An amphibious tour vehicle travels past the Garden by the Bay domes along the Marina bay in Singapore on June 14, 2016. The successful Southeast Asian country has a number of lessons for us from development to dealing with ethnic divisions. PHOTO | AFP
- Citizens ballot for the houses, which are allocated according to set ratios for each community.
- If a resident moves, he must rent or sell the apartment to a person of the same community as the ratios must be maintained.
- The government is responsible for the construction of 75.1 per cent of houses while private entities are responsible for slightly over 20 per cent.
- Automation is a given; clean and timely underground trains and buses with a dedicated lane ensure convenient movement around the CBD.
- The country used to import water from Malaysia, but has embarked on an ambitious desalination programme backed by the private sector.
It is inconceivable that a country that wins accolades and coalesces around award-winning athletes, boasts beautiful beaches, and hosts world heritage sites can be so hopeless in taming this one failing.
Tribalism is not unique to Kenya, but others have fared much better in tackling it, notably Tanzania next door.
The Southeast Asian country of Singapore has a number of lessons for us in this and many other areas.
Having gained independence two years after Kenya in 1965, the tiny city state with a population of 5.7 million, majority of which is Chinese (74.3 per cent), 13.3 per cent Malay, 9.1 per cent Indian, and 3.3 per cent others, came up with ingenious ways of tackling the issue.
First, recognising that it is the duty of the government to provide housing, the country embarked on aggressive acquisition of scarce land and construction of high-rise housing complexes.
Citizens ballot for the houses, which are allocated according to set ratios for each community.
If a resident moves, he must rent or sell the apartment to a person of the same community as the ratios must be maintained.
According to Louis Tay Heng, who heads Surbana Jurong construction firm and whose main clients are the State-owned Housing Development Board and the Public Utilities Board, the government-built estates are based on a town concept where each neighbourhood is a cluster of blocks around a central open space with common facilities.
Schools, health centres, parks, and sporting facilities are standard features. Most of these blocks have as many as 30 storeys.
The government is responsible for the construction of 75.1 per cent of houses while private entities are responsible for slightly over 20 per cent, unlike Kenya, where the population has been left at the mercy of private investors, who inflate the cost of housing. Interest on mortgage is only 2.5 per cent.
Infrastructure and transport are another area in which Singapore has made great and enviable strides.
Automation is a given; clean and timely underground trains and buses with a dedicated lane ensure convenient movement around the CBD.
Transporting people and enabling convenient movement is another government responsibility.
The ease with which underground trains are able to move large numbers of people from one location to another lends itself readily as a solution to Kenya’s perennial, annoying, and time-wasting traffic jams.
The order that prevails in Singapore’s public transport makes it clear that this sector is too sensitive to be left in the hands of the death merchants that we have let loose on our roads in the form of matatus and boda bodas.
Police are virtually invisible in Singapore, so there are none directing traffic.
The country has the equivalent of London’s congestion charge; motorists are taxed higher for using certain zones.
This ensures that motorists use the well-organised public transport and only take out their vehicles when it is absolutely necessary.
Many of these facilities are standard in some developed nations and took years to develop.
What makes Singapore unique is how quickly it achieved this level of development. Credit is heaped on its revered leader, Lee Kwan Yew, who died last year.
However, he had the support of a willing citizenry that shared his dream.
This is in sharp contrast to the motion-without-movement that characterises many Third World countries where many development programmes are mooted, discussed, sometimes even funded, but never implemented.
The level of automation is admirable. It is in virtually all sectors — be it food processing or manufacturing.
And all this in a country that has little land and no minerals to speak of, including water.
The country used to import water from Malaysia, but has embarked on an ambitious desalination programme backed by the private sector.
Seawater is desalinated. There is no wastage as water is recycled. Why should Kenya’s Coast region experience water shortages when this can be a ready solution?
Singapore’s Changi International Airport, voted the best in the world three years in a row, is a marvel.
Many people say it is a destination in its own right. The airport has flower and butterfly gardens, two free movie theatres, a transit hotel, lounges with seats that have inbuilt speakers, free and reliable WiFi, and a free skytrain to connect its three terminals.
It handled 55.4 million passengers in 2015. Jomo Kenyatta International Airport’s modest 6.5 million passengers pale in comparison.
The Gardens in the bay at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore is a park built on reclaimed land. It is designed to anticipate every visitor’s wish.
It has virtually all the species of tropical trees, a variety of flowers from all over the world, and comes complete with a guided tour on golf carts with pre-recorded messages on what one is viewing.
It also has an artificial waterfall that is about six storeys high. From its official opening in 2012, it has had over five million paying visitors.
The Nairobi City County government can learn from this and turn the Arboretum Gardens into such a recreational facility. The entrance fees raised would be enough to pay workers to maintain it.
One wonders when we shall see the results of the numerous and expensive “benchmarking” trips that our MCAs make to such countries as Singapore.
As taxpayers, we need to walk away from this “accept and move on’’ mantra that has left us trailing the Asian countries that we have many times been reported to have been at par with at independence.
Demanding that our taxes be used properly to put in place systems that work, as is the case in Singapore, is not too much to ask.
Joe Mbuthia is production editor, Daily Nation. firstname.lastname@example.org.