Parliament: Being a Smart Nation is about being people-centric, says Janil Puthucheary

Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information Janil Puthucheary is part of the Smart Nation and Digital Government Group that oversees Smart Nation projects. PHOTO: ST VIDEO

SINGAPORE - Singapore does not chase technology for technology's sake, but to improve the lives of its people, Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information Janil Puthucheary told Parliament on Monday (Sept 11).

Several MPs had voiced their concerns that the elderly may be left out in Singapore's pursuit to go cashless and digital, including for e-government services.

Addressing their concerns, Dr Janil said: "While critical to Smart Nation's success, these and future SNPs (strategic national projects) are not outcomes in and of themselves. We do not chase technology for technology's sake. Instead, we must be people centric, as Dr Tan Wu Meng said."

Dr Tan (Jurong GRC) and Ms Tin Pei Ling (MacPherson) had also asked about plans to help the public, especially the elderly, get ready for a Smart Nation.

In his reply, Dr Janil said that the Ministry of Communications and Information has set up a Digital Readiness Workgroup with representatives from the public and private sectors to propose strategies by early next year (2018) to help Singaporeans get ready for the digital future. The effort will complement existing initiatives such as the Infocomm Media Development Authority's Silver Infocomm Initiative, which has reached out to more than 130,000 seniors to promote IT awareness and literacy.

"Smart Nation is about making all our lives easier. It is about building a strong society and economy for all, where businesses thrive, opportunity abounds and we look forward with confidence to the future," said Dr Janil.

He added that change is uncomfortable, but it is also necessary.

"If not for some of the bold, uncomfortable changes our founding leaders had the vision to make, Singapore will not be where we are today.

"Not only have we survived, but thrived. The nation-building narrative of the next generation will be about digital infrastructure as much as it is about physical infrastructure. Singaporeans are resilient enough to weather this change and come out the better for it," he said.

He cited PayNow, a new instant fund-transfer system launched on July 10, as a key milestone towards this end. PayNow lets users transfer money by entering the recipient's mobile phone or identity card number in any bank's app, and does not require users to enter bank account numbers - a bugbear for those using e-payments.

Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) asked if e-payment costs can be lowered for merchants and consumers. Replying, Dr Janil said the answer lies in a common QR code (SGQR) which will be rolled out by the end of the year (2017) so merchants will have "an infrastructure-light and cheaper alternative to accept different types of e-payments including PayNow".

An industry taskforce has been set up to launch SGQR, which will allow merchants to display just one QR code for scanning by any bank app for fuss-free, instant fund transfers. With a QR code, customers also need not ask merchants for their mobile or identity card number for a PayNow transfer.

On going cashless, Dr Janil added that the Monetary Authority of Singapore has received many e-payment system proposals from companies, including tech firm Razer, and will study all the proposals carefully. "There is a common platform, a series of interoperable standards, space for competition... and compliance with the financial regulations that are already in place."

Mr Low Thia Khiang (Aljunied GRC) also asked what is being done to help the public mitigate the risks of scamming, loansharking, and blackmail associated with the rise of digital payments.

Dr Janil noted that while financial institutions here have strengthened the security of their digital platforms and the Police have rolled out campaigns to raise public awareness, the individual too has to exercise the responsibility to protect himself.

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