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Speech By Dr Richard Hu, Minister For Finance, At The CPA Australia 7th Asian Regional Conference At The Mandarin Hotel On Friday, 17 Aug 2001 At 9.00 Am

17 Aug 2001

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It gives me great pleasure to join you here today at the 7th Asian Regional Conference hosted by CPA Australia.

The E-Challenge

2. The theme of this conference, The E-Challenge, is most appropriate at a time when all organisations are faced with the challenge of harnessing infocomm technologies (ICT). ICT is a key enabler in helping organisations redesign their operations, increase internal efficiencies, and serve customers better.

3. Globalisation forces businesses to compete in an increasingly dynamic and competitive environment. To survive in this knowledge-based era, businesses have to tap the potential of ICT. ICT is not just for dot com companies. After the initial hype and the huge financial bubble that it created, it was inevitable that the dot com bubble would burst. But this does not mean that we can put ICT aside as yet another fad. The advent of the Internet has brought about fundamental changes to some industry structures. And in many others, even low technology sectors, the Internet has significantly improved the speed and efficiency of operations. The accounting profession too must find new ways to harness the power of technology to remain relevant to your clients in the new economy.

4. The on-going efforts by the global accounting community to develop electronic financial reporting standards is a step in the right direction. Electronic financial reporting has the potential to significantly improve the quality, timeliness and accessibility of financial information. It is an innovation that will benefit investors, analysts and businesses, as financial information can be more easily prepared, analysed, disseminated and digested.

E-Government - Transforming Services to Citizens

5. Just as the Internet revolution has transformed the way businesses interact with their customers, governments too are applying the same technologies and principles that are fuelling the e-business revolution to achieve a similar transformation in internal operations and customer service. After e-business, the next Internet revolution is taking place in e-Government.

6. It is not a matter of choice. Rising public expectations place pressure on Governments to serve their people with greater speed, convenience and effectiveness. They are under increasing pressure to reduce the complexities of the bureaucracy to citizens and businesses. Governments have to respond to the E-Challenge not just be digitising their existing work processes, but by re-designing them and getting rid of unnecessary bureaucracy and red tape in the process.

7. The integrative power of the Internet also allows us to join up the disparate parts of Government - transforming services that used to require time-consuming visits to several agencies to a simple, integrated one-stop experience in cyberspace. Our eCitizen portal, for instance, organises public services not along agency lines, but along life-events and common themes. The portal imposes a customer-centric discipline on public sector agencies, requiring them to collaborate, share information and integrate processes to provide one-stop convenience. I am pleased to note that eCitizen is being further enhanced to provide a more complete range of up-to-date information and services. It will be relaunched later this year with numerous additional e-services.

8. The Singapore Government responded to the E-Challenge with the launch of our e-Government Action Plan last year. The Action Plan articulates the vision of the Singapore Public Service to be a leading e-Government to better serve the nation in the Digital Economy.

9. At the heart of the Action Plan is the idea of serving the public as a coherent, networked Government. While Government comprises Many Agencies, our customers really see us as a single entity. Having to go from one agency to another to obtain a suite of services can be frustrating for our customers. ICT makes the concept of Many Agencies, One Government possible. It allows us to keep away our organisational complexities and provide single points of access and single points of delivery to our customers.

10. To achieve this, the Public Service must move beyond operating as separate entities, to serve the public as One Government. This is no easy task. Public sector agencies need to think 'horizontal' in terms of how citizens want to be served, and not 'vertical' in terms of how our agencies are organised. They need to transcend organisational boundaries, collaborate and co-ordinate their operations, and share data for greater customer convenience. In short, they need to be customer-focussed, not agency-centric.

E-Government: Transforming Services to Businesses

11. You can appreciate the importance of such a transformation in the area of Government to Business e-services. The Government Electronic Business Centre or GeBiz was set up in June 2000 to simplify government procurement and tender activities. With this integrated, web-based e-procurement system, suppliers and tender bidders enjoy a broader access to Government tenders and quotations. Public sector agencies also enjoy the benefits of making electronic purchases of commonly-used items from shared period contracts. To date, 111 period contracts have been established and a total of 4,300 electronic orders amounting to S$65 million have been issued.

12. Many of our agencies are now developing one-stop services which make it easier for businesses to deal with Government, whether it is registration of businesses, application of building plans in the construction industry, or even getting public entertainment licences from the relevant authorities from a single website. These e-services will result in significant time savings: the time taken for incorporating a company will be reduced from 4 days to 1 day, while the time taken for processing a public entertainment licence will be cut from 8 weeks to 14 days.

13. Efforts are under way to establish a comprehensive online licence application system which will allow individuals to go online to register their businesses and apply for various licences needed. The system will be developed in phases with the first licence application available next year. With this service, our businesses will no longer need to make multiple visits to agencies, or complete several different forms.

Ensuring Access for All

14. For e-Government to succeed fully, two important criteria need to be met. First, our customers must be willing to engage Government online. Singaporeans must make the effort to acquaint themselves with ICT; they must be prepared to take advantage of the new delivery channel that e-Government offers, whether it is searching for information or requesting for services. We are therefore asking everyone - and not just the Government - to change and adapt to the E-Challenge. Only if we make this change can we reap the full benefits of the ICT revolution and improve public service delivery. As accounting professionals, you can do your part too to ensure that you and your clients transact online with Government.

15. Second, we need to ensure that all Singaporeans can have access to the Internet-based services. The present Internet penetration rate in Singapore is about 50%. This means that half our population has access to e-services from home. Many others have access to computers in workplaces and schools. However, there are citizens who do not have convenient access to Government e-services, either because they do not have access to a computer or do not know how to use one. This challenge is being addressed in two ways. First, by providing training under the National IT Literacy Programme which aims to train 350,000 Singaporeans in computer and Internet basics over the ne xt three years. Second, we are setting up a network of Internet-enabled terminals at civic locations that can be conveniently reached by the public. The objective is to ensure that every citizen is able to access public e-services, even if he does not have his own computer or is not IT-literate.


16. The E-Challenge, for both businesses and Governments, is not a technological one. It demands changes in traditional ways of interaction; it requires changes in our processes; it requires us to rethink our relationships with customers. We are embarking on a new journey which offers us tremendous possibilities that we are just beginning to take advantage of. For Government, it opens the way to offer services to the public in an efficient, speedy and integrated manner, which is what Government has always wanted to do but could never have done without the advent of ICT. For businesses and professional services, it opens the door to improved services, increased competitiveness, and enhanced access to customers, but at the same time could mark a gradual end for those businesses who fail to grasp the potential of ICT.

17. In closing, I would like to congratulate CPA Australia on its continued commitment to maintaining the highest professional standards. In addition, you play a welcome role in fostering excellent relations between the accounting professionals in Singapore and Australia. I wish CPA Australia a most successful and rewarding conference over the next two days.