BG Lee Hsien Loong, Deputy Prime Minister Speech - Launch of the Singapore Government Internet Web Site and Intranet
BG Lee Hsien Loong, Deputy Prime Minister
Speech - Launch of the Singapore Government Internet Web Site and Intranet
Singapore, 28 June 1996
The Singapore Civil Service has had quite a long history of working with computers. Computerisation began in earnest throughout the service in 1981, with the launch of the Civil Service Computerisation Programme (CSCP). Today, we are one of the most highly computerised civil services in the world. We have invested more than $1 billion to install more than 900 computer-based systems. We are still spending $200m every year, upgrading and buying new systems.
The initial focus of computerisation was to automate routine back-room jobs, the administrative and data management functions of individual government departments. This freed civil servants from the drudgery of mundane tasks, so that they could pay more attention to service improvements. The public benefited indirectly, from quicker and more efficient services.
Later, with the advent of networking, we linked together different computer systems of government departments, to pass data and files electronically from one place to another almost instantaneously. The public previously had to travel to several government departments and carry their forms along. Now they needed to visit only one department for one-stop processing. This was a dramatic improvement in service. One example is the One-Stop Change of Address System, where a resident can report his change of address either to a neighbourhood police post or the National Registration Department, and his new address would automatically be updated at all government agencies which hold his personal particulars.
What made such one-stop systems possible were the networking infrastructure, common databases, and common standards for the systems to "talk" to one another and share data.
Today, a new wave of information technologies, exemplified by the Internet, the cable network and the information kiosks, is dramatically transforming the way the Government will provide services to the public. The next phase of the CSCP will exploit these technologies and build on the existing network infrastructure and databases to offer even greater convenience to the public, and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of Government.
New Government Internet Services
The internet's pervasiveness and popularity make it an invaluable platform for the Government to extend and improve its services. From the convenience of the office, the home or through information kiosks, the public can have one-stop access to government information and services, round the clock and cheaply - like a virtual government that never sleeps. People should be able to look up the government policies and procedures, enquire about government services, or apply for permits and licences on-line, at their own time and convenience.
To fully exploit the new capabilities, ministries and government agencies will have to radically re-think the way the Government provides services to the public. I have asked the NCB to encourage and help the ministries make use of the internet to serve the public. Most government departments and statutory boards already have web sites. Together, they have put more than 10,000 web pages on-line, which are accessed by more than 15,000 people every month. MITA, for example, now issues press releases through the internet, which is a far more efficient and timely way of public communication than photostatting copies to put in letterboxes.
This is a good start. But we must go much further. We will not be taking full advantage of internet technologies if we confine ourselves to putting out information on the net. Government agencies should make it possible for the public to actually do business with the Government through the internet. So far, very few agencies are doing this. The Public Services Division made a good start when it accepted job applications through the internet in the last mass recruitment exercise for graduates. We should do far more government businesses through the internet, including routine correspondence and answers to enquiries.
Many civil servants already have internet accounts, and use internet email to communicate with people in the private sector and with one another. We will give every Division 1 officer an internet account. The internet will become a routine part of his working environment.
The internet technology is still not quite mature. There are still some impediments to using the net more extensively for government transactions. For example, we still do not have secure ways to authenticate the identity of the users, and to make financial payments. But we should not wait till these are ready. Many routine transactions do not need a level of authentication and security higher than, for instance, the faxes and ordinary mails. There are therefore ample opportunities for exploiting internet technologies in government dealings with the public.
Today, I am happy to launch four new government services on the internet. They are:
a. The Ministry of Labour's work permit application system for maids. Employers can submit their applications through the internet and will be informed of the outcome within 3 working days instead of the current 7.
b. The Ministry of Community Development's childcare registration system. Parents will have access to information on childcare centres and can register their children through the internet.
c. The Directory of Government Services. This is a listing of more than 500 government services, with names and phone numbers of the government officers to contact.
d. The Government Electronic Mailbox. This is a box for the public to send their queries, suggestions and feedback, to individual government ministries and departments.
Besides bringing government information and services closer to the public, internet technologies can also be used internally, among government departments, to build a conduit for sharing and disseminating information. This is what intranets are about. The Government Intranet will link up more than 16,000 computers across government ministries and statutory boards. It will provide civil servants with an easy-to-use one-stop information database on their desktops. For a start, the database will include reference material like records of Parliamentary proceedings, civil service instructions, an interactive statistics database and Government directory, newsletters, etc. More will be added such as legislation and bookings for sports facilities. Through this intranet, civil servant will have up-to-date and consistent reference information with which to work.
The intranet will also provide an intelligent news alert service, where a user can specify selected topics of news-feed from major information sources, such as AsiaOne, to be sent regularly to him.
The Government Intranet and other innovations using the internet technologies will boost operational efficiency in the Civil Service significantly. But to derive full benefit, the Service must continually re-examine its work processes and review emerging technologies, to see how to improve service quality and delivery. Singapore has a high literacy rate in IT. It is one important competitive advantage. So let us use it to the maximum, to make a difference to our performance as a nation.
The public can expect to do businesses with the Government more and more through the internet and other electronic means from remote locations. For example, the HDB plans to enable the public to electronically apply to rent a flat under the Transitional Rental Housing Scheme, or to change their type of flat under the Registration for Flat System. Flat applicants will also be able to enquire about the status of their applications via the Internet.
The NCB is working jointly with several government agencies to develop the systems for electronic identification and secure transactions on the Internet. These should be ready within a year. We can then do financial transactions on-line, such as electronic billing and payment, and electronic commerce.
We also plan to set up one-stop government centres, providing multiple government services at a single location. The centres will be manned by specially trained customer service officers with on-line links to the Government Intranet and other systems, to advise the public on how to make use of particular government services. A few pilot centres will be set up next year.
In the longer term, we can use artificial intelligence to develop expert systems, which will answer queries from the public on the internet. For example, such systems can advise individuals on their eligibility for certain types of HDB flat, based on the personal and financial profiles which they keyed in, and also advise them on how to apply and what the limits of withdrawal from their CPF accounts would be.
This is a very fast-moving field. New technologies are being developed and superseded one after another. To keep up, we must evolve new ways of work, develop new procedures, and learn new skills, over and over again. This cannot be helped. We must accept this flux as the normal state of affairs. We will all have to relearn and retrain, perhaps every 3 years or so.
The public demands better and more responsive government services, as they become more educated and better informed. The internet, information kiosks and cable networks provide tremendous potential for the Civil Service to create new and better services to reach out to the public. Government agencies must respond to this challenge and think of ways and means to harness this vast potential to further improve service quality in the Civil Service.