S’pore firms in Mid-East stay calm
They are monitoring the situation but are not about to pack up and go
By Aaron Low ( firstname.lastname@example.org)
JUDGING by the shocking television images of Bahrain, Singapore businessman Kuah Kok Kim should have given serious thought to fleeing the tiny violence-hit Middle Eastern kingdom.
Instead, he spent yesterday playing golf, meeting potential clients and calmly rounding off the day with a gala dinner. He then headed back to his regular lodgings at a downtown hotel.
It was, in fact, a typical day on the job for the executive chairman of oil and gas firm MTQ Corporation – except, of course, that he was in Bahrain, the latest Middle Eastern nation to be hit by unrest.
This culminated in a bloody crackdown in the middle of the capital on Thursday, which left at least five dead.
He said roads were quiet in the wake of the violence, and there was tension in the air.
However, Mr Kuah, whose firm is building a factory on the outskirts of the capital, said his business is unaffected.
‘My factory is on the outskirts of the country. Roads around the area are blocked, but life goes on,’ he said, adding that he was not taking extra precautions.
‘Yes, we avoid the parts where the demonstrations are taking place, but we continue working while our factory is being built.’
The unrest in Bahrain is the latest in a wave of unrest that has erupted in North Africa and the Middle East, following popular uprisings which have toppled regimes in Tunisia and Egypt.
Protests have also erupted in Jordan, Yemen, Iran and Libya, led by people clamouring for change.
But while political tension heats up, Singapore companies with offices or businesses in the region are not panicking.
Most of the 20 Singapore companies based in the region that The Straits Times spoke to say they are closely monitoring events and are in contact with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs there.
Singapore has been a keen investor in the Middle East in recent years and hundreds of local firms do business there.
The region is of growing importance to Singapore’s trade and investments, with the Government and trade associations promoting linkages between Singapore and the region in recent years.
Last year, total trade with Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iran stood at $38 billion. This is about a third of the total trade value between Singapore and Malaysia, one of the Republic’s main trading partners.
It is not known how many Singapore firms operate in the region. Among the larger firms are CapitaLand, DP Architects and Banyan Tree Hotels & Resorts. Many of these firms have offices in centres which are regarded as safer – such as Qatar, Dubai and Saudi Arabia – and which have not been affected by the unrest so far.
But even those which have a presence in the hot spots are not packing up to return to Singapore just yet.
Information Technology company NCS, which has an office in Bahrain, said it had told staff to avoid demonstration hot spots.
‘If necessary, we will redeploy staff to other locations in the Gulf Cooperation Council states where NCS has offices and ongoing projects,’ said its spokesman, adding that staff morale is normal.
The Ascott said it operates one serviced residence in Bahrain’s Somerset Al Fateh through a management contract.
‘The area around our serviced residence is calm. Our property is safe and business has not been affected,’ said a spokesman.
‘Nonetheless, we have heightened security measures at the property and will continue to monitor the situation closely and provide safety advice to our residents in consultation with the relevant government authorities.’
Overseas Port Management’s managing director M.M.J. Subramaniam said his firm has small offices in Dubai, Sudan and Libya.
‘So far, it’s been okay. But we are prepared to evacuate people in Libya to our Dubai office if things get ugly. We were in Yemen doing a project but we finished that a long time before the trouble started. Thank goodness for that,’ he said.