MOF Committee of Supply Speech 2016 by Senior Minister of State for Finance Ms Sim Ann11 Apr 2016
A.1 Madam Speaker, allow me to address the cuts by Ms Sun Xueling, Ms Cheryl Chan, and Dr Tan Wu Meng on the various facets of digitalisation and the delivery of Government services, followed by the cuts by Assoc. Prof Daniel Goh and Mr Edwin Tong.
B.TRANSFORMING SERVICE DELIVERY AS A DIGITAL GOVERNMENT
B.1 Madam, Government has indeed been using technology and data to improve service delivery.
a. Advancements in information and communications technology have raised public expectations of Government service delivery. On the Government’s part, we have taken efforts to transform service delivery and bring about more convenience for the public.
i. IDA’s e-Government Perception Survey conducted in 2015 indicated that almost 3 in 4 citizens were very satisfied or extremely satisfied with the ease of completing transactions online using Government e-services.
b. There is room for improvement and the Public Service will continue to do so, amidst tighter constraints on public sector manpower growth.
B.2 The Public Service has embarked on a multi-year transformation journey into a Digital Government, with citizens at the heart of it. We will re-design online services and underlying processes to make them simpler to use and easier to access, including providing more services on mobile devices.
a. Some agencies such as MOM have already begun to do this. MOM has made online foreign domestic worker permit renewals much easier for employers. Instead of relying on agents, more employers now directly interface with MOM, with 56% of renewals done directly by employers in the past 12 months (up by 11 percentage points from a year earlier). There has also been a 40% reduction in call centre enquiries related to renewals over the same period. Renewed permits are also directly couriered to employers, increasing the convenience of self-renewal.
b. We want more high-volume Government services to be similarly redesigned to be intuitive for users. An idea we are pursuing is to integrate and digitise key services around important milestones in life for individuals and businesses.
B.3 We will facilitate more data sharing to make it easier for businesses and citizens to transact with Government and deliver more targeted and effective services.
B.4 For businesses, the National Trade Platform (NTP) will significantly improve digital connectivity across businesses in the logistics and trade finance sectors. As announced by the Minister for Finance in his Budget speech, the NTP will facilitate data sharing for both business-to-business and business-to-government transactions to help SMEs cut costs and streamline processes. The potential for productivity savings is significant.
a. At the firm-level, businesses will be able to digitise their documents or information to support data sharing, with the help of software tools or applications. Electronic data shared among all parties in the supply chain will allow them to have sight of information related to their cargoes and better manage their resources accordingly.
b. At the industry-level, by connecting importers, exporters, logistics service providers, the NTP will enable each party to establish linkages with multiple partners. Such data sharing on this Government-owned platform could yield further collaborations across partners in terms of resource sharing.
c. There may also be downstream benefits for associated sectors, such as trade financing. For instance, financial institutions could use the data transmitted to expedite trade finance operations.
d. The NTP will be designed as an open innovation platform which businesses can tap on to develop new applications that support evolving business needs. As we embark on this, we welcome industry and businesses to come forward with ideas and partner us to create solutions that are relevant for the industry.
B.5 The National Electronic Health Records (NEHR) project was rolled out by MOH in 2012 to allow participating healthcare institutions to access the same set of patient records for seamless healthcare delivery across the national healthcare network. With NEHR, patients no longer need to worry about being brought to the nearest public hospital that is different from the one they regularly visit, as all public hospitals will have access to the same set of medical history. Today, the secure use of data by authorised clinicians and healthcare professionals supports more accurate diagnosis, better treatment, and patient-centric integrated care. It also helps to reduce the cost for patients as duplicated tests and referrals can be avoided. In the month of March 2016, there were more than 11,400 users of NEHR and over 600,000 searches made for patient records. Compared to a year earlier, there has been a significant increase of 63% in users and over three times the number of searches.
C. CHANGING THE WAY WE WORK
C.1 Ms Cheryl Chan asked whether digitalisation could inadvertently result in a lack of clarity over ownership of issues. We wish to assure members that technology remains an enabler, and will not displace or diffuse responsibility. In fact, technology allows for greater accountability as requests by citizens could be traced and tagged to specific agencies for resolution.
C.2 We agree there is a need to debunk the impression that digitalisation will create more work and lower efficiency. It is in fact the opposite.
a. For example, through the electronic tax-filing and no-filing schemes, IRAS has saved time for taxpayers. It was also able to redeploy around 100 officers who used to handle manual tax filings to new and other areas of work, despite the tax base growth of 32% from 2009 to 2014.
C.3 Our Digital Government strategy aims to enhance productivity by actively using data and technology not just for service delivery, but also to change the way we work. This twin focus will be vital for the public sector to function more efficiently and respond more quickly to citizens’ service needs.
C.4 By 2020, at least six agencies will digitise the majority of their records and processes for higher productivity. They are ICA, IRAS, MOM, VITAL, the Supreme Court, and the State Courts. Citizens will benefit from easier access to government information and e-services from home or on the go. Some of these efforts will also reduce the need for repetitive submission of information to agencies.
a. For instance, ICA will digitise records and implement an enterprise-wide case and content management system. This is expected to lead to an overall productivity gain through integrated processes and better case management that will see a reduction in the need for duplicate data entry when a case is routed from one unit to another. If required, users of ICA’s services will only need to submit supporting documents once, rather than re-submitting each time they apply.
C.5 Digitalisation will also reduce backend paper processing and result in better auditing, security, and data protection processes within organisations. VITAL, the Government’s shared services department under MOF, has begun integrating HR, payroll, and claims processes for civil servants while concurrently using IT systems to reduce paperwork, capture and retain information. This will facilitate better document management, thus making it easier to carry out audits and reduce paper handling in the process.
C.6 We are also improving arrangements and facilitating e-payments in order to reap similar benefits and greater convenience for users of Government services.
D. GOING DIGITAL TOGETHER
D.1 Dr Tan Wu Meng and Ms Cheryl Chan have pointed out that there will be some who will have difficulties accessing digital services. Indeed, even as we make transacting digitally a way of life, we must not forget that there may be some Singaporeans who may not be comfortable with or know how to use digital services.
D.2 Based on IDA’s surveys, 3 in 4 individuals aged 50 to 59 years, and almost 1 in 3 seniors aged 60 years and above used the Internet in 2014, with usage increasing considerably compared to 2 years ago.
D.3 Since 2005, we have built up a network of 26 Citizen Connect Centres (CCCs) island-wide for those who do not have computers or Internet connection and those who need help to use Government e-services. Trained staff are at hand at CCCs to assist and teach users to access Government services online. The goal for CCCs is to teach users to transact online independently, so that they can access Government services from the comfort of their own homes in future. But even if they find it hard to learn, they will still be helped at the CCCs. In 2015, CCCs helped around 120,000 citizens to access e-services.
D.4 We will enhance our CCCs to make it even easier for users to self-help by upgrading the equipment and redesigning the online interfaces. We will progressively upgrade the CCCs to become CCC+s, starting with pilots at the Toa Payoh Central and Chong Pang Citizen Connect Centres, and Our Tampines Hub by end of this year. If successful, nationwide rollout of CCC+s will follow from 2017 onwards.
D.5 The CCC+s will complement the existing suite of initiatives by MCI and IDA for the elderly, persons with disabilities, and low-income households to help them get online and stay online.
D.6 Ms Sun also asked how we can maintain a human touch amidst more digitalisation within Government. Even as we go digital, the Government will continue to provide face-to-face services, where necessary. For example, in reaching out to less connected groups like the elderly.
a. As Dr Tan pointed out, there are some Pioneer Generation residents with mobility needs who may find it difficult to access shared terminals. The Pioneer Generation Ambassadors (PGAs) serve as one key touch point to convey policy information such as Pioneer Generation Package and MediShield Life to our pioneers.
b. The Minister for Finance spoke about the Community Network for Seniors pilot led by MOH. We will continue to strengthen coordination between Government agencies, VWOs, and local volunteers, and build strong community networks to provide support and engage the elderly within the community.
D.7 We are also continuing with the face-to-face approach when gathering feedback.
a. REACH, the Government feedback unit, continues to retain face-to-face engagement. For example, for Budget 2016, it has held 12 such engagements so far, where close to 3,800 Singaporeans from all walks of life have participated and given their views.
E. BUILDING AN INCLUSIVE SOCIETY
E.1 Madam, I will now address the questions relating to building an inclusive society.
E.2 Ms Thanaletchimi’s points on the middle class as well as apprenticeship were largely addressed in the Minister of Finance’s RUS and also at the MOM’s COS last week.
E.3 Assoc. Prof Daniel Goh asked if refundable income tax credits could be provided for specialised caregivers of dependents with special needs including autism and dementia. In essence, the Member is asking if direct cash grants can be provided for caregivers.
E.4 Madam, this suggestion has been raised several times in the past by Members of this House, including Dr Lam Pin Min and Mr Christopher de Souza.
E.5 We recognise that caregivers play an important role, which can be very demanding and challenging, and we should support them. Our approach is to focus on directly subsidising services required by people with special needs, thereby defraying the costs borne by their families and caregivers; rather than by providing cash allowances to people for looking after their family members. This has been our consistent approach, as reflected in previous replies on this subject by office holders overseeing health, social support and ageing policies.
E.6 Caregivers who work can tap on subsidised centre-based care services when they are working, such as Special Student Care Centres for students, and dementia day care and home help services for seniors. We will continue to expand the capacity of these services, especially as our population ages.
E.7 If caregivers hire a Foreign Domestic Worker (FDW), they can benefit from a lower FDW concessionary levy. If they are from lower- and middle-income families and are caring for an elderly person or a person with moderate disabilities, they can get an additional FDW grant. They also benefit from tax reliefs such as the handicapped parent relief and handicapped child relief, if applicable, which reduce the tax they have to pay.
E.8 Caregivers can also benefit from a training grant to equip themselves with the necessary skills to care for their loved ones, and self-care skills. We are also strengthening respite care, to enable caregivers to take a much needed break at times.
E.9 Should caregivers require additional assistance beyond what is already available, we have existing social safety nets to help them when required.
E.10 We will continue to explore further ways to help persons with special needs and with dementia, as well as their caregivers. The Ministry of Social and Family Development has recently set up a Committee to look into the next Enabling Masterplan and it will be studying various initiatives to support persons with disabilities, and their caregivers. The Ministry of Health will speak more about enhancing support for those with dementia as well.
E.11 Mr Edwin Tong asked about reviewing means-testing for our social schemes.
E.12 I am glad that the Member supports our principle of having a progressive system of taxes and benefits, where lower and middle-income households pay a smaller share of taxes and receive a larger share of benefits, while higher-income households pay a larger share of taxes and receive a smaller share of benefits.
E.13 I am also glad that he recognises the importance of means-testing, so that benefits can be provided in a targeted manner to those who need help more.
E.14 Very importantly, the Member has also affirmed that with limited resources, we need to be careful about spending. Indeed, we have a responsibility to manage our fiscal burden prudently, and to be fair to future generations.
E.15 The Member has suggested other needs-based factors to refine the qualifying criteria for schemes, in particular to overcome the perceived drawbacks of using the Annual Value (AV) of the property. I also find myself frequently thinking about the points he has raised, as I look after both HDB residents, and private estate residents, in my role as an MP.
E.16 The challenge in determining means-testing criteria for social support schemes is deciding on relevant measures that are clear, reasonable and are practical to implement. Typically, this involves measures of income and wealth.
E.17 There are of course trade-offs with each criterion. If we take current income, we may not, as the Member has pointed out, have a longer term picture of the families’ financial means. But if we take income over a few years, as the Member has suggested, we might also not be as responsive to recent deterioration in the financial situation of a household.
E.18 The AV is frequently used as a measure of wealth. While it is not a perfect measure for wealth, it remains a best available proxy. Furthermore, because the data does not need to be separately collected, using the AV allows benefits to be delivered automatically to recipients without them having to apply. It is an important consideration for schemes like the GST Voucher, and indeed for better government service delivery overall.
E.19 The Member can be assured that appeals by those who are in need and in exceptional circumstances will be carefully considered on a case-by-case basis and this includes for instance, appeals from those who are not related to the owners of the homes that they live in.
E.20 The Member suggested that we consider incorporating other needs-based eligibility factors used in UK’s Income Support. We note that this scheme is a targeted one based on application, and also requires other criteria such as the amount of personal savings the individual and his spouse have.
E.21 We do have schemes such as the ComCare Short-to-Medium Term Assistance that take into account the unique needs of each family that applies. This is more similar to the UK Income Support mentioned by the Member.
E.22 We will continue to review our means-testing criteria across all schemes to ensure that our assistance is targeted at those who need them most.
E.23 I would also like to share that such targeted schemes form only a small part of the total amount of benefits that Singaporeans, including private property dwellers, receive. Broad-based schemes that involve less or no targeting include:
a. Healthcare subsidies;
b. Education subsidies for primary education to tertiary education;
c. Training subsidies, like the SkillsFuture credit;
d. Marriage and Parenthood Package;
e. Lower Foreign Domestic Worker levies for those with young children or the elderly; and
f. Senior Citizen Transport Concession.
F.1 Madam Speaker, I thank all Members again for their comments and suggestions.
 MOF has been partnering with PSD, IDA and many other agencies in the digital transformation of service delivery.
 Source: 2014 Annual Survey on Infocomm Usage in Households and by Individuals, released on 26 Nov 2015.