Trust between citizens, Government key for Smart Nation: PM Lee Hsien Loong

PM Lee and Ambassador-at-Large Chan Heng Chee at last night's dialogue. Prof Chan, chairman of the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities at the Singapore University of Technology and Design, was the moderator.
PM Lee and Ambassador-at-Large Chan Heng Chee at last night's dialogue. Prof Chan, chairman of the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities at the Singapore University of Technology and Design, was the moderator.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Small size helps, but people's willingness to work with Govt more crucial: PM

Singapore's compact size gives it a natural advantage in its quest to be a Smart Nation, but the trust that has been built between Government and citizens plays a key role too, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said last night.

The island's small size means it can be wired up quickly, and the Government can set new rules expediently compared with countries with more layers of government, Mr Lee told participants at a dialogue at the World Cities Summit.

But even more essential is that its people are willing to work with the Government, trusting that they will benefit from the initiatives and that the Government will make the right trade-offs, he said.

Mr Lee cited public acceptance of the extensive network of some 65,000 police cameras the Government has installed in public areas like lift lobbies nationwide since 2012 to deter and combat crime.

"It's very useful from a law enforcement point of view, but it's not so straightforward to do because people must be convinced that this is good for them, they will benefit from it, and it is not to intrude on their privacy," he said.

"In Singapore, we have been able to do that and there has been acceptance from the population that this is a scheme which is good."

There are many more difficult decisions to be made on the journey to be a Smart Nation, he added, citing how the Government wants to digitise citizens' medical records so they can be more easily accessed by clinics and hospitals, but must ensure patient privacy is protected.

"You could track handphone data, anonymised, to find out where commuters are moving, where the traffic jams are, where you need to improve public transport," he said.

Some of the changes can be very disruptive and affect livelihoods, he said, citing private-hire car services like Grab and Uber, and their impact on taxi operators here.

"Our taxi operators are concerned, and we are changing our rules to make it fairer between the taxi operators and the new services," he said. "But everybody in Singapore knows you have to move forward and you can't stop this from happening."

During the 40-minute dialogue, Mr Lee took on a range of questions, from Britain's recent decision to leave the European Union to climate change, terrorism and lessons from Singapore's development.

One thing governments have to do to ensure their countries can adapt quickly, he said, is to understand reactions to disruptive change, address reasonable concerns and help people to adapt.

In Singapore, to help the older generation with technology, community centres provide access to computer terminals and teach basic skills. There are also schemes to help low-income families and children have access to computers so they do not fall behind, he added.

Asked about Singapore's secret in maintaining a constructive citizen- government relationship when many societies were coming apart, Mr Lee said Singapore was exposed to the same uncertainties about jobs and technology that others were. But he said it had developed a balance between self-reliance and government help that worked.

"We work with you but we do expect you to work. And it's backed up by the resources of the state in terms of education, housing, healthcare, security and safety," he added. "That's a balance that's not quite the same as in most other countries, and it's a dynamic one we have to find, but it has so far worked for Singapore."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 12, 2016, with the headline 'Trust between citizens, Govt key for Smart Nation'. Print Edition | Subscribe