Offer my wife a diamond and you’ll see her eyes sparkle and a warm smile light up her face. I certainly wouldn’t take a gamble on offering her sand instead with a patient explanation that diamonds are actually compressed sand.

The worth of “sands” in Singapore has taken on added dimensions in recent years given the republic’s dependence on imported sand from its neighbours for its thriving construction needs. Much hullabaloo has similarly been generated on the newsfront with the phased opening of two casinos, one of which happens to share the namesake of Marina Bay Sands.

Singapore’s construction demand in 2010 is projected to reach between S$21 billion and $27 billion this year (£10.5 to £13.5 billion at today’s rates) led by strong public sector construction demand at an estimated 65% of Singapore’s total construction bill. The city state embarked on more reclamation works and various road projects plus expansion of its network of stations and tunnels with a new Circle Line for its Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) System.

Private sector growth has been fuelled by the development of a new financial downtown area. Gamblers and thrill seekers meanwhile rejoiced at the government’s award in 2006 of two Integrated Resorts helmed by casinos and the much anticipated Universal Studios.

This growth brought with it increased demand for sand – land sand for concrete and sea sand for reclamation works. Malaysia banned the export of both sand types in 1997 and Indonesia followed suit in 2003 (sea sand) and 2007 (land sand). Highly disruptive to the MRT lines and the new financial downtown (i.e. including the casino complexes), the supply disruption sparked construction delays and lawsuits between contractors and employers as the price of sand tripled. The government stepped in to release stockpiled sand and a legislative fix saw licensing regulations in 2009 requiring importers to have procurement plans to handle any sudden supply disruptions and ensure the reliable growth of the construction industry.

From our new office on the 22nd floor overlooking the waters of Marina Bay to Marina Bay Sands Integrated Resort, the skyline has never been more dynamic and ever changing as Marina Bay Sands slowly emerges from delays to its original opening date of end 2009. Touted as the world’s second most expensive casino after MGM Mirage Las Vegas, Sands remained under construction as its rival, Sentosa Resorts World commenced phased opening of themed hotels such as its Hard Rock Hotel in January and casino in February. To the delight of thrill seekers, March witnessed the opening of Universal Studios on Resorts World (though not without hiccups as its Battlestar Gallactica duelling roller coaster ride remains suspended due to technical glitches).

With much relief, Sands got its casino license 1 day before its opening just last month on 27 April. However, Sands’ strength in MICE (meeting, incentive, convention and exhibition) suffered a slight blip recently after complaints during the 2010 Inter-Pacific Bar Association (IPBA) Conference plagued Sands, the first convention hosted by Sands. In the broad scheme of things though, we wait patiently for Sands to throw open its SkyPark sitting above its three hotel towers and for the world’s largest oceanarium to open at Resorts World.

Visitors to Singapore in a more professional capacity are also set to take advantage of recent updated arbitration legislation. The International Arbitration (Amendment) Act 2009 came into force on 1st January to reflect the 2006 changes to the UNICITRAL Model Law, from which Singapore’s International Arbitration Act (IAA) is based on.

Key changes to the IAA include support from the courts in granting orders in aid of foreign arbitrations (e.g. taking of evidence) and interim relief (freezing of assets, amongst others).

These changes stand Singapore arbitration in good stead along with the January 2010 official opening of Maxwell Chambers, a custom designed international dispute resolution centre with 12 preparation rooms and 14 medium and large hearing rooms, the largest being able to accommodate 80 people for a hearing. A full suite of available support services is available, from wireless internet, video conferencing and state of the art digital recording to transcription services, translation services and catered meals. In the 6 months from its soft opening in July 2009 to its official opening, 60 cases have been heard, the majority of them being international arbitration.

There are probably worse places to be in now than in Singapore, a city where the worth of sands may, to some at least, be worth more than diamonds…

Mohan R Pillay
Managing Partner, MPillay (in association with Pinsent Masons)
Chartered Arbitrator
Adj. Assoc. Prof., Faculty of Law, Nat. Univ. of Singapore
Visiting Professor, Centre of Construction Law, King’s College London
16 Collyer Quay #22-02
Singapore 049318
E: mohan.pillay@mpillay.com

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