The Sports Hub Private Public Partnership (PPP) was canned by the government in June this year.
With the termination, the government, through Sport SG, will take over the running of the Sports Hub and will pay a total of S$2.32 billion to the consortium – a similar figure if the government were to let the agreement run till 2035.
Culture, Community and Youth Minister Edwin Tong gave a ministerial statement on Aug 1, explaining why we entered a PPP in the first place, the reasons for termination and the future of the Sports Hub.
It was thoroughly thought through and prioritised Singaporeans and Singapore first.
Building a sporting home for all
The main argument for termination is the fact that the mammoth facility is a stranger to most Singaporeans.
With the PPP model, Sports Hub Pte Ltd’s (SHPL) main priority is to operate it like a business, crudely speaking, dollars and cents outweigh other considerations.
What’s the point of having a world class project – the envy of the region – when the average Singaporean cannot participate in it?
For all the Liverpools and Manchester Uniteds in the world, there’s a dearth of local champions. In fact, the Lions only played there fewer than 10 times in 2018 and 2019 – hardly home ground form.
In addition, the aforementioned teams don’t add to the local sporting culture. We want to see a sea of red made up of the Singapore jerseys and not Liverpool or Manchester United red.
Said Minister Tong: “But it is also an iconic, national sporting asset, and there must be a strong sense of affinity and connection between Singaporeans and the Sports Hub. There ought to have been more community participation and activation, around the Sports Hub.”
Affinity is a vital ingredient for any national project and without it, the Sports Hub will eventually turn into a white elephant that Singaporeans can only admire from afar.
Inspiring the next generation of sportsmen
Minister Edwin Tong, in his speech, turned up the nostalgia factor, sharing the Malaysia Cup days of yore. While it is something that many can relate to, nothing inspires more than taking to the pitch in school colours.
“Some of my own fondest memories growing up was the excitement of being able to play at the Zone or National Finals at the old National Stadium or simply being in the stands supporting and cheering my friends as they competed with rival schools,” he said.
With the Government taking over the helm, young sportsmen in Singapore can expect to participate under the floodlights of the iconic sporting facility.
And by extension, this could very well inspire the next generation of sportsmen in Singapore and more importantly, create the foundations for a sporting culture in Singapore.
It is getting clear to many that the PPP model was good for Singapore initially but not sustainable in the long-term.
Not forking any upfront costs and only repaying the annual repayment of S$193.7 million when the Sports Hub was operational in 2014 meant that the Government’s coffers remained healthy and gave the Government plenty of room to manoeuvre in times of need.
Case in point: when the global financial crisis hit unexpectedly in 2008, the Government’s fiscal resources were not tied up, we were able to use those resources to meet pressing economic and other needs.
The termination sum payable to the consortium is comparable to the S$ 2.32 billion if we had chosen to continue with the PPP until 2035.
Why change course then?
At the heart of it, the reason for termination only has the good of Singapore and Singaporeans in mind. By prolonging the inevitable, an additional 13 years of poor affinity with Singaporeans will be added. This runs the risk of losing precious opportunities to inspire the young and connect with the community.
And that could put Sports Hub on the road of no return. To put it plainly, a soulless shell that only plays host to concerts and foreign sporting events.
However, by having a more community-driven vision coupled with the impending development of the Kallang Alive Precinct, which aims at developing the area in and around the Sports Hub, the future is bright.
Having the gumption
Some may refer this decision to cancel the PPP as the proverbial flipping of prata.
We disagree because it’s clear that it’s not.
What it is is having the gumption to change course when things are not doing well and to offer timely, effective solutions to tackle the problem at that particular point in time.
The hallmark of the PAP Government is never about making perfect policies all the time; it is to come up with the best one during that particular point in time and tweaking it to fit existing circumstances.
Singapore remains a work in progress, there’s much more to be done and many more policies will be mooted to bring the republic to the next level.
But with a responsive PAP Government at the helm, you can expect Singapore to go higher and stronger.