Property transactions, cross-border trade documentation to go electronic: Iswaran

Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran noted that 70 per cent of residential property transaction documents are still in hard copy. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

SINGAPORE - Singaporeans and businesses can look forward to buying and selling properties completely online as the Government makes changes to a key digital economy law.

Singaporeans can also apply for the Lasting Power of Attorney online, while cross-border trade documentation is set to go electronic, with the digitalisation of bills of lading, which are documents that acknowledge receipt of cargo for shipment.

These are some changes included in the review of the Electronic Transactions Act (ETA) as Singapore seeks to amend its legislation to grow its digital economy and promote innovation, said Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran at the opening of an annual technology conference on Thursday (June 27).

"The review aims to facilitate electronic transactions to a greater degree, fostering a more trusted environment where businesses and consumers can transact electronically with greater peace of mind," he said at Innovfest Unbound, which is in its fifth year.

With these changes, the Republic will be among the first in the world to amend its legislation in the face of new technologies such as the blockchain technology and smart contracts that are opening up new ways of transacting digitally.

One key part of the review is to bring more transactions into the ambit of the law to provide legal certainty for these electronic transactions, said Mr Iswaran.

He noted that 70 per cent of residential property transaction documents are still in hard copy. By allowing such transactions to go digital, both buyers and sellers can enjoy a faster transaction process and spend less time on paperwork and queueing up, he said.

The Government also plans to enact a legislative framework for electronic transferable records that is interoperable with the global electronic trade framework.

Such electronic records speed up and enhance the security of cross-border electronic commerce, he said.

Digital bills of lading will revolutionise sectors such as shipping, which now rely mainly on hard copies, Mr Iswaran told an audience of global tech industry players, investors and business leaders.

"This will reduce costs associated with printing, handling and transport of hundreds of pages of paper documentation," he said. "It is estimated that trade document processing and administration can add up to 20 per cent to the cost of shipping a single container."

To seek views from the public and industry players on the proposed changes, the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) launched a public consultation on Thursday. The consultation will close on Aug 27 and the review is targeted to be completed by 2020.

"I encourage the industry to participate strongly in this consultation so that we can develop a trusted environment where innovation can flourish and barriers are removed for our businesses, citizens and Government to digitalise," Mr Iswaran said.

Mr Karamjit Singh, chief executive of online property portal Showsuite, noted that property developers and landlords will be some of the biggest beneficiaries as they need to contract with multiple buyers and tenants for each of their projects.

"They need to deal with all of this on a large scale and recurring basis - which involves printing, postage, manual coordination and storage - which are costly and inefficient," he said, referring to hard-copy documents.

"We are excited about the impending changes. Property developers - especially with multiple projects - currently need to station their authorised staff at their showflats, including over the weekends, in anticipation of sales to print and sign Option to Purchase agreements. With the changes, all this can be achieved remotely, securely and paperlessly, which is great," he added.

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.