20 September 2007 - Speech By Dr Lee Boon Yang, Minister, Information, Communications & the Arts, At The 4th Ministerial e-Government Conference on "Reaping the Benefits of e-Government", Feira Internacional de Lisboa, Lisbon, Portugal.
Speech by Dr Lee Boon Yang, Minister, Information, Communications & the Arts, At The 4th Ministerial e-Government Conference on "Reaping the Benefits of e-Government" on 20 September 2007, Feira Internacional de Lisboa, Lisbon, Portugal.
Your Excellency, Mr Pedro Silva Pereira, Minister of the Presidency, Portugal
Ladies and Gentlemen,
1. Good morning. I would like to begin by thanking Minister Pedro Silva Pereira, Minister for the Presidency, Portugal, for inviting me to participate in this important Ministerial Conference on e-government. It is an honour to be able to address such a distinguished audience on the important subject of "Reaping the Benefits of e-Government". The theme addresses the essence of what we want from e-Government - better service for our citizens, strengthening our business ecosystem and connecting our societies.
2. I would like to share with you Singapore's e-Government experience by outlining some of our initiatives and plans for the future. I hope you will find our experience relevant to your own e-government journey.
Singapore's e-Government Journey
3. Singapore's e-Government journey began in the early 80s. From the 80s through the 90s, the government set out to raise the infocomm competency of the entire public sector. Computers initially a rarity became ubiquitous in the public sector by the 90s. Then with an increasingly pervasive Internet in the late 90s, we launched our public services online. For the past 25 years or so, ICT was used innovatively as a strategic enabler to transform the way the public sector works. ICT is now an integral part of our operations and services to better serve our people and businesses. 1,600 e-government services are available online 24-7 for businesses and citizens. These range from seeking approval for major building projects to passport renewals to filing income tax returns. Last year, around 160 million transactions on such services were made from a base population of 4.5 million people.
4. While technologies change, our guiding principles have remained constant. Our focus is always on serving our citizens and businesses. Each step, each new action plan builds on the previous one to achieve economic and social objectives.
e-Government as an Enabler for Economic Growth
5. On the economic front, we see ICT as a strategic catalyst for the rest of the economy. By streamlining and simplifying government processes and providing better and faster access to information, we build a pro-enterprise environment, facilitate business growth and improve the lives of our citizens.
Transforming the Trade and Logistics sector through Infocomm
6. One example is our TradeXchange project which will be launched next month. TradeXchange will provide seamless inter-connectivity between commercial and regulatory agencies over a neutral and robust platform for the trade and logistics community. TradeXchange aims to simplify the interactions between businesses, and between businesses and the Government resulting in a super-efficient global supply chain management system. It will save businesses operating out of Singapore time and money.
Simplifying Business Licensing applications
7. Actually time is money for businesses. The Online Business Licensing Services system, or OBLS for short, is a signature project that has been saving time and money for our business community since 2004.
8. OBLS is a one-stop service that has simplified business license application in Singapore tremendously. With OBLS, entrepreneurs can apply for one or more of the 71 licenses from 19 government agencies using a single online form at any one time. OBLS has cut the average time spent on license applications from 5 hours to 1 hour or less, while the average processing time for licenses has been cut 3-fold from 21 days to 8 days. We will continue to work towards reducing this even further. The impact of OBLS has been well recognized - we were delighted when the OBLS received a UN Public Service Award for e-Government1 in 2005.
Grooming our ICT Industry
9. Our strategy for e-Government also includes development of the local infocomm industry. These companies have developed many tried-and-tested e-government solutions over the years. With their track record of helping to build Singapore's e-Govt system, which was ranked number 1 by the 2007 Accenture Government Service Survey, the Singapore infocomm sector is ready to explore opportunities in the global market. Today, many of our e-Government solutions have already been exported and adopted in diverse markets such as the Middle East, East Asia and Africa.
10. I see possibilities for partnerships between Singapore and European infocomm companies to work with local and city governments in e-government.
Using e-Government for Social Connected-ness
11. On the social front, we have focused our e-Government efforts on bridging the digital divide and enhancing the dialogue between Government and citizens.
12. As part of our push toward more comprehensive e-Government services, we have established e-Engagement systems that would enable our citizens a greater voice in public policy-making. The REACH portal, where REACH stands for Reaching Everyone for Active Citizenry @ Home, has this goal in mind. The REACH portal moves beyond one-way feedback mechanisms by incorporating Web 2.0 and new media technologies such as blogs, social networking, online chats and short text messaging for truly productive and rewarding government-people exchange.
Bridging the Digital Divide
13. Clearly a truly effective and pervasive e-Government must be inclusive and embrace all citizens, including those who are not IT literate. Today we have more than 98 percent of our government services online; but merely having them online is not enough. If not everyone is covered by our e-government, then we would not have achieved the objectives.
14. We have thus launched a CitizenConnect initiative that seeks to assist Singapore residents with difficulties transacting online. We have set up 28 CitizenConnect centres at locations across Singapore, which is around a quarter the size of Metropolitan Lisbon2. Each centre is equipped with Internet-enabled PCs. More importantly, CitizenConnect officers are around to offer personalized help. In this way, even the aged, who are most likely to be IT illiterate, can gain confidence in using on-line e-government services.
15. Beyond the Internet channel, we are looking at how we can make better use of mobile phones, which are ubiquitous in Singapore. Today, citizens and businesses can access more than 150 government information and services via mobile phones. By 2008, we hope to double the mobile services to around 300.
e-Government Thought Leadership
16. Thus far, I have been describing our efforts in implementing e-Government strategies in Singapore. We appreciate that there is also a demand from other countries for formal experience-sharing and learning in e-Government.
17. Hence, in August 2006, we set up the Singapore e-Government Leadership Centre, or eGL for short. The eGL offers leadership programmes and executive development programmes in the area of e-Government and telecommunications policy. We have conducted such programmes for senior officials from several countries, including those in the Middle East. I am told that the participants found the knowledge exchange and relationship building opportunities to be invaluable.
18. The Singapore Infocomm Development Authority has also partnered the International Telecommunication Union to offer eGL training programme on ICT policy and telecom regulation. In July this year, a total of 35 senior officials from 11 countries3 came to study Singapore's experience. It was also an opportunity for policy-makers to exchange their views on competition regulation and industry development.
19. Singapore has made progress in implementing e-Government. Nevertheless, the e-Government journey is a continuous one. We will keep pace with developments in technology, while sensing the needs and expectations of our citizens. This will demand the adoption of a whole-of-government approach, or what we call "i-Gov", or integrated Government. This will require close inter-Ministry collaboration to bring our plans into reality. Only then can we continue to reap the full benefits of ICT for our people, businesses and society.
20. Thank you.
1 In the Category of "Application information and communication technology (ICT) in Government: e-Government".
2 The Lisbon Metropolitan Area is around 2,962 square km. Singapore is around 700 square km. Additional info: Metropolitan Lisbon's population in 2001 (last census) was 2.66 million. (From official website: www.aml.pt)