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Mr Lee Yock Suan, Minister for Trade and Industry Opening Address - APEC Y2K Symposium

Mr Lee Yock Suan, Minister for Trade and Industry
Opening Address - APEC Y2K Symposium
Singapore, 22 April 1999


1. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen

2. Singapore is honoured to host the APEC Y2K Symposium, which is jointly organised by Canada, Japan and Singapore. On behalf of the Government of Singapore, I would like to bid a warm welcome to all of you.

3. At the APEC Leaders' Meeting in Kuala Lumpur last November, Leaders noted the potential for the Y2K problem to cause significant disruptions to economic, trading and financial activities. They urged all economies to accelerate their efforts in making themselves Y2K compliant. As a symbol of APEC's cooperation in tackling the Y2K problem, PM Obuchi of Japan proposed, and the other APEC Leaders agreed, that an APEC Y2K Week be organised to focus the minds on this important subject. We are now in the midst of the APEC Y2K Week.

4. We have only 254 days to go before the end of this millennium. The headline news on 1st January 2000 could either be celebratory with the Y2K problem being greeted as an anti-climax; or it could be a field day for journalists as major systems get disrupted or even crippled, resulting in huge damages or worse still, loss of human lives. Which headline will materialise will depend on how well countries have prepared for the Y2K problem. APEC economies must come together to overcome this global problem even amidst the current economic difficulties. The clock will not stop ticking for us.

Purpose of the Symposium

5. The Y2K problem is no longer merely a computer bug to be eradicated with a technical solution. Initially, Y2K compliance efforts have been focused on individual mainframes and desktop systems. However, it did not take long before it became obvious that embedded systems, ranging from automobiles and elevators to telephone switches and life support systems are also at risk.

6. More importantly, a system that has been certified to be Y2K- compliant no longer guarantees that it will be immune to the problem. In this highly interconnected world, computer systems do not exist as isolated entities, but are highly dependent on other systems that they are linked to. For example, a perfectly Y2K- readied internal phone system will fail miserably if it is linked to an exchange which is not Y2K-compliant.

7. At the global level, financial and other economic activities rely on the widespread interconnections between economies. This web of global inter-dependence has added to the complexity of the Y2K problem. No individual institution, sector, or economy can claim to be immune to the Y2K problem by just verifying and testing all its internal systems and applications. We have to especially look at the Y2K problem from a cross-border angle.

8. This APEC Y2K Symposium is a good opportunity for member economies to discuss and review the region's readiness in five critical sectors, namely finance, telecommunications, transport, customs, and energy. However, it may already be too late for organisations to look for a technical solution at this stage. Therefore delegates may wish to deliberate on the strategic and management responses to resolve problems should the technical solutions be inadequate or incomplete. Participants may share their contingency plans to deal with both domestic and cross-border problems.

9. There is a psychological angle to the Y2K problem. The doomsday scenario painted by some may evoke unnecessary public panic. For instance, any panic rush to withdraw cash from the banks on the eve of the new millennium may result in unnecessary bank runs. Contingency planning will allow us to prepare for these mass psychology effects, but more importantly, it will allow us to send a reassuring signal to our populations. This will help to avoid undue loss of public confidence.

10. And we have reasons to be reassured. We have already passed a couple of critical Y2K milestones uneventfully. 4th of February, which was the first day hotel and airline reservation systems started taking reservations for the next millennium, passed without a hitch. 9th of April, which is 9999 on the Julian Calendar, has gone by without any disruptions. This should give us some confidence about the level of global Y2K readiness. However, it should not lead to complacency. Co-operation and co-ordination amongst APEC economies will help to give our people confidence that cross-border Y2K issues are being addressed.

Singapore Y2K Action Plan

11. The Singapore Government takes the Y2K problem seriously. We have been working since 1995 to address Y2K issues to ensure the smooth functioning of critical infrastructure systems and public services. As a result of these intensive efforts, we are confident that all key Government systems and service providers will be Y2K- ready within the next 60 days. By now, nine out of ten of these systems are already Y2K-compliant. As an added protection, all Government agencies are in the process of finalising their contingency plans to meet unexpected disruptions.

12. The Government is also working jointly with industry to promote national awareness and to instill public confidence. We have introduced financial assistance schemes to help small and medium- sized enterprises in their Y2K conversion efforts and provided information and guides to encourage companies to take timely action. We have also set up a website to help companies locate Y2K consultants and tools. We have organised seminars and published newsletters, video tutorials and a handbook to help companies draw up their Y2K action plans. We also give recognition to companies and organisations which have taken action to rectify their Y2K problems.

Singapore's International Efforts

13. Y2K is a global issue. Singapore will continue to share our experiences on Y2K issues with other economies and within international and regional fora such as ASEAN, APEC, and the United Nations. We have also established bilateral arrangements with Australia, Chile, and Thailand to facilitate the exchange of information on dealing with the Y2K problem. At a sectoral level, our various agencies are working with international associations such as the Global 2000 Co-ordinating Group, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). Just last month, Singapore hosted the Global 2000 Co-ordinating Group Meeting and the International Energy Agency Seminar to discuss and review the readiness of the region's financial and energy industries in coping with the Y2K problem.

14. Singapore is strongly committed in dealing with the Y2K problem as a global issue. We will be putting in place a technical assistance scheme in June this year to provide training on Y2K contingency planning in Singapore for up to two persons from each developing APEC economy.


15. I am confident that the sharing of experiences and exchange of information at the Symposium will help you strengthen your economy's Y2K action plans. Perhaps an APEC network of Y2K contacts can be established to further refine the contingency plans, and to allow for real-time consultations on any cross-border Y2K problems which may arise during the crucial few weeks before and after the start of the millennium.

16. Finally, may I wish all of you a fruitful and enlightening Symposium. I hope that when the new millennium comes, it will be a time of celebration for all of us - because we have prepared ourselves well.