Monday, August 10, 2015

Risks from Malaysia's internal security woes on Singapore hard to ignore

If you believe the defence of Malaysia and Singapore is indivisible, then any threat to the Federation's security and stability - whether from external aggression or internal strife - could have a follow-on effect on Singapore too.

Among the worst-case scenarios that have surfaced recently among defence watchers is the question of how severely Singapore would be affected if social unrest up north prompts Malaysian authorities to declare a curfew.

Note that it is a foregone conclusion that Singapore will be affected should a Malaysian curfew restrict the movement of people and commerce between Malaysia and Singapore. Open to debate though is the severity of such a measure on Singapore's economy, our security posture and investor confidence.

At the most basic level, companies and businesses that rely on Malaysian workers better have a Plan B if a curfew affects the ability of their staff to turn up for work. Alas, many will not have ready answers because business continuity planning is not a strong suite among Singaporean companies, particularly the SMEs.

Anyone who has seen the predawn traffic situation at the Causeway and Second Link on a weekday would appreciate the part Malaysians serve in keeping Singapore's economy humming. Blue collar or white collar, daily-rated or salaried staff, executive or non-executive, they come across the Johor Strait in their thousands and can be found in all corners of the Lion City.

Many leave their homes in the wee hours of the morning. A 4am departure being typical in order to beat the rush at the customs, immigration and quarantine checkpoints on both sides of the border. The Malaysians then have to endure the morning rush hour traffic on Singapore island. By the time their bum hits the chair at their workplace, each would have been on the road for at least two to three hours.

For Malaysians who have to clock in every work day, their amazing race from home to workplace carries a financial penalty if their journey is disrupted. Rain, traffic jams due to accidents or road works, or the arse luck of picking a slow lane at the CIQ could cost them dearly.

After work, the tide turns the other way. The journey home could see Malaysians step past their front door around 10pm or later. And they ration their evening hours sparingly knowing the cycle will repeat itself the next work day.

And yet many Malaysians persevere. Their stoic nature is typically Malaysian and you wouldn't know from external appearances of the extraordinarily long commute they have to endure just to earn a living.

The commute is worth is. Thanks to the exchange rate that makes a job in Singapore pay several times more what a Malaysian could earn doing the same thing up north as well as lower home prices in Johor, many choose to stay on homeground knowing full well this entails many hours on the road and an abbreviated sleep cycle.

Malaysians who commute to Singapore to work are a key element of Singapore's economy.

Companies and businesses with a sizeable number of Malaysians on their payroll ought to assess how many of their foreign workers are resident in Singapore and how many make the daily commute. The demographic is crucial. It could spell the difference between business operations that hum along with minimal impact if a curfew is imposed in Malaysia or the loss of a sizeable chunk of labour that could unhinge daily operations.

For entities that provide essential services such as transport, the robustness of the assessment is crucial as it would flag out vulnerabilities that must be addressed to ensure the provision of such services is not compromised.

Recent events in the Federation have prompted defence watchers to theorise how the situation could unfold should things spiral out of control. For analysts hardwired by training to think the worst, the scenarios they have come up with are sobering to consider.

One hopes the theorising remains just an academic exercise because the impact of social unrest in the Federation will have deleterious effects on many aspects of life in the Lion City.

If the worst happens, are you ready?

1 comment:

Spenser Chan said...

We can mobilize the national service men to do some of the work.