COS Debate 2022 (Speech by Minister Josephine Teo)
Committee of Supply Debate 2022
2 March 2022
Speech by Mrs Josephine Teo, Minister for Communications and Information and Minister-in-charge of Smart Nation and Cybersecurity
Good afternoon, Mr Chairman.
In the limited time available, I will try my best to address Members’ concerns. With your permission, Sir, I will also be taking clarifications after my response.
Ms Tin Pei Ling and Mr Sharael Taha asked about the progress of our Smart Nation efforts. In fact, our Smart Nation is rapidly taking shape and there was no better evidence of this than during the height of the pandemic. Our children could not go to school, but learning did not stop. Many people could not go to their workplaces, but work and meetings continued. Cinemas and theatres were closed, but we were entertained online.
So much of our lives have gone digital. Some of the digital services we use regularly today were nascent only five years ago. Take the Singpass app, for example, which was only launched in 2018. Today, 3.5 million people use the Singpass app to gain access to over 1,700 digital and physical services. In 2021, more than 350 million personal and corporate transactions were facilitated via Singpass. Even then, Singpass continues to be improved. Soon, besides the Digital IC, our Digital Driving Licence will be accessible on Singpass.
Later this month, Singpass will also allow business owners or their authorised employees to conveniently retrieve basic company information, including awarded Government contracts and shareholders’ names. This makes it easier for them to fulfil such information requests.
Members may also have noticed updates on the recent Budget announcements appearing in your Singpass app. Beyond that, there is an ongoing trial to send citizens personalised information on the Budget through the LifeSG app. This helps citizens know the support that is most relevant to them.
Our people can also check their eligibility for various schemes on the SupportGoWhere website. To date, we have used the GoWhere technology for 16 different purposes, allowing citizens to access key information more easily.
Digitalisation, however, is more than just moving from the physical to the virtual. The user experience matters, as highlighted by Ms Tin. And as Ms Hany Soh shared, it is also about unifying multiple touchpoints into a single service journey.
For example, together with the PSD and MOH, we have developed an online portal called My Legacy. The website guides citizens to settle the different components of end-of-life planning, such as lasting power of attorney, advanced care planning and CPF nominations. Information is consolidated in a single platform, enabling a more seamless experience. Some transactions must, however, take place through agency websites, to better protect the users.
Response to My Legacy has been positive. 140,000 users have used the platform since its release in 2020. We will continue to improve the site and indeed, other platforms to achieve greater seamlessness while not compromising security.
Apart from citizens, digitalisation has also led to a sea change for our businesses. Guided by the Industry Transformation Maps (ITM), new business models, companies and jobs have emerged. Good jobs have been created for Singaporeans from product managers to algorithm engineers and UI/UX designers.
A new wave of entrepreneurs has taken centre stage, from home-based bakers to live streamers. These developments are very much in keeping with our Smart Nation vision, as outlined by Prime Minister Lee during his National Day Rally (NDR) in 2017, five years ago. Then, Prime Minister said that, and I quote: “Next time I am at a hawker centre, I look forward to paying for my meal with PayNow”. Today, more than half of all hawkers have adopted e-payments. In fact, more than 200 million dollars in PayNow transactions were made every day last year.
Another familiar scheme is the CDC vouchers, which has benefitted more than a million households and over 10,000 heartland merchants. What is less well known is that the digitalisation of vouchers and transaction tracking are enabled by RedeemSG, a system developed by GovTech that can be reused for similar voucher programmes.
Another tool is GovWallet, which helps the Government send monies and credits to citizens in a more secure and convenient way. MINDEF is using GovWallet to disburse NS recognition benefits through the LifeSG app. The benefits can be used at any of the 164,000 merchants that accept PayNow. CPF Board is also using GovWallet to disburse workfare payouts through ATMs. This replaces cheque disbursements and allows us to better serve the unbanked.
Our digital foundation has been instrumental to our whole-of-nation COVID-19 response and is constantly being strengthened. What has been most heartening is the contributions of our vibrant local tech sector. One example is Beep Technologies, a local company involved in the deployment of vending machines. Working with MTI, MOH, PA and GovTech, Beep has rolled out 1,600 vending machines island-wide. They have supported our nationwide distribution of 30 million masks, 1.3 million TraceTogether tokens and 2.5 million ART kits.
We may not have thought too much about what it takes to repurpose vending machines that are more used to dispensing drinks and other regular day-to-day items. And it was not an easy feat, to ensure that the TraceTogether Tokens would not break upon being dispensed, Beep engineers used apple pies to test their customised machines. It took many tries before they could get satisfying results.
Beep’s CEO, 25-year-old Kristoffer Jacek Soh, told me that he founded his company soon after he heard Prime Minister’s NDR speech in 2017 and was inspired. I hope more young people, like Jacek, will work with us to create our Smart Nation together.
Apart from our local tech sector, tech teams within the Government also played an important role in our COVID-19 response. Many of us have used our national vaccine appointment system. This was built by a small team of product managers, designers and software engineers, working closely with policymakers, clinicians and ground operators. They were given just two weeks to get the job done. Thanks to their efforts, many of us would have taken only minutes to complete our vaccination registration.
As we continue to strengthen our digital foundations, we must be ready to tackle challenges such as digital inclusion and cybersecurity. In particular, we agree with Ms Jessica Tan, that the fast pace of digitalisation can feel daunting, even for people who are willing to learn and try. Last year, we made a big move to help Singaporeans gain confidence with their digital forays. Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) launched the Digital for Life movement. This is complemented by a community of 4,000 Smart Nation Ambassadors, who help our residents feel more comfortable using digital government services.
Besides seniors, one of the groups where help has been focused, is in fact persons with disabilities. At the same time, we are also making digital services more accessible. For example, we have translated key government digital services into more languages. Since last week, we have started to make Singpass app available in our four official languages. As more features are onboarded, this will better support citizens who are more comfortable transacting in vernacular languages.
Let me assure Members that we will always try to offer alternatives for those who are less comfortable with digital services or cannot access them. This includes telephone services, which Mr Pritam Singh mentioned. Even then, technology can help. For example, when cases spiked in September last year, there was a surge in calls to the COVID-19 emergency hotline. Within a week, our tech teams set up a call handling and case management system. Through better information sharing capabilities, productivity of our call agents improved. The percentage of incoming calls that went unanswered dropped from 30% in mid-October to almost zero by the end of November.
Another top priority for us is cybersecurity, which Ms Tin also highlighted. I will speak more about this later during MCI’s COS debate.
While we strengthen digital inclusion and cybersecurity, we must look ahead. As Mr Sharael Taha mentioned, there are many exciting opportunities to capture in the next bound of our Smart Nation journey. Even as we speak, the digital future of smart cities, sustainability, finance, education and healthcare is being reshaped. Technologies, like 5G and autonomous systems, will continue to mature and give us opportunity to reimagine our schools, hospitals, workplaces and even our heartlands.
There is much to explore in each of these areas. We will partner with citizens in this process as part of our broader SG Together movement. The newly launched Citizen Co-Creation group will co-develop new solutions with our tech teams in areas such as smart cities and digital inclusion.
Sir, on the whole, we have made good progress in our Smart Nation journey. For the third year running, Singapore has topped the IMD-SUTD Smart City Index in 2021. But we are always keenly aware that what matters most is the satisfaction of our people and businesses. For digital government services, continuous efforts have raised citizen satisfaction from 73% in 2016 to 85% in 2021. Satisfaction among businesses has also risen from 64% to 76%.
In today’s era of hyper-innovation, every milestone represents just a new beginning. To stay ahead, we must never stop building new capabilities and never stop seizing new opportunities.
Our Smart Nation is still rapidly taking shape. Through sustained commitment and efforts, we will continue to transform Singaporeans’ lives for the better.