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Understanding and Managing E-Commerce and E-Disputes

Ho Peng Kee, Minister of State for Law and Home Affairs - Speech Third Annual SITDRAC Seminar

Ho Peng Kee, Minister of State for Law and Home Affairs - Speech
Third Annual SITDRAC Seminar

Singapore, 8 September 2000

1 A decade ago, a reference to the computerisation of business operations would have been understood to mean investment in business software such as accounting packages, word-processing programs and spreadsheets. Electronic data interchanges were just appearing on the scene, and the Internet was, if you will forgive the pun, virtually unknown then.

2 Today, no one can underestimate the commercial potential of the Internet. Business empires have been built on web innovations. Since its earliest days, retailers and service providers have recognised and capitalised on the Internet's potential as an advertising medium. They have now moved beyond that. Today, the cyberspace landscape is dotted with virtual companies that operate e-bookstores, e-malls and e-auction houses to suit any consumer fancy. E-commerce also extends to other business sectors, including banking and financial services, securities trading, healthcare, logistics and even the construction industry. Like it or not, the Internet, with its reach extending beyond jurisdictional borders and its infinite commercial possibilities, will have a significant influence on how businesses choose to operate in the future.

3 The Singapore government has therefore been active in nurturing an environment that promotes the growth of an e-commerce ecosystem in Singapore. This has met with some success. The World Competitiveness Report 2000 published by the International Institute for Management Development ranked Singapore fourth in the world and first in Asia as regards whether e-commerce was sufficiently developed for business opportunities.

4 To maintain Singapore's pole position in Asia and increase its lead in the world, on 1 August 2000, the government announced 6 initiatives to dot-com the private sector. To recap, they are:

  • Laying a robust foundation for e-business by facilitating the development of e-commerce infrastructure services and enhancing the e-commerce legal framework;

  • Catalysing the digital transformation by working with industries and businesses to build up e-commerce capabilities through technical assistance, financial incentives and the promotion of e-learning;

  • Spurring consumer demand by building consumer confidence in e-commerce through consumer education and awareness programmes and merchant accreditation;

  • Branding Singapore as a trusted global "" hub and e-commerce thought leadership centre by grooming promising local enterprises for expansion regionally and internationally, attracting international e-commerce companies to hub in Singapore, facilitating the formation of strategic alliances between local and overseas e-commerce companies and working with industry partners and universities to develop e-commerce business models, best practices and case studies;

  • Attracting top talents to the Singapore infocommunications industry; and

  • Fostering an e-lifestyle and bridging the digital divide by measures to enable every citizen to be adept in the use of infocommunications technology.

5 A relatively unheralded but crucial aspect of these initiatives is the enhancement of the e-commerce legal framework. For e-commerce to thrive and develop in an orderly fashion, it will be necessary both to establish a comprehensive legal and regulatory framework and to develop the requisite legal expertise to support the demands that the e-commerce industry will generate. A weak legal sector may impede the development of a full range of e-commerce applications and lead international e-commerce players to locate their hub services in other jurisdictions.

6 Hence, several initiatives to enhance Singapore's e-commerce legal infrastructure and legal competency have been announced. Examples include the recent announcement by the Singapore Academy of Law of the formation of an IT law think-tank and the announcement by the Legal Service Commission of a scheme to develop a core group of technology savvy lawyers. To underscore the importance of developing Singapore's e-commerce legal infrastructure and legal competency, the Government will be forming a committee led by the Ministry of Law to coordinate these efforts.

7 Today's seminar is apposite to our objective of developing legal expertise in e-commerce through continuing education. Eminent speakers will deal with areas of concern in e-commerce and matters that lawyers should be mindful of when advising their clients. They will offer a glimpse how technology might be embraced by and in turn modify traditional alternative dispute resolution processes.

8 I am pleased to note that the Singapore Mediation Centre has started to develop a comprehensive framework for mediation, neutral evaluation and other hybrid consensual alternative dispute resolution processes to take place within cyberspace. I am also pleased to note that, on their part, the Subordinate Courts have embarked on an e@dr project which will be launched later this month. Further, I note that the Singapore International Arbitration Centre is gearing itself up for the possibility of conducting e-arbitration. These measures are intrinsic to Singapore's drive to become a global e-commerce law centre. They complement the efforts of the MinLaw committee coordinating efforts to enhance Singapore's e-commerce legal infrastructure and competency.

9 It is noteworthy that the other institutional members of this seminar's organiser, the Singapore IT Dispute Resolution Advisory Committee (or SITDRAC) include the Singapore Information Technology Federation (which represents IT industry suppliers), the Singapore Computer Society and the Information Technology Management Association (which represent IT users and managers respectively) and the Info-communications Development Authority of Singapore. Their participation in this event shows that the IT industry and IT users realise the need for them to increase their awareness of the legal implications of e-commerce. The legal profession must likewise develop greater legal expertise in e-commerce related matters, and in this way, meet the challenge of supporting Singapore's bid to be an international centre for e-commerce.

10 I wish all a fruitful Seminar.