COS Debate 2023 (Speech by Minister Josephine Teo)
Committee of Supply Debate 2023
24 Feb 2023
Speech by Mrs Josephine Teo, Minister for Communications and Information and Minister-in-charge of Smart Nation and Cybersecurity
Good afternoon, Mr Chairman. I thank Members for your questions and comments. In the interest of time, let me jump straight to the lessons we’ve learned since we started our Smart Nation journey in 2014.
Smart Nation is about Putting People First
The first lesson is to always put people first.
I am happy to update Ms Tin Pei Ling that through digital technology, we have made it more convenient for our citizens and businesses to apply for government services, seek help, and get support when and where they need it. Most transactions can be completed from the comfort of their homes.
Singaporeans can use MyInfo to apply for credit cards, or LifeSG to access parenting, housing and other digital government services. Ms Tin is very familiar with these. Singpass and PayNow are widely used. 4.2 million people use the Singpass app today, and over 300 million individual and corporate transactions were made on PayNow in 2022.
Businesses have also benefited from digital services. Abundance is a restaurant bar that started out as a home-based business. When it first opened in 2021, it used the GoBusiness portal to apply for the necessary licences. This helped it to be set up quickly without having to go from agency to agency physically. The GoBusiness portal also suggested suitable grants, such as the Productivity Solutions Grant and Energy Efficiency Grant, which Abundance used to improve its operations. I am happy to hear that Abundance has since opened its second branch last year.
These efforts have helped improve citizen satisfaction with government services from 73% in 2016 to 84% in 2022. Business satisfaction with government services has also improved from 64% to 79%.
This progress motivates us to further improve, and as Ms Jessica Tan suggested, leverage digital technologies to improve our service delivery.
For example, the team at Open Government Products built the Health Appointment System last year to make it easier to book pneumococcal and flu vaccination appointments. It has facilitated more than 40,000 appointments to date.
This system will soon be expanded for eligible women to book a subsidised HPV2 vaccination appointment. This will make it easier for our women to protect themselves through vaccinations. By April, the system will also allow appointment bookings for all vaccines under the National Adult Immunisation Schedule, and by June, vaccines under the National Childhood Immunisation Schedule.
The second lesson is that safety matters. To use digital tools with confidence, our citizens must be able to trust that they are safe. With ever-evolving cybersecurity threats, this has become a tall order.
Mr Alex Yam asked about protecting our digital systems.
We are investing efforts to build stronger defences to safeguard people from scams and online harms. For example:
ScamShield was launched on iOS in 2020 and on Android in 2022. It has about 500,000 users and since 2022, has helped block 200,000 scam calls and detected over 3.5 million scam messages.
We will be launching a ScamShield Chatbot later this year on WhatsApp, to allow the public to report scam messages to the relevant authorities more easily.
MHA will say more about their efforts to address scams.
We are also improving government ICT infrastructure to be more resilient against cyber-attacks.
We are working with agencies to modernise and secure their key systems.
This includes moving more government systems to cloud, to improve resiliency, security monitoring, and our threat detection tools. To date, we have migrated 64% of eligible government systems, and we are on track to hit our target of 70% by this year.
As Mr Alex Yam pointed out, the Government cannot do all of this securing alone.
We have launched the Vulnerability Rewards Programme to work with white hats (or ethical hackers), experts and volunteers to identify weaknesses in our systems so we can continuously improve their security.
In MCI’s COS, I will expand on efforts to uplift digital literacy and strengthen safety online.
To Go Far, Go Together
The third lesson is that to go far, we must go together. Smart Nation is a collective effort. For example, we are collaborating with, and learning from, leading countries and companies in Artificial Intelligence.
We recently signed MOUs with Israel and Korea, as well as with Google and Samsung. We also have AI research partnerships with industry, such as with SembWaste to improve environmental sustainability through efficient recycling, such as using computer vision to sort waste.
We will continue to learn from the best-in-class, incubate good ideas, and support Singapore companies in leveraging AI.
More importantly, we must never leave our citizens behind in our Smart Nation journey. To points raised by Mr Seah Kian Peng and Ms Tin Pei Ling, we will continue our efforts to ensure our digital services are accessible and easy to use, for all.
We will also continue to provide non-digital options for critical government services for the foreseeable future. In terms of design which Ms Jessica Tan asked about, it is based primarily on following the user journey, identifying and fixing pain points in advance, and rigorous testing. Minister Chan Chun Sing will speak more broadly about public service delivery which Mr Yip Hong Weng asked about. I will share more on our digital inclusion efforts during MCI’s COS debate, particularly to support the lower-income and seniors.
Next Bound of Smart Nation
Mr Chairman, these lessons we’ve learnt are shaping the way we are thinking about the next bound of Smart Nation. During the various Forward Singapore conversations, it has become more evident how technology can enable and improve our lives. In MCI’s Digital Readiness Survey, 84% of Singaporeans agreed that digital technologies have made their lives easier.
As we refresh our Smart Nation strategy, three broad areas will be particularly important:
First, enhancing opportunities for Singaporeans to flourish;
Second, ensuring trust and safety in the digital world; and
Third, strengthening our communities.
Let me outline each priority area in turn.
First, digital technology presents immense opportunities for Singaporeans and our businesses. As Ms Tin Pei Ling pointed out, it is critical to invest in digital infrastructure. MCI will elaborate on this.
Mr Sharael Taha asked how we can better support our businesses and citizens to grow and thrive in an age of technological advances.
AI Singapore offers a good example.
Since its launch in 2017, AI Singapore has partnered around 80 businesses to co-develop AI models and solutions, and created close to $60M of value. For example, it supported Q&M Dental Group to develop an AI model that helps dentists detect disease from dental X-rays, and recommend treatment plans. Q&M Group now plans to deploy this AI model to more than 150 clinics in the region.
AI Singapore also runs the AI Apprenticeship programme to provide training using real world projects and help the trainees get better jobs.
To meet strong demand from both industry and Singaporeans, AI Singapore will double the number of AI apprentices trained over the next five years from 200 to 400.
We will continue to nurture innovative use of data just as AI Singapore and Q&M Group have done, including taking in Ms Tin Pei Ling’s suggestion for us to find more opportunities to securely share government data with businesses and the community. We are already exploring the use of emerging privacy-enhancing technologies that allows us to share data in a seamless and secure manner, to nurture more collaboration with non-government entities.
A second priority is to ensure that we can go digital with confidence, feel safe and secure using digital tools and services.
The Government will step up our proactive cybersecurity measures.
We have launched the Government Cyber Security Operations Centre to make greater use of artificial intelligence and data analytics in defending government systems.
We have also developed PhishMonSG in collaboration with MHA. This is a tool that proactively hunts for phishing sites that pose as government agency websites, so that we can remove them before they can harm the public.
We also want to help level up our companies, especially small and medium enterprises. MCI will share more about our initiatives.
The third area of priority for is to help strengthen our Singapore communities.
Our Smart Nation must be inclusive, so that all Singaporeans can participate fully in an increasingly-digital society. As I have said, digital first need not mean digital only.
There is also value to co-create with the community, promote opportunities for people and groups to come together to make Singapore a better home for all of us. In this regard, I am pleased to announce that SNDGO and URA, with support from IMDA, have just rolled out an Innovation Challenge in Jurong Lake District today, focusing on urban sustainability issues. I encourage companies and research institutes to submit proposals to address these real-life issues, and possibly pilot them in the JLD soon.
Sir, it will soon be ten years since PM Lee announced the Smart Nation initiative in 2014.
However, the task of building Smart Nation, like that of building Singapore, is never done. We will continue to find ways to leverage technology to realise new opportunities for our people and businesses, to help our people go digital with confidence, and to build a stronger community.