Mr David T E Lim, Minister of State for Defence and Chairman National Computer Board Speech - National Y2K Seminar  

Mr David T E Lim, Minister of State for Defence and Chairman
National Computer Board
Speech - National Y2K Seminar
Singapore, 26 April 1999


Good morning, ladies and gentlemen,

1. In 1993, Mary Bandar of Winona, Minnesota, US, received an invitation to attend kindergarten. This was nothing unusual except that this woman was 104 years old.

2. Mistakes such as this have caused alarm and also brought smiles as we both laugh at the stupidity of computers, and fear their silent control over our lives. We have always known that computers compute very accurately, but not always correctly. A wrong programming code can cause an otherwise powerful computer to continue making the same silly mistake over and over again.

3. The Y2K bug is a computer programming problem. In 246 days, any program that contains this bug will continue to execute, as it was programmed to do, and produce erroneous results. Some of them could be disastrous for the business or application that depends on that program working properly.

4. But because the Y2K is a computer problem, it can be fixed. It is a bit like looking for a pin, or in this case a bug, in the proverbial haystack, but at least we know what the bug looks like, and which haystacks to look at. With effort, we can find each and every bug, and fix it.

5. Over the last 4 years, the Singapore government and its agencies have been on a great bug-hunt. We can now say with confidence that the haystacks that run our critical public service systems will be free of bugs well ahead of the year end deadline.

6. There are 4 reasons why we can be so confident:

a) Firstly, we started early. We took this problem seriously. We knew that looking for small bugs in large haystacks takes a lot of time and effort. Because we started early, we were able to refine our bug hunting techniques, and to learn from the efforts of others. We were also able to carry out a systematic and comprehensive bug hunt, without being under time pressure.

b) Second, we invested resources to fix and correct the problems. Each organisation set aside many man-years of management and technical time, and spent the money needed to replace critical components and systems found to be infected by the bug.

c) Third, we conducted rigorous testing, and put our systems through a whole set of critical tests. We did not just test for just one date, but many other potentially problematic dates as well. So far, some critical dates such as 1 January 1999 and 9 Apr 99 (which is the 99th day of the Julian calendar) have passed without any incident. This is a good indicator that 1 January 2000 will also pass without too much fuss in Singapore.

d) Finally, we have contingency plans in place for infrastructure systems and essential public services, in case something does fall through the cracks. Although we are confident that our haystacks are bug free, we have nonetheless prepared contingency plans on the basis that some stray bug could still be lurking around, or that these systems could be affected by failures elsewhere in Singapore or the world. Such plans ensure that government agencies remain vigilant and think through the remedial steps that can be quickly implemented to correct any problems that may crop up.

7. As you can see, these are 4 good reasons why we need not be fearful of any public disorder or disruption of services related to Y2K. In less than 2 months, all key government systems and service providers will be Y2K ready. Already more than 90% of these systems have already been converted and tested. You will hear more about these efforts and contingency plans from the agencies in today's seminar.

8. Moving beyond the public sector, the government has also been encouraging the private sector to be just as prepared for the Y2K bug. A recent survey of 1000 companies in the private sector indicates that our companies are generally confident that they will transit through year 2000 without any difficulties.

9. In particular, 73% of SMEs included in the survey indicated that they would be ready before the end of the year. Of the remaining SMEs without any plans, three quarters of them indicated that they would not be affected, while the remaining quarter indicated that they still needed help to address the problem. This is quite encouraging, because comparative data from other countries show that SMEs are usually the least well prepared of all organisations. For the small percentage that is still inadequately prepared, may I take this opportunity to sound a final warning. Time is running out, but if you act quickly, the problem can still be overcome, or at least minimised. SMEs who need help should contact the NCB or their trade associations.

10. Although we are well prepared, and confident that our systems will continue to work normally, it is foolhardy to assume that nothing will go wrong. One reason is that the Y2K problem is not a localised one. Many systems are connected to global networks. This means that failures elsewhere in the world, such as in their telecommunication systems, seaports or airports can also affect us indirectly.

11. In response to this, Singapore is actively working with global organisations to prepare and contribute towards solutions for Y2K. We encourage other countries to disclose and exchange information so that an informed approach can be taken to rectify the problems and to prepare for contingencies. An example of such efforts is last week's APEC Y2K Symposium, which concluded with a recommendation for greater inter-economy Y2K testing, and co-ordination of contingency plans.

12. But because not everyone is equally prepared, we must also anticipate that as we draw closer to the end of this year, anxieties will rise. When the public does not receive clear, believable and reliable information about how well prepared individual organisations are for the Y2K bug, they will only imagine the worst.

13. To maintain public confidence, organisations must therefore have good disclosure and dissemination of information regarding the steps that they have taken to deal with the Y2K bug. They must also explain clearly their contingency plans to deal with any problems that may arise.

14. In the survey of private companies earlier mentioned, we are pleased to find that 60% of companies have a communication strategy to disseminate information to their staff, while 51% have a communication strategy for their external customers. We hope that this number will increase in the months ahead.

15. Likewise it is imperative for the key public agencies in Singapore to have a public communications plan to explain their Y2K readiness. NCB, as the agency responsible for driving the national Y2K awareness and action programme, will over the next few months work with MITA to co-ordinate the efforts of government agencies to keep the public informed.

16. Today's National Y2K Seminar serves as a start. We will explain the actions taken, our state of preparedness and the contingency plans. This information will also be shared with other countries.

17. I am pleased to note that our financial sector has received a good report of Y2K readiness. At an event hosted by the Association of Banks of Singapore last month, the Global 2000 Co-ordinating Group, which is a global group of financial institutions, expressed firm confidence in the Y2K readiness of Singapore's financial community and gave them the highest rating of preparedness.

18. Today, you will learn about the efforts of other key infrastructure players. I hope that you will find the presentations useful in helping you gain a better understanding of what steps have been taken by our key sectors in dealing with this problem. I believe that you will come to the same conclusion as we have: that we can be confident that it will be business as usual come 2000.

19. In conclusion, the Y2K problem reminds us of how pervasive IT is in our lives. IT is here to stay. The Y2K problem is our first global IT problem. It is not likely to be our last. The extent of the Y2K problem demonstrates forcefully that we can no longer live and work in isolation and can only exist and operate as interdependent and integrated worldwide systems.

20. But looking at this on the brighter side, the Y2K bug is a wake-up call for us. The experience we gain from dealing with this bug will enable us to design and build more resilient and reliable systems that will drive our networked and interconnected world of the future. It is a future we can face with confidence and with great expectations.

21. Thank you.

LAST UPDATED: 13 MAR 2023