Speech by Mr Derrick Goh, MP for Nee Soon GRC at the Budget Debate 2021
Mr Speaker, Sir, the budget 2021 comes at a critical point for Singapore as we continue to navigate our way safely into a new and unfamiliar horizon. Thus far, we have collectively fared well relative to other countries in our battle against the Covid-19 pandemic. This has been largely due to the leadership of our government and the trust and co-operation of our citizens.
Although this budget will not provide as much in support schemes compared to prior year, I applaud the government for putting forward an expansionary budget at $102B representing an 8.8% increase year over year. It is critical that our government continues to take leadership by investing in key areas to help us seize opportunities to maintain our competitive edge even in challenging times like this.
Not only does this budget support Singaporean workers and businesses in need of assistance, it also seeks to bolster Singapore’s position in the new post-pandemic world through capability building along with strengthening safeguards.
It is DPM’s message about “Building a Stronger Singapore, Together” with the focus on “Ensuring equal opportunities for all and supporting the vulnerable segments of our society that resonates with me. I support this budget of pursuing a Stronger Singapore that is defined beyond the sole objective of economic vibrancy.
The reason is that as we pursue transformation in 2021 and speak of a digital, innovation driven economy, we need to keep focused that the key objective is meant to help our industries and our people to harness the power of data and technology, to be future ready. The end objective is to improve the quality of our lives as well as create better opportunities for ourselves including those amongst us that are less digitally savvy.
If we are to achieve this, then our government must stay ahead of the curve by putting in safeguards to assist and protect the different segments of the digitally vulnerable groups as we jump onto the transformation train.
As the transformation train moves fast, it is critical that we manage digitisation risks to better protect our public and maintain public confidence so that we can make this transformation journey Together, Safely. There are specifically two areas that I would like to highlight. They are:
a) Redoubling our efforts to help citizens strengthen digital muscles to improve cyber safety
b) Address the escalating cases of Scams
As we push for greater digital adoption and innovation, our citizens will find themselves empowered to do broader range of tasks and services conveniently. In doing so, we need to help them build more Digital muscles as they will each face not just opportunities but also challenges – the digital life ahead is fraught with challenges.
An Institute of Policy Studies’ study released in Dec 2020 noted that the levels of digital literacy in Singapore is low. More than half who are deemed savvy information-wise did not spot signs that information was manipulated. The Cyber Security Agency of Singapore or CSA too had similar findings, reporting in Aug 2020 that of the people who know about phishing, only 6% in the survey were able to identify correctly all the phishing emails that were tested. What is concerning is that many felt that cybersecurity incidents will not happen to them and that less than half installed security applications even though a majority know the risks of not doing so.
It is good that our government has rolled out many digital literacy initiatives through the Media Literacy Council, National Crime Prevention Council as well as National Digital Literacy Programme in schools, CSA has initiated Cybersecurity labelling on all smart home devices to name a few initiatives. So perhaps some time is needed for these programs to take effect and it could be worthwhile for a co-ordinating body to take stock holistically based on the learnings above. This is to shepherd our population towards greater digital discipline as well build a deeper awareness especially in areas that still needs attention to strengthen digital muscles across our country. After all, in Cybersecurity terms, it is often said that we are only as strong as the weakest link.
Address the escalating cases of Scams
A more fundamental issue at hand is that more Singaporeans are falling prey to online scams, losing large sums of hard-earned money. On 9th February this year, ST reported that scam cases grew 65% in 2020 over the prior year. This is a record number where more than $201 million were lost across the top 10 scam types. Of this, online scams made up 60% of which most related to e-commerce and social media impersonation.
This topic strikes close to my heart as in my resident’s case, it left him, an 80-year old, in a despondent state. He lost over $400K, most of this from his retirement savings from the sale of his 5-room flat. He had released his bank’s ID, password and authentication token to a scam. The money it seems was transferred to Hong Kong and the Police had told him that he is unlikely to get his money back. My heart goes out to him and other citizens who are like him.
It is tempting to say that “giving away your ID, password and token is like giving away your house keys”. At one level, we need to continue to emphasize the need for individual responsibility and education. However, socially engineering can be sophisticated which is why even savvy people can be duped. The reality is that our citizens are faced with a full spectrum, from simple to sophisticated scams.
I often hear people say “what are the Police doing about it or what is MAS or the Banks doing about it”. However, at the heart of the issue is that the problem cannot be approached by focusing on a single or a few parts of this digital ecosystem. We already know it is impossible to secure an email or bank account if the mobile phone is not secure and it is also impossible to secure a transaction if the e-commerce website is not secure and so on. Hence, the interaction of so many digital hand-offs creates complexity, so we need a multi-layered, whole of nation approach. I believe that while Government is taking the lead, consumers wanting the convenience as well as companies seeking to profit in the digital economy must bear a fair share of the burden in protecting the system. Our solutions to scams…processes, actions, laws and regulations need to reflect a holistic approach.
On this point, I have five recommendations to further sharpen our approach:
1) Maintain our current stance on community education. This is an essential pillar for our multi-layered defense to strengthen awareness and accountability at the individual level.
2) Like Cyber security, we must always assume that scams will succeed. Perhaps we need to prioritise recovery so that we have a higher chance to get back the funds, target a national level response time for recovery of domestic funds flows and push for commitments across government agencies and the private sector to act within the response times agreed.
3) With the target response times in mind, review whether our law enforcement and similar agencies are sufficiently resourced and fit for purpose supported by effective regulations since digital crimes are very different from physical crimes due to anonymity and speed. The economics are compelling enough – with the sizeable amount of monies lost through scams, we should allocate a proportionately higher expenditure to fight online scams head-on.
4) Relevant agencies should develop fraud prevention and detection standards with relevant private sector groups that they interact with. MAS is very engaged with the Banking sector, and perhaps we can do more with other sectors as well? Given the knowledge of these criminal typologies, could MHA take the lead as the overall co-ordinator?
5) And lastly, there is also a need to increase cross border jurisdictional cooperation to come up with a more comprehensive plan to recover funds as more monies are being lost overseas.
Mr Speaker, sir – the problem of online scams is but an inevitable consequence of pursuing a digital economy. As such, let us make sure that our digital economy has a multi-layered defense against cyber threats, and necessarily includes a multi-layered defense against scams.
In conclusion Sir, I reflected on the Singapore’s Budget Statement for 2021 and I recall my former boss once told me that requesting for a higher budget just means more work ahead. So, I am heartened that this government has shown commitment and leadership in putting forward an expansionary budget to put more effort to help Singapore stay ahead and Securing Singapore with the Community.
Sir, I support this budget. Thank you.
Watch the speech here.