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Singapore launches new dispute management protocol for mega infrastructure projects

TO make mega infrastructure projects more bankable, a new Singapore Infrastructure Dispute-Management Protocol has been introduced to help parties manage disputes and minimise the risks of time and cost overruns.

It has already attracted interest from parties keen to incorporate it into their projects, estimated to be worth S$500 million or more, the Ministry of Law said in a media release on Tuesday.

The protocol was launched at Enterprise Singapore's (ESG) eighth Asia-Singapore Infrastructure Roundtable on Tuesday, alongside the official launch of an earlier-announced government-led initiative to set up Infrastructure Asia.

Infrastructure Asia is an organisation set up by ESG and the Monetary Authority of Singapore to connect infrastructure firms with government officials to develop, finance and execute infrastructure projects in the region.

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Noting that few governments have enough resources to meet infrastructure needs on their own, Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat highlighted the need to "crowd in private capital" - which can be done by making projects bankable, investible, and visible.

Under the new protocol, parties will appoint a Dispute Board from the start of a project, rather than only after disputes have arisen. Comprising up to three neutral professionals who are experts in relevant fields such as engineering, quantity surveying and law, the Dispute Board will follow the project from start to finish and proactively help to manage any issues that arise through customised dispute avoidance and resolution processes.

The protocol provides for dispute management methods including mediation, opinion and determination. Full professional and administrative support will be provided through the Singapore International Mediation Centre (SIMC) and the Singapore Mediation Centre (SMC), which can help with identifying and appointing Dispute Board members as well as with meeting, escrow and other administrative services.

The protocol was developed by a working group comprising private sector infrastructure and dispute resolution specialists, the SIMC and the SMC, convened by MinLaw in January to see how Singapore could leverage its strength in dispute resolution to serve the needs of complex infrastructure projects in the region.

Noting Singapore's role as a leading international dispute resolution hub and an infrastructure hub for Asia, Second Minister for Finance  Indranee Rajah said: "We realised that there is a critical gap in the infrastructure space - the need for more cost and time efficient resolution of infrastructure disputes, facilitated by experts." The protocol was developed "specifically to address this need", she added.

Tuesday's event also saw Infrastructure Asia signing two memoranda of understanding. One was with the World Bank Group for mutual leverage of networks and expertise, as well as collaboration to help Asian countries strengthen capabilities for infrastructure project structuring, financing, implementation and operation. The other was with the Singapore Business Federation to bring regional project opportunities to the attention of Singapore-based companies, as well as matching firms with opportunities.

Said Infrastructure Asia executive director Seth Tan: "Infrastructure Asia will work closely with the private sector, governments, commercial and multilateral development banks to provide solutions that are customised to meet the local market's specific needs and requirements. We will also offer advice to relevant countries and work with them on capacity building."

In the next 12 months, Infrastructure Asia will hold capacity building workshops with the MOU partners, step up engagement with local authorities in regional markets, and intensify connections between global infrastructure players and the regional infrastructure ecosystems, said ESG chief executive officer Png Cheong Boon.