Ladies and gentlemen,
Good morning, and welcome to the Ministerial Forum on ICM.
Preparing ourselves for a world that is changing
2 This year’s Forum comes at a challenging, and yet exciting time of change. They say ‘change is the only constant’. But change has never come at a faster rate. Convergence and disruption are transforming the way we operate. Ever so often, we see another Airbnb or Uber coming along, up-ending the way our economies function.
3 The digital economy of the future brings exciting opportunities. But it has also caused significant upheaval. Across the world, we see greater calls for protectionism. People are making their voices heard through their votes: take for example Brexit, of course, the US Presidential Election.
4 I am sure we recognise this reality in our countries. But how do we deal with such upheaval are one of the key questions we hope to discuss.
5 We can, of course, try to protect our economies, close them off and take the easier path. But history has shown that those who resist change eventually fall behind and end up playing catch catching-up.
6 So what can we do? How do we ensure our people are ready to seize the opportunities that come with this wave of change?
Enabling people and businesses to thrive
7 As ministers and policy-makers, we have been looking at the policies to prepare our country, so that we are digitally ready to thrive in the future economy.
8 For example, in Singapore last year, we launched the TechSkills Accelerator, or TeSA, which is a programme aimed at deepening skills and capabilities among our people. Over 10,000 ICT professionals have gained from TeSA and we will be training another 10,000 public servants in data science to improve capabilities in the public service. At the same time, we are reaching out to the small medium enterprises. This year, we launched a programme with called SMEs Go Digital. Through this programme, we want to help our small businesses scale up and boost their productivity through technology.
Fostering a culture of experimentation
9 Such policies and programmes are important. Beyond these, we want to encourage a culture of collaborating, sharing and experimenting.
10 One way we are doing this is to provide dedicated spaces and tools for people to tinker around with innovative projects, and exchange ideas with others in the community. In Singapore, we have launched called the PIXEL Lab at one of our libraries – the Jurong Regional Library in the western part of the island; this is one such space dedicated to tinkerers and innovators. Tools and equipment like 3D printers and microcontrollers are available for anyone who wants to play around with them.
Regulating without stifling innovation
11 So with innovation comes new ground and the question of regulation. Should we regulate? How much do we regulate? And how do you regulate without stifling innovation? These are questions policy-makers deal with all the time.
12 In our case, we have found the regulatory sandbox very useful. Last year, our central bank, the Monetary Authority of Singapore, or MAS, launched a regulatory sandbox for financial institutions and FinTech players. The idea is to provide a conducive space where certain regulatory requirements are relaxed for a period of time, to encourage firms to test their solutions. If the experiment fails – and some of them will do, it does so within a confined space, without major impact on our financial system.
13 One of the latest innovations to enter the FinTech sandbox is a start-up solution called PolicyPal. It helps users to organise and find gaps in their insurance coverage, and will stay in the sandbox for six months for testing and improvements.
The future economy is more than just digital
14 This year’s Forum focuses on the digital economy. Digital is the future, but the future is not only digital. In fact, I believe analog will remain for some time in many of our countries.
15 What we need is to look into harnessing the benefits of digital to transform older, analogue processes and sectors. This is one way to ensure a more inclusive and equitable distribution of benefits that we gain from technology.
16 Take for example the gig economy. We all know that it features prominently in the digital economy. But it also plays a big role for mature workers and their re-employment.
17 Recently, I heard that a small firm began to hire older workers to install insect screens. It might sound very old fashioned, but it is very much needed in a tropical climate like Singapore. But because of ‘gigs’ like these, one of the workers earns more than what he did in his previous job as a technician at a more established company. He carries a small iPad to do his work.
Countries must work together, learn from one another
18 I have shared some of my experiences in approaching the challenges of the digital economy. I believe that many of you have ideas and your own experiences that we can learn from. This is one of the reasons we hold the Ministerial Forum. It lets us come together to exchange and discuss our ideas and solutions.
19 The next few sessions will look at how governments can respond to disruptions. I very much look forward to hearing from all of you.
20 On this note, I wish all of you a fruitful Ministerial Forum ahead.
21 Thank you.