SINGAPORE: From babies and marriage to doubling down on artificial intelligence (AI), Members of Parliament (MPs) touched on a wide range of issues as they sat for day one of the Committee of Supply debates on Thursday (Feb 28), following Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat’s Budget 2019 speech.
Two bodies – the Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministry of Finance – were in the spotlight as their ministers fielded points of debate and gave updates on plans for the coming financial year.
Here were the five main messages:
1. PUBLIC SERVICE LEADERS CHOSEN FOR MORE THAN JUST INTELLECT
Budding public servants take note: Future leadership teams will be selected for more than just policy-making skills and intellect – with the service increasingly looking for a combination of “operations, communications, mobilisation and international exposure”, according to Minister-in-charge of the Public Service Chan Chun Sing.
He agreed with several MPs who spoke on the need to create a more diverse public service leadership.
Public officers were also encouraged to “think differently” to serve citizens better.
As part of this, a new Public Service Cares initiative this year will encourage all officers to volunteer and serve the community. This will help them learn how to communicate better with citizens, and develop a culture to walk and know the ground needs better, said Mr Chan.
2. BUT WE’LL DOUBLE DOWN ON THE ARTIFICIAL SORT
Singapore will need to “double down” on AI efforts, declared Minister-in-charge of Smart Nation Initiative Vivian Balakrishnan.
This means expanding local know-how, said the minister, adding that AI will be built up so that everyone can benefit from such capabilities. This means teaching things like computational thinking and data literacy in schools, and training adults in data science and AI skills.
“We do not expect everyone to become an AI expert,” said Dr Balakrishnan. “But AI ... is a general purpose technology, and we want our workforce to be able to use (such) tools to participate meaningfully in the future AI-driven economy.”
3. “SMART” PARKING COMING SOON
Updates to several Smart Nation initiatives are on the cards this year, as authorities announced the expansion of two initiatives – Moments of Life and MyInfo – to address more citizens’ needs.
What will be expanded:
- Moments of Life: This app helps parents manage their child’s early years, and will be expanded to cater to other “key life moments”, such as encouraging seniors to lead active lives and for citizens to plan ahead for end-of-life matters.
- MyInfo Business: This aims to enable smoother business-to-business transactions, e.g. saving business owners time when submitting Government-verified data.
Good news for motorists too, as a new trial this year aims to make it easier to find parking lots. A new project will see authorities testing smart sensors to provide real-time availability of kerbside parking lots.
The trial will start in the first half of the year for a period of six months, and will cover on-street parking lots along Telok Ayer Street and Temple Street.
Motorists can see if parking spots are available via the URA website and the Find Parking function in the OneService app. After the trial's results are assessed, on-street parking lot information could be rolled out onto Parking.sg at a later phase.
4. SUBSIDIES TO MAKE PRE-SCHOOL MORE AFFORDABLE
The Government also wants to hear from Singaporeans about babies and marriage. In the coming months, authorities will consult the public on their needs and concerns regarding marriage and parenthood, said Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Josephine Teo.
Noting parents’ concerns about costs such as pre-school fees, the minister said that the pre-school subsidy framework is being reviewed to make it more affordable for parents.
Parental leave was also in the spotlight, with MP for Nee Soon GRC Louis Ng asking if it was possible to further increase this.
Mrs Teo said the Government would keep reviewing the scope to expand leave provisions, but said “we should be careful about mandating businesses to do more” as this could impact their viability.
5. EASIER FOR SMES TO TAKE PART IN PUBLIC PROJECTS
To make it easier for small- and medium-sized enterprises to take part in public projects, the Government will raise the upper limit for quotations to S$90,000 this year from the current S$70,000.
This should allow smaller companies and start-ups to capture higher-value Government projects through quotations, which come with simpler contractual terms and conditions and tend to be processed more quickly, said Second Minister for Finance Indranee Rajah.