Parliament: Digitalisation no longer an 'optional extra' but a critical necessity, says Iswaran

Hawkers who sign up for the unified e-payment and fulfil the minimum transaction requirements will be eligible for a bonus of $300 per month over any five months.

SINGAPORE - The Covid-19 outbreak has made it clear that digitalisation is no longer an "optional extra" but a critical necessity for individuals, families, businesses and industries to survive this crisis and prosper, said Communications and Information Minister S. Iswaran on Thursday (June 4) during the Fortitude Budget debate.

"Change and disruption have descended upon us in dramatic fashion in the guise of Covid-19. The silver lining is that this crisis has crystallised the need and opportunity for digitalisation," said Mr Iswaran.

"Digitalisation and digital inclusion are the twin engines that will take us to our digital future... (Covid-19) has given us the impetus to invest in a decisive, all-out push."

In his speech, Mr Iswaran drew attention to new efforts to help over 18,000 stallholders in hawker centres and wet markets to adopt e-payment solutions by mid-2021, and the introduction of one-on-one digital literacy coaching at community centres and libraries for seniors.

Hawkers who sign up for the unified e-payment solution under the Hawker Go Digital initiative and fulfil the minimum transaction requirements will be eligible for a bonus of $300 per month over any five months.

Those who have already adopted the unified solution are also eligible for the bonus.

The Government is also working with mobile operators to offer a wider range of mobile data plans for seniors, Mr Iswaran said, while lower-income seniors unable to afford devices and data plans will be provided with financial support.

Mr Iswaran's speech addressed broadly a range of views on Singapore's digitalisation efforts brought up by various MPs on Thursday.

Remote video URL

Ms Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) noted that Singapore's push for a Smart Nation has seen huge efficiencies but also stumbling blocks, citing the example of an elderly man she encountered at a Central Provident Fund branch office who would otherwise have been helpless to complete a transaction using SingPass without his daughter to help him.

"The now default mode of needing SingPass to transact (with the Government) has alienated those who cannot afford the necessary devices, who do not have the required language skills to adapt or simply cannot wrap their heads around IT environments," said Ms Lim.

She added that she supports the "well-intentioned" Seniors Go Digital movement, but expressed the hope that it would not be approached from the perspective that seniors are somehow falling behind and need to catch up.

Ms Tin Pei Ling (MacPherson) used a Chinese proverb to make the point that although these are tough times now for Singapore, they also represent the best opportunity to kick-start change and transform for the future.

The proverb translates roughly to mean that the process of rebirth does not come without a mighty struggle as is the case for the butterfly that has to burst out of its cocoon to complete its metamorphosis.

Singaporeans need to be prepared to train for new opportunities and jobs in the electronics and infocomm sectors among others, she said.

"If we do not have enough people with the right skills to fill these new jobs, investments can go away and we will all be for the poorer," Ms Tin said.

"As countries around us step up, our talent pool must be ready earlier than them, so that we can anchor these opportunities here in Singapore. Ultimately, it is the quality of our people that will determine if we can lead in this innovation race."

Correction note: An earlier version of this story said the Hawkers Go Digital initiative offers a bonus of up to $300 per month. The Infocomm Media Development Authority has since clarified that the bonus is fixed at $300 a month.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.