“There are big things which we need to do and many small things which we ought to do better.”
PM Lee Hsien Loong talked about the need to move faster on the adoption of technology and Smart Nation initiatives at a Forum hosted by Sequoia Capital on February 24, 2017.
The Prime Minister said that the Singapore government is considering a national identity system, similar to the Estonian Electronic ID Card, where citizens can sign in, identify themselves, access services securely and transact services online. The existing ID for government services, SingPass, does not extend to private sector services or even to restructured, semi-privatised hospitals. The Estonian card serves as a national health insurance card, as proof of identification for logging into bank accounts, as a pre-paid public transport ticket and can be used for i-voting, accessing government databases and picking up e-Prescriptions among other applications.
More can be done from the point of view of users in terms of good electronic payment system to boost adoption and usage. Singapore can go further in order to facilitate cashless payments in hawker centres, in shops, between people.
The Smart Nation Programme Office (SNPO), under the PMO, is overseeing major projects such as a linked together national sensor network, to create an integrated data source for the whole country. It would include networks like traffic police network, or the water authority cameras tracking drains or cameras in housing estates, watching lifts and security.
But PM Lee used the example of an intelligent transport system to underline his view of how Singapore ought to do more big things and do better on small things. Such a responsive system would be adaptive to demand, cutting down on empty routes and unnecessary services, thereby delivering better services at lower cost. But the incentives have not been brought together yet. Citizen feedback and involvement would play an important role in this process.
He went on to talk about the ease of transacting on government websites, “Every time I go on to a Government website, if for some reason I have to transact a service and I cannot find the link, I tell them, please put this link in. Because if I cannot find it, I think there are a lot of people who will have the same problem as me.”
Singapore has an advantage because of its rationalist ethos and because it is compact, wired-up city, making it economical to provide very high-quality infrastructure. People are quick to adopt technological solutions and are willing to embrace change if it makes processes shorter and more efficient.
In relation to using technology and preparing for the future, PM Lee talked about the strategies in the report by the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) and Budget 2017. He said, “In terms of physical growth, numbers, space, we reach constraints. But in terms of ideas, productivity, breakthroughs, the constraint is only what the human mind can come up with, what people can organise and deliver. Tech and new companies, making use of the Internet and cyberspace, is one of the areas where we want to focus and to grow, and one of the areas where the Government needs to make high quality use of the technology itself, and be able to drive a whole country to operate in a rational, efficient, and cyber-speed way.”
In response to a question from the audience (largely made up of founders of technology companies from around the world) PM Lee described a four-pronged approach for fostering a favourable environment for start-ups to grow and innovate. The first is to create an overall pro-business environment, making it easy to do business in Singapore. Second is creating the infrastructure, like the incubators, venture capitalists, the angels, the whole ecosystem to support start-ups. The third point is being open to talent. Last but not the least, is the government’s efforts in the education system, focusing on STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) subjects.
Technological change is irreversible, even if there are downsides which societies have to learn to live with. PM Lee said, “I think the way has to be forward and not backwards. We can have driverless vehicles. We need driverless vehicles. It will make a difference to human beings, to the human condition. If we can have personalised medicine, I think we should go for personalised medicine, and we will be able to treat human beings better and improve their lives. To go the other way is completely a dead end.”
Finally, the Prime Minister talked about ‘trust’. Trust is established in the sharing economy apps through mutual rankings and assessments. So, technology can play a role. Singapore grows because there is trust, that whatever growth is there, even a slowed down rate of 2-3%, will benefit most people. In the current challenging global economic environment, it becomes critical to sustain that trust, so that the country continues to work together.
Read the full transcript here.
Watch the full dialogue on the PMO YouTube channel here.
Featured image: File Photo
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