DPM Lawrence Wong at the Opening Ceremony of the Surbana Jurong Campus

DPM Lawrence Wong | 13 March 2024

Remarks by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong at the Opening Ceremony of the Surbana Jurong Campus on 13 March 2024.

Chairman and CEO of Surbana Jurong Group,
My Parliamentary colleagues,
Excellencies and Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen

Good morning. It is good to join all of you this morning for the official opening of this lovely new campus and global headquarters for Surbana Jurong.

Achievements of Surbana Jurong Group

SJ has a long history intertwined with Singapore’s own nation building journey.

For Surbana Jurong started out as the technical arms of HDB and JTC.

These were two departments in the public service that were responsible for our HDB towns and the industrial estates built by JTC.

They were corporatised in the early 2000s to form Surbana, and Jurong International, respectively.

Corporatisation gave them the autonomy to seize new opportunities abroad, and in the process, deepen and build new capabilities.

Surbana developed capabilities in urban planning, architectural design, and engineering services; while Jurong International deepened its expertise in industrial infrastructure, township development, and project management.

In 2015, Surbana and Jurong International merged to form SJ.

The merger brought together complementary strengths under one organisation.

Enabled the company to offer a wider range of consultancy services in urban and infrastructure management.

So from its humble roots in the public sector, SJ has grown into one of the world’s largest urban and infrastructural consulting firms, with a presence across more than 40 countries. You have projects ranging from HDB flats, to eco-cities and industrial parks around the world.

Many have contributed to making SJ what it is today,

I believe there are still former staff from HDB and JTC who were part of the initial team and helped to lay its strong foundations.

Many others have since joined the organisation, including staff and employees from all over the world. You have got very strong leadership, past and present – Mun Leong and Heang Fine initially, and now Charly and Sean – who have helped to build up the organisation.

All of you can be very proud of the roles you played in this transformation journey to deliver real impact together with your stakeholders. Congratulations to SJ on your achievements!

Contributions to Singapore

Even as SJ grows as an international company, it remains rooted here, and it continues to contribute to Singapore in many ways.

We saw this most recently during the pandemic.

You would remember that at the start of the pandemic – and I certainly remember – when we had to deal with the surge of infections sweeping through the migrant worker dormitories, there was a real danger that our healthcare resources would be overwhelmed. SJ and its partners converted exhibition halls in Singapore Expo into a Community Care Facility. They did this in double quick time, and this enabled us to channel the less sick patients away from the hospitals to these facilities, thereby relieving pressure on very limited healthcare resources at that time.

Later in 2022, when we had another wave of infections, due to the Omicron variant, SJ again stepped up – you helped to build the Community Treatment Facility at the Singapore Expo, giving us precious additional capacity to treat children and elderly who were sick.

SJ continues to be involved in many major infrastructure projects in Singapore such as the North South Corridor and Changi Terminal 5. You also support our national efforts to transform the Built Environment – by pushing for digitalisation, productivity, and sustainability.

These examples illustrate why it is so important for us to continue to have strong multi-disciplinary capabilities in building design and engineering in Singapore. That is why as the Government, we will continue to invest in these capabilities, and ensure that these capabilities are anchored here. Today I want to acknowledge the important work that the team at SJ does in this area, and I thank everyone once again for your many contributions.

Building and Deepening Capabilities

Looking ahead, Singapore has to compete in a more challenging global environment.

We have no hinterland; we have no natural resources unlike resource-rich countries. So we have to just rely on ourselves – our own wit, our own ingenuity, our innovative capabilities – to continually find new ways to add value to the world.

We have to do this across all sectors of the economy, be it in advanced manufacturing or professional services.

One area where we do have some competitive strengths is in Urban Solutions.

These strengths developed almost out of necessity. As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention.

Indeed, we were forced by circumstances in Singapore to innovate in the urban space. In the 1960s, we faced the housing crisis. We did not have enough homes, so we had HDB and we launched a major public housing programme. We did not have enough water of our own, so we did water recycling and we innovated to develop our water management solutions. We did not have enough land, so we reclaimed land and we find innovative ways to make use of limited land, and we are continuing to do so, including through coastal protection schemes to guard against climate change and rising sea levels. We wanted to tackle congestion issues, so we developed the ERP, and a first-class public transportation system.

We do all this to build a better city for our people.

We don’t claim to have the best solutions in Singapore.

Instead, we are always open to new ideas – if something did not work, we will be prepared to try something else. We continue to learn and improve, so we can offer a better quality of life for all Singaporeans.

That has always been our focus — to meet our own needs. But along the way, as we developed solutions for ourselves, we have come to realise that some of these solutions can also become exportable services in their own right.

Demand for urban solutions is growing around the world, especially in Asia. It’s driven by rapid urbanisation and growing aspirations to construct better, smarter, and more sustainable cities.

That is why visitors from all over the world come here to Singapore and they are impressed by what they see – officials from many countries want to learn and study what we do.

The URA city gallery is a very popular stop for these officials and even for tourists interested in how Singapore came about or how we developed this rapid urban transformation in our little city.

All this has opened up many more opportunities for Singapore, and for Singaporean architects and engineers.

Our architects are able to provide master-planning and other consultancy services to cities around the world.

Some companies have been able to offer solutions to countries in the region, e.g. SP’s district cooling system in Chongqing, China; SembCorp has several utility projects in countries overseas. These have benefitted homegrown companies.

Of course, we also have many leading global consultancy firms based here in Singapore, like AECOM, Arup, Beca and Mott MacDonald, just to name a few. They all have their regional HQs here.

They are SJ’s competitors.

The competition is intense. Each time the government puts out a project, there is keen interest from consultancy firms to bid and participate.

From the Government’s perspective, our approach is clear, our principles are straightforward – we want a level playing field. We do not provide any special arrangements with any entity, we ensure all projects are awarded through open and fair competition. Over the years, we have put more emphasis on quality considerations in our tender, instead of only focussing on price, because we do not want to engender a cheap sourcing culture. We want to ensure that we also looked at quality and that we can provide greater rewards for firms that deliver high-quality projects.

That is how we operate. In this context, I hope the firms, including SJ, take this competition in the right spirit – it helps you benchmark against others, and continually hone and sharpen your capabilities.

Having these leading firms here in Singapore here makes for a more vibrant eco-system, and will ultimately help create more jobs and opportunities for Singaporeans.

In the end, the competition is not just for the public sector projects within Singapore itself. We must look beyond our shores where there are much bigger opportunities, and where the competition is much stiffer.

That is why we must continue to work hard as Singapore Inc.

To stay at the forefront of innovation and new technologies.

This is why from the Government’s point of view, we will continue to invest significantly in R&D, with “Urban Solutions and Sustainability” as one of the key focus areas.

Through our R&D investments, we aim to strengthen our capabilities in building a more liveable, resilient, and sustainable city.

There are several areas where we are focusing on in our research efforts.

How can breakthroughs in material science help in the development of new building material that are more energy-efficient and sustainable?

How we can develop and design innovative solutions to reduce the Urban Heat Island effect, this very dense city, even as we move towards our net zero emissions targets?

Besides investing in R&D, we have also created platforms to spur collaboration between Government, industry, and academia, to deliver impactful solutions.

One such platform is the Built Environment Technology Alliance, or BETA, which allows companies to work together and tap on the capabilities of our research institutes and Institutes of Higher Learning. In fact, I started this when I was in MND, and I am happy to see that the platform has continued to grow and bring in more collaborators.

Take the building of construction works using concrete. Concrete is very popular; it is widely used in construction around the world. It is cheap, easy to produce, fire-resistant, and extremely strong. But concrete is also very dirty – it is one of the world’s worst pollutants. It contributed, by some estimates, to about 7% of global carbon emissions. So how can we find greener ways to produce concrete? In fact, some of our companies, Woh Hup and Alliance Concrete, are partnering the Singapore Institute of Technology to develop a manufacturing process for low-carbon concrete. This is just one example. We hope there will be many other collaborations and innovations that will lead to new breakthroughs and commercial solutions.

SJ’s new campus itself can be an incubator for innovation and industry collaboration. Your campus is located within Jurong Innovation District, which is also a hub for wider collaboration and innovation. Within the Jurong Innovation District, you can tap on research capabilities in NTU and A*STAR, and work with other firms in urban solutions and advanced manufacturing to develop new solutions.

These investments in R&D will take some time to translate into concrete economic outcomes. But this is precisely why we must take a long-term view. These investments will ultimately help to develop a critical mass of capabilities, ideas, and talent. They will help to sharpen our competitive edge globally, as a knowledge-based and innovation-driven economy.


To conclude, we have come a long way in these last 60 years in Singapore, but we are not done building Singapore.

After all, we only have this tiny little island. All our efforts must be devoted to making it better over time.

We will continue to re-imagine and re-make our city. It’s not just about having bigger, taller and more beautiful buildings. But building a city that reflects who we are as a people – our spirit and our values.

We must create new versions of urban living, each more fulfilling and sustainable, more beautiful and fun than the previous one.

We must make this an outstanding place where we can all realise our potential, and aspire towards a better life, even in a troubled world.

We can realise these goals only by working together. I am confident that SJ will continue to play an important role in shaping our future urban landscape. And I look forward to engaging all of you in this exciting journey of building our future Singapore together.