S'pore wants e-govt to reach masses

Singapore government must reach more citizens online by "keeping up with the times" and changing e-lifestyle demands, says cabinet minister.
Written by Victoria Ho, Contributor

SINGAPORE--Building on the current advancements in the government's online initiatives, Singapore's public e-services must move ahead to reach more of the country's citizens, urges a senior government official.

Speaking Tuesday at the e-Government Summit 2007, a component of the annual Global Entrepolis conference, Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan, Singapore's Second Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts (MICA), said the country's public e-services need to be extended to reach more people. This can be achieved by adopting new strategies, the minister said.

"Our citizens and businesses expect to engage and transact with all government agencies, anytime and anywhere," said Dr. Balakrishnan, touching on several recent moves by the government to make e-services more accessible.

One such example is the REACH portal, which incorporates Web 2.0 features such as blogs, social networking, online chat and short text messaging functions, said Balakrishnan.

To reach citizens who are not IT-literate, 28 CitizenConnect centers have also been set up across the island-state. These manned Internet kiosks offer free instructions to guide people on how to interact with the government online.

"Technology has changed expectations," said the cabinet minister. Recalling a recent e-mail message he received, Dr. Balakrishnan described how an irate citizen was upset that he had received a response from the minister's staff, instead of a personal response from the senior government official.

Dr. Balakrishnan recalled with a laugh that this incident reflected how "expectations have changed with the times", where citizens now expect their government to be "immediately responsive and personal".

Recounting the development of Singapore's e-government beginnings, Dr. Balakrishnan said the 1980s were marked by work automation and reducing its paper trail. The 1990s saw interfaces built between the government and private sector, such as TradeNet, MediNet and LawNet.

"Today, our citizens view personalization and mobility as equally critical to meet their e-lifestyle demands," he said.

To address this, the government's MyeCitizen portal was revamped to allow its content to be customized, including lifestyle information such as entertainment and travel services. The portal provides Singaporeans with a consolidated dashboard of government services that they can access online.

Some services have also been extended to the mobile realm. Dr. Balakrishnan said: "To give our citizens and business access to public services on the move, we have put more than 150 e-government services on mobile platforms." These include the country's Central Provident Fund (CPF), and information on traffic conditions.

However, the minister noted that currently, the ability to find 98 percent of the government's services online is still not good enough.

He said the Integrated Government 2010 plan is well underway toward realizing the government's goal of a fully integrated spectrum of public services for its citizens.

"We want to close the gap to make it 100 percent soon," Dr. Balakrishnan said.

He added that security will become a "key focus in the decade ahead".

"As we become more dependent on our e-government systems, we will also have to develop robust strategies to address the problems of cyber terrorism, identity theft, disruption of services and related threats to the integrity of our systems."

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