Ministry of Communications and Information Committee of Supply 2017 – Cuts by WP MPs and NCMPs

(Delivered in Parliament on 6 March 2017)

Live Proceedings and Smart Nation – Pritam Singh

Madam Chair, since the launch of the “Smart Nation” initiative in 2014, much has been said about facilitating initiatives that allow easier access to information on state-related services. The Smart Nation envisions a Singapore where citizens are empowered by technology to live meaningful and fulfilling lives. Such efforts would also include providing greater access to official statistics and information on official programs under public service initiatives. In raising this cut, I use the word smart in “Smart Nation” with the non-digital definition in mind.

At a time when poor information, misunderstanding, and even misinformation and “fake news” are becoming increasingly prevalent, efforts that assist and allow the public access to primary sources of information so as to have an informed, fact-based public debate are especially needed. This allows a discerning, active citizenry to participate in governance and have a direct stake in policy-based discussions with fact and reasoned opinion the order of the day, as opposed to wild diatribes and unsubstantiated exaggerations. No doubt, the latter will not be easy to filter out given the open nature of the Internet and the information age we live in today.

The Government has stated that it is looking at how it can reinforce its legal and regulatory hands against purveyors of falsehoods. But the long arm of the law alone is unlikely to engender a smart nation. A smart nation must at its core understand where to find news that allow its citizenry to make informed choices. Parliament is an important, if not central conduit for information dissemination and can make a seminal difference. For Singaporeans to be resistant to “fake news”, they must be sufficiently informed, and providing a live and open parliamentary platform would serve as a key inoculant against fake news. Educating the public about their rights and responsibilities as citizens and voters are equally important and useful next steps.

Specifically, I would like to ask the Government if it would consider introducing live video-streaming and a searchable video archive of Parliamentary debates. The digital revolution has opened many doors to provide such services competitively. In fact, it was noteworthy that the recent budget speech delivered by Minister Heng was streamed live and available on the Straits Times website. The absence of the full Parliamentary Question and Answers clips and second readings on Bills appears contrary to the principles of open government. No doubt, the delayed ChannelNewsAsia videos available online shortly after a parliamentary session are a notable improvement from the past. I also note that the scope and length of coverage has increased progressively as well. However, current reports on Parliamentary proceedings by the mainstream media centre on snippets and sometimes omit key statements, facts and context, at the liberty of editors. As a written record of speeches, there are also limitations to what the Hansard can convey in a timely manner given society’s migration to video-based formats on our smartphones.

I hope the Government can review its position on this matter and consider bringing live parliamentary proceedings in full to our smart devices, in step with our evolution as a smart nation. I believe it will improve citizen-state relations in a significant way and improve public discussions about policy trade-offs and the understanding of Singaporeans about parliamentary affairs.


Elderly Access to Government Services – Chen Show Mao

Madam, I would like to ask whether we could do more to help ensure that we do not leave groups of Singaporeans behind in the drive to digitise government services and build a Smart Nation.

One recent example is the difficulties that some seniors still face in trying to use SingPass and activating 2FA. Seniors without mobile phones need to apply for the OneKey token. In many cases the only practical option for seniors who are unable to apply for the OneKey token online is to visit one of the two OneKey offices in Alexandra and Tanjong Pagar. This is the case notwithstanding the on-site assistance available at the 25 or so Citizen Connect Centres in Singapore, who can help with applying for SingPass, but not OneKey tokens.

The process may prove cumbersome particularly for several groups of people: seniors who are not tech-savvy, those with low levels of education, those who are not conversant with English, those who do not own mobile phones, and those who may have difficulties getting around.

This calls to mind the bigger issue of the growing risk of losing access to essential government services for groups of Singaporeans, in the face of digitisation. Let us try to make our pioneering Smart Nation even more inclusive, Madam.


IMDA Grants for Media Works – Leon Perera

Madam Chairman the IMDA offers various grants for media works.

I would like to ask what the IMDA is doing to promote private investment in Singapore films. Globally, new film financing models are emerging. These include loans, private equity and crowdfunding, with film production completion bonds being used to help independent film makers secure funding from these kinds of sources.

What measures is the IMDA taking to incentivise and promote private sector funding for the film industry, including novel funding sources? For example, are there tax incentives for private investors who fund movie productions? Would the IMDA consider a co-investment scheme whereby the state will match private investors dollar for dollar, so as to kick-start the growth of private funding? And is the IMDA supporting the development of a crowdfunding industry for films?

Such efforts may not only help develop commercially-oriented funding but also encourage private funders to step forward to finance films for which they have a passion.

A better financial eco-system for film production in Singapore would place the industry on a more sustainable footing. Unleashing private funding will also help the cause of artistically or nationally important films that may be less commercially viable.

I would also like to ask how the IMDA is supporting local film-makers to offer content online, as this is the fastest growing platform for film consumption.

All this is important for the quest to create more Singapore movies that can inspire us and help the light of Singapore shine in the world.