PARLIAMENT

Smart Nation push aims to improve lives: Janil

Pupils helping participants at an intergenerational IT boot camp in 2015. Dr Janil Puthucheary said that to help the elderly in the digital journey, Singapore will consider user-friendly e-payment solutions, including wearables.
Pupils helping participants at an intergenerational IT boot camp in 2015. Dr Janil Puthucheary said that to help the elderly in the digital journey, Singapore will consider user-friendly e-payment solutions, including wearables.ST FILE PHOTO

Singapore's move to go cashless and have more government services migrate online is to improve people's lives, said Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information Janil Puthucheary.

It is not chasing technology for technology's sake, he told Parliament yesterday when several MPs highlighted how the shift may leave the elderly behind. "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 asked about plans to help people, especially the elderly, get ready for a Smart Nation. Dr Janil said a Digital Readiness Workgroup has been set up to help Singaporeans get ready for the digital future. It will propose ways to do it by early next year.

The group, comprising representatives from the public and private sectors, is set up by his ministry.

The effort will complement the official Silver Infocomm Initiative, which has promoted IT literacy among more than 130,000 seniors.

To help the elderly in the digital journey, Singapore will consider user-friendly e-payment solutions, including wearables and those with biometric features, said Dr Janil.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore will study carefully all the e-payment technology proposals firms have submitted, he added.

He also assured the House that the Government will take a balanced approach to not over-regulate.

Change is uncomfortable, but also necessary, he said.

"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. The nation-building narrative of the next generation will be about digital infrastructure as much as it is about physical infrastructure."

Citing PayNow, he said it is a critical part in this infrastructure.

This instant fund-transfer system, launched on July 10, lets users transfer money by entering the recipient's mobile phone or identity card number in any bank's app. It does not require users to enter bank account numbers.

Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) asked if e-payment costs can be lowered.

Dr Janil said the answer lies in a common QR code (SGQR). An industry task force will roll it out by the end of the year. Merchants will then have "an infrastructure-light and cheaper alternative to accept different types of e-payments'', he added.

Mr Low Thia Khiang (Aljunied GRC) asked what is being done to help people mitigate the risks of fraud linked to digital payments.

Dr Janil said that while financial institutions have strengthened the security of their digital platforms and the police have rolled out campaigns to raise public awareness, the individual, too, has to be responsible in protecting himself.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 12, 2017, with the headline 'Smart Nation push aims to improve lives: Janil'. Print Edition | Subscribe