MOF Committee of Supply Debate 2020 by Second Minister of Finance Ms Indranee Rajah28 Feb 2020
A1. Mr Chairman, I will now address Members’ questions which fall under two broad topics:
a. First, how the Government is transforming public service processes to better serve our people; and
b. Second, how we are enhancing service delivery to be more business- and citizen-centric.
B. TRANSFORMING PUBLIC SERVICE PROCESSES
Transforming Policies and Processes
B1. Minister Chan spoke earlier about transforming the public service for the future. I will cover MOF’s efforts in transforming government procurement through rule reviews and pervasive use of technology. This contributes to being more nimble, innovative, and effective, as urged by Mr Liang and Ms Foo.
B2. First, MOF has used regulatory sandboxes to lift procurement rules and allow agencies to test new approaches.
a. One such sandbox enables government agencies to negotiate with the most qualified bidders in open tenders to identify alternative solutions that provide better value for the Government. For instance, through this approach, we were able to secure a more cost-effective solution for a large ICT contract at tens of millions of dollars lower than the original bid price.
B3. Second, we are introducing more dynamism in some of our bulk contracts to be responsive to market changes.
a. While current ICT bulk contracts allow suppliers to refresh their prices, we are introducing further dynamism by allowing new requirements and new suppliers to be added throughout a multi-year contract. This is especially pertinent in an environment of rapid technology changes.
b. Suppliers will be able to offer new products and services to the Government, without waiting for bulk contracts to expire. Agencies can have faster access to newer technology and capabilities, leading to time savings of about three months each time this feature is used.
c. We have piloted the use of dynamic contracts for two ICT bulk tenders (amounting to more than $700 million), and will scale this up to three more bulk tenders this year.
B4. Third, public officers can soon make small value purchases directly from e-commerce sites, which will enhance speed and convenience.
a. Today, the public service spends more than $60 million annually on small value items such as pantry supplies, stationery and small electrical appliances.
b. By the end of this year, MOF and GovTech will enable public officers to make small value purchases from e-commerce sites seamlessly, without having to claim reimbursement.
c. A fully automated e-commerce model will lighten the processing workload on our corporate staff. Audit controls will be automated and monitoring done in the background. This will save our public officers more than 100,000 man-days a year, freeing up their time to focus on delivering better services to the public.
d. We are partnering our vendors in this digitalisation journey, particularly our SMEs. By bringing their businesses online, SMEs can digitalise their processes from order to invoice to payment, and improve productivity. It also opens up new opportunities - SMEs can access an additional channel to supply government agencies and other buyers, and expand their reach beyond Singapore’s shores.
Working with SMEs & Startups
B5. Mr Henry Kwek asked how we are enhancing the government procurement approach to enable SMEs and startups to develop innovative solutions and help them grow.
B6. More than 80% of the total number of procurement opportunities are awarded to SMEs and startups. We will continue to look at how we can facilitate their participation and support their growth.
B7. Mr Kwek also asked how we inform companies of such efforts. One key way is to partner our trade associations and chambers to reach out to them.
a. For instance, MOF regularly engages the Singapore Business Federation to gather feedback from their members and provide clarifications on government procurement matters.
b. GovTech, as the Government’s lead for ICT procurement, has regular platforms with SGTech to facilitate collaborations with the tech industry.
B8. One of the initiatives shared with SGTech is the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA)’s Open Innovation Platform (OIP), which enables smaller enterprises to better access Government opportunities.
a. Since its launch in July 2018, agencies have posted 13 challenges on OIP to invite the public to submit solutions, with prize monies of more than half a million dollars. This attracted 191 proposals, with more than 90% coming from SMEs, startups and individuals.
b. The National Environment Agency (NEA), for example, posted a challenge on addressing air pollution from vehicles’ smoke emission. Twenty SMEs, startups and individuals submitted proposals. NEA is now working with the awarded startup to co-develop a proof-of-concept where video analytics capabilities will be used to detect smoke emissions remotely yet accurately. If the solution proves to be effective, it can be piloted and scaled up without the need for further tenders.
B9. For the ICT sector, we have gone a step further to list promising Singapore-based tech startups in a panel for government agencies to consider first. The SG:D Spark programme gives these startups priority access to government projects to build capabilities and track record for further growth.
a. Impress.ai is a local SME on the SG:D Spark programme that helps companies automate their recruitment process using artificial intelligence. It has grown its clientele to ten government agencies in its two years on the programme. These agencies in turn have benefitted from a more efficient and effective recruitment process. For example, Ngee Ann Polytechnic reduced the time taken to review over 4,000 applications, from 470 hours to just two hours.
C. DELIVERING BUSINESS- AND CITIZEN-CENTRIC SERVICES
Leveraging Technology to Ease Compliance
C1. Mr Saktiandi and Mr Liang asked how MOF has tapped on digitalisation to enhance its interactions with businesses and citizens. Mr Kwek also talked about reducing business compliance costs.
a. Earlier this year, the Accountant-General’s Department announced that the Government has taken the lead to adopt the Nationwide e-Invoicing Network. This provides our 20,000 vendors currently on e-invoicing arrangements with an additional channel to transmit invoices from their accounting systems to the Government. Being on the network also allows vendors to exchange documents seamlessly with one another, including overseas counterparties.
b. As part of the Digital Government Blueprint, all government interactions with businesses and citizens will include an electronic signature option by 2023. This will make it easier, more convenient and less costly to transact with the Government. Within the public service, we have conducted reviews to digitalise processes and do away with signatures. Where signatures are still required, electronic signatures will be the norm.
C2. We have gone one step further to integrate digital solutions across platforms and agencies to create seamless digital touchpoints.
a. In partnership with software providers, the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) and Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS) are enabling seamless filing for smaller companies. Using source data from accounting records, financial and tax returns can now be automatically generated, and submitted directly to ACRA and IRAS. With the launch later this year, about 200,000 companies can potentially benefit from this initiative.
C3. Even as we seek to create seamless digital touchpoints with citizens, we must also help those who might require more customised assistance, as Mr Saktiandi and Ms Cheryl Chan highlighted.
a. IRAS has been working with taxi and private hire car (PHC) drivers on a chat-filing initiative to simplify tax filing. Through this collaboration, IRAS developed a conversational-style form to help drivers understand the information they need to report. The form was piloted last year with over 600 drivers who found this tax filing process more intuitive. They also spent 30% less time filing their returns. Given its success, IRAS is working with GovTech on a prototype chatbot, to benefit about 6,000 taxi and PHC drivers during this year’s tax filing season.
SG Together – Creating and Delivering Solutions Together
C4. We recognise that the Government does not have a monopoly of ideas or resources. For Singapore to succeed, we must harness the collective wisdom and ideas of our people. I am glad that Mr Kwek, Mr Saktiandi and Ms Chan highlighted the SG Together movement, which will anchor our nation-building going forward.
C5. Budget 2020 is a good example of SG Together in action. We engaged and received suggestions from about 6,000 contributors, almost 40% more than last year’s Budget. We will continue to step up our engagement efforts, so that all Singaporeans can have a say in our Budget.
C6. Beyond engagement, we seek to actively partner our businesses, community groups and citizens to create policy solutions together.
a. Take for example the Matched Retirement Savings Scheme under Budget 2020. This had its origins in early discussions between the Tsao Foundation and the Government. The Tsao Foundation did a pilot study to provide dollar-matching on CPF savings for a small group of older women. We then scaled up the idea into a nationwide programme to boost the retirement adequacy of eligible lower- and middle-income seniors with little retirement savings.
C7. We also leverage data sharing via Application Programming Interface (API) exchanges, and crowdsourcing through hackathons to co-create solutions.
a. For instance, IRAS’ API Marketplace and ACRA’s API Mall allow developers and businesses to harness data and create applications that interface seamlessly with Government systems. These APIs are currently used by over 150 organisations to develop business and productivity solutions.
C8. We have also taken a further step to partner businesses and empower the community to co-implement solutions.
a. For example, our banks and telecommunication service providers are valuable partners under IMDA and Enterprise Singapore’s Start Digital initiative, who help introduce business solutions through their touchpoints with SMEs. With their support, the scheme has benefited over 10,000 SMEs since its launch in 2019.
b. We also leverage partnerships to promote inclusive growth, and foster a caring and resilient society, which Ms Chan spoke about. Tote Board’s Enabling Lives Initiative, managed by SG Enable and the National Council of Social Service, is one example of how various stakeholders such as social service agencies, academia and corporates work together to deliver projects that improve the well-being of persons with disabilities and caregivers.
i. As Ms Chan mentioned, people with special needs will benefit immensely from the use of digital tools. Under Tote Board’s initiative, a social enterprise called Digital D.R.E.A.M pioneered the use of virtual reality systems to provide immersive learning opportunities for students with special needs, such as learning about road safety in a safe environment. Digital D.R.E.A.M has since partnered various Special Education schools to develop tailored content materials for their students.
C9. Later this year, Tote Board will launch the second tranche of the initiative. We look forward to more collaborations with our community partners to deliver impactful and innovative solutions in various aspects such as life skills and assistive technology for persons with disabilities.
C10. The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) has formed three Enabling Masterplan workgroups to guide us in building a more inclusive society. More details will be shared at MSF’s COS later.
D1. Mr Chairman, our work is not done in creating a better Singapore for all. We encourage our businesses, community groups and individuals to come forward and work together with us to build and sustain Singapore’s success for future generations.