Budget 2022: Government Tele-Services – Speech by Pritam Singh

In spite of the greater use of smartphones and the evolution towards digitalisation, many, especially seniors, still prefer speaking to a physical individual at the end of a phone-line as compared to a bot or AI-inspired solution. A 2020 study supported by the National Medical Research Council showed that 78% of elderly respondents were uncomfortable with AI interpreting their medical data and providing automated advice. This has to be seen within a wider backdrop of still relatively low internet usership amongst the elderly—a 2019 IMDA survey shows that only 58% of seniors above 60 are internet-users, compared to 89% of the general population. The Seniors Go Digital initiative that IMDA launched in 2020 helped provide seniors with basic internet skills to access gov’t e- services.

The recent spate of banking scams may also have had a psychological impact amongst some of our elderly with respect to the security of online or electronic services. Only last week, the Singapore Police Force said that a new Singpass QR code scam had surfaced in which victims are asked to fill out surveys in exchange for a monetary reward.

Greater public education can go some way to ameliorate such hazards. But these scams or security loopholes raise the importance of the availability of alternative channels such as the maintenance of reliable hotlines to assure our seniors that access to Government services remains available to them even if they are not online, or to seek clarifications promptly.

At the same time, occasional feedback still highlights the trouble people face in getting through Govt hotlines. An example was in Sep 2021 when SAF was roped in to help deal with calls to MOH as some COVID- positive Singaporeans could not secure conveyance to a recovery facility in time. Similar concerns were highlighted during the circuit breaker in 2020 when there was much confusion from businesses about the status of their foreign workers. What lessons have been learnt from these episodes, and is there is a plan to beef up tele-services, in spite of this age of digitalisation, for better citizen-state contact?