Toh Chee Boon: Construction Cooperation Booms

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By Zhang Lijuan

Toh Chee Boon is Deputy General Manager of China Construction (South Pacific) Development Company (CCDC), a regional subsidiary of China State Construction Engineering Corporation. Over the past decade, Toh has achieved remarkable feats in construction and engineering with CCDC, and is now one of the industry’s most prominent project managers. As a frequent traveler to China, Toh marvels at China’s rapid development.

Deep Affection for China

Born and raised in Singapore, Toh Chee Boon has been interested in China since childhood. He remembers one day when he came home from school, he received a gift from one of his relatives from China who came to visit his parents.

“I was very happy at the moment, ” Toh recalled. “When I was a child, I was very curious about China and hoped to visit one day.”

In 1993, 20-year-old Toh was about to graduate from Ngee Ann Polytechnic, an industry-oriented university in Singapore. With the help of his teacher, Toh and one of his classmates received an offer to work in Tianjin, China, during an internship program with a Singaporean construction company. This was the first time that Singaporean students were encouraged to seek internships abroad.

Toh and his classmate worked in China for two weeks. Their job was to install and test a power system for Xingang Port in Tianjin. The construction company which awarded Toh the internship had won a SGD800,000 (US$595,000) contract to install the port’s power system.

“I really benefited from the internship opportunity in terms of vocational skills,” Toh said. “I also gained a better understanding of China and felt a greater attachment to it.”

After two-and-a-half years’ service in the army, 23-year-old Toh began his first full-time job at a Singaporean joint venture that benefited from investment by the Beijing Uni-Construction Group, a Chinese Fortune 500 giant. In the following years, he gained experience in construction engineering. He also made friends with Chinese colleagues and learned how to speak a number of phrases in several Chinese dialects. He enjoyed Chinese liquor and dumplings made by Chinese friends.

“Now, China has become the world’s second largest economy, with a rising international status,” Toh said. “It has maintained good relations with ASEAN. I’m sure that China can make an even greater contribution to ASEAN infrastructure construction as the Belt and Road Initiative continues to unfold.”

Bridging the China-Singapore Construction Industry

In October 2005, Toh’s career entered a new chapter as he began to work as a construction engineer. He was employed by CCDC, which brought him even closer to China.

His first year at CCDC was challenging. He was appointed project manager of the Bedok Town Center C6 (Bedok TCC6) project, a 35-month residential project in Singapore contracted to CCDC at the price of SGD94.65 million (US$71 million). Bedok TCC6 was composed of ten 17-story residential buildings and two six-story parking lots, with total floor space of 142,942 square meters. Assigned with such a daunting task, Toh had mixed feelings. He was delighted to be trusted by his boss and receive a promotion. At the same time, however, he felt stressed and was not able to spend as much time with his family.

When the project was completed as scheduled in 2008, Toh’s hard work paid off. Bedok TCC6 was conferred an HDB Housekeeping Award, an HDB Quality Award and an HDB Construction Safety Award by the Housing and Development Board (HDB) of Singapore. It was also granted a BCA Construction Excellence Award and a Construction Productivity Award by the Building and Construction Authority of Singapore (BCA). The project scored an 85.5 in the BCA Construction Quality Assessment, the highest among all public housing projects that year.

The huge success of the Bedok TCC6 project was owed largely to Toh’s efforts. As a Singapore native, he played a crucial role in communicating with local government authorities on behalf of CCDC.

“In his dealings with people from Singaporean statutory boards like the HDB, the BCA, the Land Transport Authority, the National Environment Agency and the Agency of Civil Defense, Toh Chee Boon is highly respected because of his expertise in construction engineering,” one of Toh’s colleagues said.

Toh often receives invitations from the HDB and the BCA to attend seminars on topics like construction planning and methods to enhance productivity. As a senior project manager, he was one of the first BCA-certified construction quality assessment managers. He was even invited by the HDB to give training courses to construction workers.

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Toh Chee Boon (left) with his colleagues at the construction site.

New Opportunities in a New Era

The year 2016 marks Toh’s 12th year working at CCDC. He has made frequent trips to China and witnessed China’s dramatic growth, showing great confidence in the prospect of economic development in both Singapore and China.

With the establishment of the China-ASEAN Construction Industry Cooperation Committee in May 2016, Toh sees a great opportunity for Chinese enterprises to launch cooperation with ASEAN member states. He believes that based on common interests and regional identity, ASEAN countries can seek joint development as they continue to build closer ties in economics, security and culture.

“Now, China has become the world’s second largest economy, with a rising international status,” Toh said. “It has maintained good relations with ASEAN. I’m sure that China can make an even greater contribution to ASEAN infrastructure construction as the Belt and Road Initiative continues to unfold.”

Toh hopes that he can remain with CCDC for the rest of his career. He believes that in a new era of upgraded China-ASEAN cooperation, CCDC will enjoy even greater opportunity. He is happy to continue his role as an active player in China-ASEAN economic cooperation.

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