Singapore’s GovTech agency was set up to re-introduce engineering skills into government, said Dr Janil Puthucheary – Minister-of-State for Communications and Information – at his opening remarks at Innovation Labs World.

It originated “from the need to have a core of engineering excellence at the heart of government” and a “deep pool of math skills”, he told the assembled audience of 500 officials from across the world.

The Singapore Government is open to innovation and new disruption in industries, he stressed. “The standback approach that we took to Uber when it first came along [was] ‘Get on with it, and show us what can be done’”, the Minister said.

But as soon “as that spark turns into a fire that seems to be able to affect the rest of the players in the space, we get involved”, he said. “We learn from those lessons; and adapt, learn and develop regulatory clarity”, he added, so that industry players were aware of the government’s extent of involvement, and the opportunities for innovation,

“We have taken that same playbook – whether it’s oil, gas, water, MNCs, water, transport – … and we’ve applied it again and again.”

The Smart Nation Programme office exists to drive connections across agencies, ministries and break down barriers, he said.

“When [the SNPO] are successful at identifying a problem and proposing a solution, our innovative space within our public sector grabs that opportunity and runs with it”, until it becomes “a normal way of looking at the future”, the Minister said.

Within Singapore’s cabinet, skills and experience are cross-cutting and diverse, he said. The Minister for Education, for instance, is an ex-chief of the defence force; and “we have a former surgeon who is our Minister for Defence”. This allows government to “examine some of the deeply held thought structures” within ministries, statutory boards and the civil service, he added.

The Minister himself holds a portfolio at the Ministry of Communication and Information; one at the Ministry of Education; and one with the People’s’ Association Youth Movement – where they look at how to use “racial harmony as a way to energise our youth”, to build an “institutional process that will drive innovation and disruption”.

Innovation Labs World was organised by GovInsider, and was supported by 20 companies.

Image taken by the SNPO