“Singapore residents will each get a personal online mailbox in two years’ time to receive their mail from the Government and public agencies” (‘G’ Mail: One Inbox For All Govt E-Mail, Mr. Zakir Hussain and Miss Andrea Ong).
The report “‘G’ Mail: One Inbox For All Govt E-Mail” (June 15, 2010) by Mr. Zakir Hussain and Miss Andrea Ong: it is indeed intriguing to hear that the Singapore public service is persistent in its engagement of Singaporeans through online mediums. With the advent of globalisation and proliferation of the Internet – particularly in Singapore where usage is extremely high – it seems constructive to develop a common medium for communication and increasing the efficiency of services. Nonetheless, the proposed OneInbox initiative – in the immediate future – would prove to be a fruitless exercise in redundancy and bureaucracy.
For most Singaporeans – largely tech-savvy and adept with the various components of the Internet – the creation of an additional account would only generate unnecessary clutter and hassle. Many working professionals and students already have to juggle with a plethora of online mailboxes and portals to handle an assortment of commitments. The centralisation of online reminders and messages might seem to enhance convenience, and the provision of a greater range of e-services might complement accessibility, however, the OneInbox initiative might prove to be counterproductive, and create greater confusion and mix-ups. Furthermore, even while OneInbox remains in the conceptualisation phase, the details and portal components should be expounded upon by the relevant agencies for the public to evaluate and express the eventual necessity of the system.
On the other end of the spectrum, citizens who have no technological exposure would render OneInbox obsolete for them. Their ability to opt-out of the scheme is insignificant. Rather than blindly conforming to technological trends for the sake of supposed modernisation, there are occasions when we must take a step back. The traditional forms of vis-à-vis interaction and processing would be exponentially more beneficial for Singaporeans who face technological or linguistic barriers. Channels of engagement must be customised to fit diverse characteristics.
Technologically, OneInbox would render Singapore more vulnerable to malicious cyber-attacks. Regardless of the security or firewall measures undertaken, the proliferation of recent global breaches into “secured” systems proves that no database or centralised cyber-establishment is entirely impregnable. The fact that the proposed OneInbox system contains valuable personal information would only provide greater incentives for perpetrators and hackers to infiltrate it: potentially holding Singapore hostage or simply throwing everything into disarray. Looking beyond, huge unnecessary costs might be sunk into the endeavour; beyond the short-term establishment costs, more money would be channelled into beefing up security aspects and footing administrative pay-checks. More staff and resources would be dedicated to this burgeoning bureaucracy, handling with tremendous volume and heavy usage.
It would be wise for the relevant agencies to consult the public on such proposed initiatives instead of adopting a myopic perspective of efficiency and effectiveness from the administration per se. A more holistic approach in policy-making would allow for proposals and action plans that are more customised and well-prepared for swift and plausible implementation.
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.