2017, with the headline 'Yaacob calls for closer S'pore-Saudi cooperation'. Print Edition | Subscribe