Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Singapore, a play ground for the rich, an Asian Monaco

13th March 2013

Glamourous Singapore

There is an article in the Wall Street Journal about Singapore – and it’s a place I don’t recognise. It is about glitzy nightclubs, private jets, fast cars, high fashion and high-life. It talks about beautiful people togged up in clothes and shoes with names I can’t pronounce. About people who jet into Singapore to play and foreigners who decide the little red dot is the best place to park their money.

It’s about a lifestyle that isn’t reported for local consumption. It sounds like Vegas, but it is actually buttoned-down Singapore. My eyes go wider than wide when I weave through the article. Singapore has a nightclub at Marina Bay Sands which is just a year old, but Pangaea (how do you pronounce this anyway?) is now considered the most profitable club in the world with revenues of more than $100,000 per night in recent months.

It’s also one of the most expensive clubs, with tables costing as much as $15,000, with the uber-rich regularly chalking up six-figures. The jet-set of the world jet in on really serious jets, including n A380 which was converted to include a pool and basketball court, according to its owner, Michael Ault, a blue-blooded pedigreed American who moved from Manhattan to Singapore three years ago.

So many of the world’s rich and famous have moved here, as permanent residents or new citizens. Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin. Australian mining tycoon Nathan Tinkler. India telco tycoon Bhupendra Kumar Modi. New Zealand billionaire Richard Chandler. US investor Jim Rogers, who set up shop there in 2007. Indonesian-born millionaire Frank Cintamani. According to the article, Gina Rinehart, one of the world’s richest women, slapped down $46.3 million for a pair of Singapore condominium units last year. Gosh! And we gasp at $1m price tag for an executive condo!

I suppose we have always known that some of the rich and famous have moved here, (remember the fuss when Gong Li became a citizen?) but they were never put under the spotlight as a collective group. This is probably one of the advantages of re-locating to Singapore. Celebrities, billionaires and luminaries are left alone to do as they please; no paparazzi, no protestors, in a place where it is safe to park their money, pay low taxes, with order strictly enforced. (I wonder if they had to go through a Singapore Citizenship Journey, visiting places of civic interest and attend a block party. Whether their children had to do national service.)

I guess we should be glad that we are such a playground, an Asian Monaco. Hopefully, these rich people-turned-PRs, or PRs- turned-new citizens will leave some business or money behind to filter to the rest of us. That they wouldn’t keep to themselves, but would put what they can into a country that provides them with better comforts than their own home country. Wealth-X, a private consultancy that provides intelligence on the world’s uber-rich, estimates some 1,400 ultra-high-net-worth individuals now hold more than $160 billion of wealth in Singapore, reported WSJ.

I mean, there should be a price of entry.
How did they get through the gates in the first place? Up to last year, there was a programme that allowed wealthy foreigners to “fast track” their permanent residency if they kept at least $8.1 million in assets in the city-state for five years. Investors who plan to dedicate a few million to help companies in Singapore grow are still welcomed, according to WSJ. So some big money has to be sunk here first, and hopefully, jobs created.

Do I sound envious? I am – and I don’t quite know why.

Part of the reason is probably that that sort of lifestyle is out of my reach, like I am on the outside of a fish tank looking in. Another part could be a sense that we are building a city for “other’’ people to live, work and play in. Could such PRs and new citizens ever become part of the Singapore core?

This is not to say that as a country, we have not done well for ourselves. WSJ reported that one in six homes has disposable private wealth of at least $1 million, excluding property, business and luxury goods. Add in property, with Singapore real estate among the most expensive in the world, and this number would be even higher. Now, that must include quite a few citizens, I should think. Singapore also now has the highest gross domestic product per capita in the world at $56,532.

Then I think about the debate we are having about the way we should go. All that talk about income inequality (second highest in the world), social safety nets and the need for an inclusive society. We talk about $50 pay increments, jammed roads, trains breaking down, unaffordable cars and the salaries of cleaners and drivers. We live in HDB, travel by MRT, shop at NTUC. We have a sandwich class.

WSJ reported Garry Rodan, a fellow at the Asia Research Center at Murdoch University as saying that the rich in Singapore now find themselves with “new avenues to display their wealth,” while “aged Singaporeans with grossly inadequate savings can be seen on the streets collecting plastic bottles for recycling.”

Ouch! That hurt.

Sometimes I think it’s good that the rich keep to themselves, ring-fenced by high entrance fees. That we see only their cars; 449 Ferraris now and 469 Maseratis.

Now, they should make sure they do not crash them – and stay invisible.

Source: Bertha Harian

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