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Global 2000 Reception/Dinner

Mr David T E Lim, Minister of State for Defence and Chairman National Computer Board Speech - Global 2000 Reception/Dinner

Mr David T E Lim, Minister of State for Defence and Chairman
National Computer Board
Speech - Global 2000 Reception/Dinner
Singapore, 17 March 1999

Good evening,
Members of the Global 2000 Co-ordinating Group,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. There are 289 more days to go to the end of the year, and the date which has brought all of us here tonight: 1 January, 2000. Each passing day brings greater interest in the Y2K problem, as the potential reach and impact of the problem begin to sink home.

2. What started as a programming trick to save computing resources has now escalated into a challenge of global proportions, cutting across all aspects of our lives, and threatening to visit us with chaos and calamities. The problem has spawned a whole spectrum of issues, from concerns over business failures, to public safety and mass panic. Just a few days ago, I got a message on my e-mail suggesting that I should buy a few more candles because another programming glitch related to the Y2K problem could occur in the near future. Public anxiety is likely to rise as the day draws closer, and more stories start to circulate.

3. But the Y2K problem is not a natural catastrophe that cannot be averted. Although we cannot be sure that the day will pass without any trouble, we can take remedial action beforehand to effectively reduce the risk of major failures. We can also avoid public anxiety and panic by communicating clearly to the public the preparations that have been made, and our readiness to meet any contingency that may yet arise. With concerted effort, we can give the public a clear assurance that our businesses and public services would not be disrupted.

4. The Y2K problem can be overcome if we tackle it seriously. Top management must set the right tone within their organisations. If they give their personal and serious attention to the problem, I am sure that their efforts to achieve Y2K readiness will be successful.

5. I am therefore pleased to see that the Global 2000 Coordinating Group is meeting here in Singapore over the next three days to discuss and review the readiness of the region's financial community in coping with the Y2K issue. By continuing to share your experiences with each other, countries that are less well prepared can take timely action to avert any major crisis. It is also important that you send a clear signal of assurance in those areas where we are well prepared to meet the Y2K challenge. This will go a long way towards building public confidence, and will help to stem any panic or distress arising from ill-informed accounts of potential disasters.

Government Action Plan

6. Singapore has been working on this problem since 1995. Over the last four years, we have made strenuous efforts to ensure that we can greet the new millennium with great expectation, but without any untoward excitement. This evening, I would like to share some of the things we have done to achieve Y2K readiness.

7. The Y2K issue receives attention at the highest level of Singapore's government. In the public sector, our main concern is to ensure public safety, and the smooth functioning of critical infrastructure systems and public services. A high level Y2K committee, under the auspices of the National IT Committee (NITC),
coordinates and monitors the efforts by key government agencies to prepare for this. It has concentrated its efforts in five key sectors: telecommunications; utilities - water and power; land, sea and air transportation; finance and healthcare.

8. You will be hearing a detailed account of the progress we have made in the Financial Sector from Mr Koh Yong Guan at lunch tomorrow. But I am happy to say tonight that as at end-January 1999, ninety per cent of all key government systems have been converted. We are confident that all key government agencies, infrastructure systems and service providers will be Y2K ready by the middle of 1999, well ahead of the deadline. Agencies that have already completed their Y2K conversion programmes are now conducting inter-agency testing. In addition, all agencies are also drawing up contingency plans in the unlikely event that some failure occurs. They will share their Y2K plans and readiness next month at the National Y2K Seminar organised by the National Computer Board (NCB).

9. Singapore's Financial Sector is well on track on the basis of Global 2000's template to evaluate Y2K readiness. Global 2000's work is focused on the safety of the global financial markets in the face of the Y2K problem. To achieve this, Global 2000 tracks and assesses the Y2K readiness of the financial and infrastructure systems across countries, including Singapore. Based on the Global 2000 template, I am pleased to report that Singapore is in full readiness for the year 2000 in all aspects, ie. finance, basic utilities, such as water and power, transportation, telecommunications and government systems.

10. I turn now to efforts with regard to the private sector. The government has worked jointly with industry to create national awareness of the Y2K problem and its impact on businesses. We introduced incentives and provided information and guides to encourage companies and organisations to take timely action. We organised seminars, and published video tutorials, newsletters and a handbook to help companies draw up Y2K action plans. We set up a website. This provides information, and help for companies wishing to locate Y2K consultants and tools. And to further raise public awareness, we launched a Y2K-In-Action logo. This logo is given to companies and organisations willing to commit publicly that they are taking action on the Y2K issue. The government also set up a financial assistance scheme to help Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) defray the cost of solving the Y2K problem.

11. Even while we make efforts to bring organisations and systems in Singapore up to speed, we are well aware that failures in other countries can also have an impact on Singapore. To do our part in helping where we can, Singapore has participated actively in international Y2K efforts. Many of our key infrastructure and service providers take part in international Y2K working groups to share methodologies, experiences and to conduct testing. On a bilateral basis, Singapore has agreements with Chile, Thailand and Australia to facilitate the sharing and exchange of information on Y2K issues. In the APEC multilateral fora, Singapore, Canada and Japan will jointly organise a Y2K Symposium in April to intensify regional Y2K readiness.

12. We have also considered the possible aftermath of the Y2K problem. One of the key concerns worldwide, apart from restoring systems which have broken down, is how to deal with the potential flood of legal actions that may arise. One way to deal with this is to encourage mediation, instead of litigation. Singapore has pledged its support for the Millennium Accord -- an international initiative to use mediation to manage possible Y2K disputes. The Accord was the result of collaborative efforts with leading alternative dispute resolution agencies from the United States, Hong Kong, Australia and the United Kingdom. To-date, 373 government bodies and private sector organisations in Singapore have signed the Accord.

Concluding Remarks

13. Ladies and Gentlemen: I hope that this brief enumeration of the efforts by the government and private sector in Singapore leaves you with no doubt that we are serious about dealing with the Y2K problem. Singapore is well prepared for the Year 2000. In the Financial Sector, the close co-operation between regulators and institutions gives us confidence that our reputation as a world-class financial centre will remain untarnished by the Y2K bug. As for the rest of Singapore, we fully expect that come 1 January 2000, phones will work, trains will run, and lights will come on. Indeed, if it wasn't a public holiday on 1 January, there would be no excuse not to turn up for work.

14. Resolving the Y2K problem requires major effort to mobilise resources across all industries at every level of management. But we should see this in its broader context. The size of the problem reflects the widespread use of information technology (IT). IT permeates our lives, and will increasingly mesh into our day to day routines. We have benefited tremendously from this, not just from productivity growth, but in the revolutionary things we can do electronically. The Financial Sector knows this only too well, for you are at one of the leading players driving electronic commerce and electronic payment methods.

15. As we make increasing use of IT, we must also continue to set high standards in software performance and reliability. As an industry, your concern over Y2K type problems does not end on the 2nd of January 2000. The Y2K problem is symptomatic of a more generic concern. Within a decade or two, we will be processing one billion financial transactions a day on a worldwide basis over the internet or its successor technology. In that context, the consequences of major, industry-wide software failures could be tremendous. We must transfer and apply the lessons we learn from the Y2K problem and set higher and more demanding standards of software development and system testing. It is imperative for the Finance Sector that as we become more dependent on electronic transactions, we also build more secure, resilient and reliable systems.

16. In conclusion, let me once again say how glad I am that the global financial community is meeting in Singapore to collaborate on this issue. I commend the Association of Banks in Singapore for your role in organising this important Global 2000 event. I also wish to acknowledge the MAS in organising the Executives' Meeting of East Asia and Pacific Central Banks which will run in parallel with this Global 2000 meeting. I wish you all much success in your deliberations, and a smooth and happy entry to the year 2000!

Thank you.