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Former NMP on PM Lee’s push towards a Smart Nation: “We will be a stupid nation that is only ‘smart’ because our Government told us so.”

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By Phyllis Lee

Following his initial post rebutting Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s suggestions on healthy living, former Nominated Member of Parliament Calvin Cheng put up another Facebook post last night claiming that the government should not have to lead Singapore for the country to become a Smart Nation.

In his National Day Rally speech last evening, PM Lee highlighted the importance of transitioning into a Smart Nation. Other than conveying how technology can aid citizens in their daily lives and within public areas, he also pointed out that Singapore still lags behind other countries in the area of cashless, electronic payments.

He brought up a story of Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say, who discovered that even roadside hawkers accepted electronic payments in China a few years ago.

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He said: “So when Chinese visitors come to Singapore and find they have to use cash, they ask: ‘How can Singapore be so backward?’”

In response to this, Calvin Cheng said:

“PM Lee remarked that visitors from China find us backward in terms of using e-payments.

This is true, and in fact I would go further to say that we are even more backward than what PM Lee suggests.

Why?

In China, e-payments and a ‘cashless society’ largely grew from private enterprise. Xi Jinping or his predecessors did not have to go on national TV to urge China to go cashless. He did not have to get the Government to intervene to consolidate e-payment systems, or even contemplate ‘banning cash’ from their subways.

These e-payment systems developed from the ingenuity and innovation of entrepreneurs such as Jack Ma (Alipay) and Pony Ma (Wechat Pay). Consumers did not start using e-payment systems because the Government told them to do so; they did it because it was more convenient and more efficient. Businesses did not adopt e-payment systems because the Government told them they must be part of a smart nation – they did so because it was more profitable (WePay and Alipay charged them less than credit card companies) and their customers found it better.

The SmartNation initiative is necessary.

But if Singapore and Singaporeans always have to rely on the Government to tell us what to do, and businesses cannot innovate and provide the best solutions to their customers without Government intervention, then Singapore is finished.

We will be a stupid nation that is only ‘smart’ because our Government told us so.

(Maybe we are too reliant on the G telling us what to do. Vicious cycle. People becoming reliant, waiting for instructions, and the G gives instructions like we expect, which makes us even more reliant. And so on. Maybe the G should take a more hands off approach and allow those who don’t innovate to shrivel and go extinct.)”

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