Government reorganises to 'turbo charge' smart nation projects

A customer paying with Android Pay, Google’s mobile payment and digital wallet service, at a ToastBox outlet.
A customer paying with Android Pay, Google’s mobile payment and digital wallet service, at a ToastBox outlet.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Smart nation projects such as e-identity, e-payment and an islandwide wireless sensor network have been earmarked for some "turbo-charging" following an announcement on Monday (March 20) to fold a government agency and two technology planning units under the Prime Minister's Office (PMO).

From May 1, the Government Technology Agency (GovTech) - the 1,800 people-strong crack team behind tech transformation in the public sector - will come under the PMO. GovTech is currently a statutory board under the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI).

Whole-of-government technology planning teams from the Ministry of Finance and MCI will join the Smart Nation Programme Office - formed in late 2014 to spearhead smart nation project planning - to form a new Smart Nation and Digital Government Office (SNDGO). This new office will have a combined headcount of 40.

Both GovTech and SNDGO will report to a new Smart Nation and Digital Government Group (SNDGG) under the PMO.

"In this way, we will be more coordinated and move forward on the key digital government (and smart nation) programmes in the coming year or two," said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean.

He added that the reorganisation will provide better central management and accountability, and will have "a greater ability to pull together all the government agencies".

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had said last month at the annual Camp Sequoia tech summit that Singapore was not moving as fast as it ought to on digital transformation.

A ministerial committee, chaired by DPM Teo, will oversee the new SNDGG.

The committee's deputy chairman is Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim. The committee also comprises Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Initiative Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung and Minister of State for Communications and Information Janil Puthucheary.

GovTech chairman Ng Chee Khern, who is Permanent Secretary (Defence Development),will also be Permanent Secretary (Smart Nation and Digital Government).

Describing the reorganisation as a way of "turbo-charging" smart nation projects, Dr Vivian said: "Over the next year, I hope to see major progress in three signature programmes - digital identity, e-payments and a national sensors system - that will provide synergies for all government agencies and expand opportunities for the private sector."

The Government recognises the need for a more secure national authentication system for both the public and private sector - like the digital ID system in Estonia that allow its citizens to access their bank and healthcare information and even vote online.

In March last year, GovTech called for a tender for a Mobile Digital ID to identify every Internet user, just like the NRIC does, towards this end. The tender was awarded in July to chipmaker Gemalto, but the trial is still on going with healthcare and banking organisations.

On the e-payment front, a Central Addressing Scheme is slated for launch by the middle of this year to allow users to transfer funds to another party using a mobile phone without having to enter his bank account number.

Part of a $90 million fund to modernise hawker centres has also been set aside to install cashless payment systems to open up e-payments there.

E-payment in Singapore has largely been criticised for being confusing with many non-compatible options: Apple Pay, Android Pay, Dash, DBS Paylah, ez-link, Nets, Liquid Pay and Samsung Pay, in addition to store-specific cards, credit and debit cards.

Meanwhile, GovTech is working with the Land Transport Authority to test the concept of a national sensor network for collecting and transmitting traffic camera and environmental data such as temperature and humidity. It could see sensors deployed on 95,000 street lights islandwide.