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Bills passed for establishment of IMDA, GovTech

SINGAPORE — Two bills were passed on Tuesday (Aug 16), which will pave the way for the establishment of the Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) and the Government Technology Agency, or GovTech.

The Singapore Parliament House. TODAY file photo

The Singapore Parliament House. TODAY file photo

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SINGAPORE — Two bills were passed on Tuesday (Aug 16), which will pave the way for the establishment of the Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) and the Government Technology Agency, or GovTech.

With the two new Government agencies, the existing Infocomm Development of Authority of Singapore and the Media Development Authority will see some of its functions merged. The new IMDA will help develop the infocomm sector, while also regulating it. GovTech, meanwhile, will help drive digital transformation efforts in the public sector.

Speaking in Parliament, Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim said the new IMDA will develop talent for sector, and look into how to provide facilities that can support start-ups and small and medium enterprises.

Consumers will also be a key focus for IMDA, which will ensure they enjoy a variety of infocomm media services at good service standards and competitive prices, said Dr Yaacob.

He added that with the creation of IMDA, more specific legislative proposals will be put forward to bring about a “converged perspective” on consumer protection, infocomm media regulations, and industry development efforts. 
As for GovTech it will lead the delivery of the Government’s digital services to the public. It will also ensure the necessary infrastructure is put in place to support Singapore’s Smart Nation goals.

Twelve Members of Parliament (MPs) spoke at the debate for both bills, raising issues they felt the Government should look into going forward.

Mr Zaqy Mohamad (Chua Chu Kang GRC) felt the IMDA should look into possible “market failure” such as lack of competition in the media sector, which might lead to Singaporeans “being taken hostage” to pay for “expensive, exclusive sports content”.

Nominated MP Kok Heng Leun urged the IMDA to set out clear, “transparent and accountable procedures” where regulations and appeals for the arts sector are concerned, to ensure “creativity is not stifled”.

Speaking during the Government Technology Agency bill, Mr Darryl David (Ang Mo Kio GRC) warned that with a more centralised cyber security framework for the Government, the risks would “increase exponentially”’ with intruders being able to “exploit the same backdoor that exists in the entire e-government system”.

Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) and Workers’ Party Non-Constituency MP Leon Perera also urged greater efforts to protect personal data.

During the debates of both bills, MPs also pointed out that there was more room for public-private partnerships.

In the area of media content for example, Mr Png Eng Huat (Hougang), said the IMDA could facilitate more public-private partnerships in bringing services and content that “may not attract viable commercial interests, but may bring immeasurable benefits to the nation as a whole.”

He pointed to how Singaporeans had almost missed watching history being made live when swimmer Joseph Schooling won the first Olympic gold medal for our country. An impasse over the broadcast rights for the Rio Olympics between rights holders Dentsu and Mediacorp was not resolved until the last minute.

Noting that Singapore has a small domestic market, Mr Png said: “The decision to have live broadcast of events like the Olympics cannot be solely based on commercial consideration. This Government has continued to support Formula One year after year. Can it not do something for events that happen only once in every four years, and of which Singaporean athletes are participating, and winning as well?”

Agreeing, Nominated MP Ganesh Rajaram said that the bill should have safeguards to ensure such a situation does not happen. The Olympics’ telecast rights could be funded by the IMDA as part of the public service broadcast funds that are disbursed annually, he added.

In the area of tapping on the potential of technology, Mr Zaqy said GovTech’s potential could collaborating with the private sector, pointing to the success of Pokemon Go in achieving what agencies like NParks and the National Heritage Board had set out to do – encouraging Singaporeans to discover more about its parks and trails in Singapore.

“There is a symbiosis that we can tap, and much potential that can be synergised through exchange of ideas, research and collaboration,” he said.

Responding to the MPs, Dr Yaacob said on the Olympics, the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) has stated that the decision on whether to broadcast the games should remain a commercial one.

“MCCY and MCI will continue to monitor the content market developments closely. I’m glad that in the end, the parties managed to reach a deal that allowed Singaporeans to watch the Olympics live and cheer our Team Singapore athletes on and join in celebrating Joseph Schooling’s historic achievement.”

He also said that the IMDA would continue to take seriously its role in promoting creativity and content creation. “As a content regulator, (it) will take into account community values before ultimately deciding on the classification to strike a balance between artistic merits of a performance and broader social norms, in so doing, it will be as transparent as possible.”

As for GovTech, he said it would keep public sector and ICT systems “stable and resilient”. “It’s an area we cannot take for granted, given the increased risk of cyber security breaches and rapidly evolving cyber threat landscape… Ultimately, we are subject to responsibilities to ensure we protect citizens’ data and to protect it from any form of disclosure,” he said.

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