As public sector digitalises, its report card goes fully online

The public service's digital transformation has sped up due to Covid-19.
The public service's digital transformation has sped up due to Covid-19.ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE - With the move towards digitalisation in more areas of life, the public sector report card is no exception.

For the first time since it was first published a decade ago, there will be no hard copies of the Singapore Public Sector Outcomes Review (Spor), a biennial stocktake of the sector's work.

This year's report, released last Thursday and coordinated by the Ministry of Finance (MOF), has gone fully digital. It shows incomes in Singapore have risen and inequality has fallen in the past five years, among other indicators of progress.

A seven-strong team at MOF tried to keep things simple by placing the information under two broad categories - citizens and businesses. They worked with 15 other ministries and their statutory boards to develop the write-ups on the Spor website.

"If you are an interested citizen, you can jump around (the website), look at things you're interested in, and skip the rest or come back later to look at other things," said Permanent Secretary for Finance Tan Ching Yee.

There is a stronger focus on outcomes in the report, she added. "Instead of saying we had rolled out this new scheme, or cut down a certain number of steps, we took a more deliberate effort to emphasise the 'so what?' aspect - such as the fact that one can start a business in Singapore within 1½ days."

The changes reflect the public service's digital transformation, which has sped up due to Covid-19.

It is hard to imagine the public service going back to "life as it was before", said Ms Tan, 56.

"Many things that we thought we couldn't do, like having virtual meetings as a norm, became the default mode during the circuit breaker."

She recalled how, two years ago when there was a Budget surplus, Singaporeans were given the option of receiving the SG Bonus payout via PayNow-NRIC. It allowed them to receive the money in their bank accounts using their NRIC numbers without having to disclose their account details. They were also able to change their accounts as and when they wished.

MOF worked with the banks, Smart Nation and Digital Government Office (SNDGO), Monetary Authority of Singapore and Association of Banks in Singapore to encourage sign-ups, and was pleasantly surprised by the 60 per cent jump in sign-ups then.

But the take-up rate amid Covid-19 surged even further - numbering 1.7 million by September, up from 1.1 million in December last year.

"Perhaps the case for (using it) earlier was not so strong, as it was mainly for surplus-sharing. But when it came to Covid-19, the financial situation was more dire," she said. Also, physical movements were restricted during the circuit breaker, she added. More people became aware of the convenience and safety that online transactions afford.

"People realised that getting the money in the bank was probably better than queueing up at a bank branch and banking in a cheque."

She noted Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, in his Fortitude Budget speech in May, had said more help will be given to students and seniors to access digital resources.

Ms Tan said the outbreak has affirmed that the nation's digitalisation push is the right way to go, adding: "We want to ensure that the digital journey is not just something that only young people, or certain people, can have".