These are not small boys. Roland Berger has 2,400 employees in 36 countries. In 2011, the company had US$1.2 billion in sales, and last year recorded US$670 million in revenues. Huawei, which would be expected to be doing most of the heavy lifting in rolling out Smart City tech, as of September 2018 had over 188,000 employees. The company’s annual revenue rose to US$108.5bn in 2018 – a 21% increase over 2017.
The report identifying the island’s woes was pretty much a no-brainer: limited (sic) public transportation options, high transportation costs, electricity and water supply issues, low infrastructure readiness, and waste management failings – like we didn’t already know.
But the recent data published about the island’s resource usage rates and other economic indicators highlighted just how the gates have opened in the echelons of officialdom. The report details what is supposedly public information, but is a lot harder to get your hands on if you’re not the right person asking.
Among the information included are electricity usage rates provided by the PEA, water usage rates from the PWA (water consumption per capita of Phuket is higher than the majority of key provinces and the national average), and even the simplest of statistics, the number of vehicles registered in Phuket (sustained 3% growth each year for the past five years, at 488,366 as of 2018; highest vehicle ownership per capita in the country of 1.19 per person, national average 0.6).
We should thank former deputy prime minister Air Chief Marshall (Rtd) Prajin Juntong and our illustrious Governor Phakakphong Tavipatatna for facilitating that access, with both gracing the introductory pages with their own messages included immediately after the report’s message of thanks.
The report also notes that an estimated US$13 million in government funding has been commissioned to develop Phuket Smart City, “with a vision towards higher quality of life for the locals and a thriving tourism sector to drive its economy”. (See report here.)
We’ll take that as an informed estimate of B398 million, but truth be known no one knows exactly how much has been spent on all the confabs, research reports and feasibility studies already conducted since the Smart City concept was floated by the then-called Software Industry Promotion Agency (Sipa, now called Depa).
Yet Roland Berger and Huawei have their eyes on the prize and know how to sell it. They know where the money is, and they want in. The report notes, “By leveraging smart city technologies, Phuket is expected to see a 4.5% boost in local economy over the next 5 years.”
It also notes in November last year, not a great high season for many on the island, the number of visitors to Phuket reached over 1 million, collectively generating over B40bn in a single month.
“The number of visitors and migrants in Phuket far outgrew the number of locals, forcing the government to rethink its solutions to urban city problems such as waste, electricity demand, and road congestion” – they’re not wrong.
The trick is that Heaven knows Phuket will not become a Smart City thanks to local intelligence – not when Immigration still require applications for extensions to permits to stay to include photographs glued onto A4 pieces of paper like a 9-year-old’s school project, complete with a hand-drawn map of where your house is.
The likes of Roland Berger and Huawei will get the job done, and make their money in the process. But who else is going to need to lend a hand by providing access to local services?