Policy Address 2023

E-governance: Core of André Cheong’s policy debate session

The parliamentary debate session held yesterday on next year’s policies revolved mainly around e-governance and related topics, and included a rare instance of the parliamentary president expressing his views.

Yesterday’s plenary meeting debated policies in the administration and justice branch, with the topical secretary, André Cheong, as well as officials in the area, answering questions from lawmakers.

After finishing the first set of questions and answers, parliamentary president Kou Hoi In spoke on e-governance. He called for the government to “contemplate the matter in a realistic fashion.”

Being a businessman himself, the president has deep feelings on public reforms, especially on licensing matters.

He pointed out that even though the government had introduced and upgraded the One Account app, which currently can help handle numerous public service procedures, these procedures actually involve a lot of bureaus and entities.

By saying this, he meant that the entire procedure cannot be completely digital, with certain parts or document submissions needing to be conducted offline. He then questioned, given the concept of big data lingering around for some time, whether this can be solved at the end of the day.

Kou then acknowledged that it could be easy for a single bureau to migrate its services to One Account, but intercommunications between bureaus could be otherwise, reflecting on his comments on submitting documents physically despite certain applications being initiated digitally.

Kou said an overhaul will be needed to complete e-governance. He added that concluding e-governance will help improve the government’s image and credibility as well.

Kou’s bullet was not fired without targets. Cheong attempted to justify the difficulty of digitizing administration. For example, in response to a question, he said that migration to e-governance is not merely moving offline data online, before saying that law reviews are critical.

In his questions, lawmaker Chan Iek Lap revealed that the One Account app, the efficiency and capacity of which the government has boasted about, could not distinguish between twins. If they want to sign up for an account, they will need to do so physically at the Public Administration and Civil Services Bureau’s (SAFP) counters, in contrast to the fully digital process experienced by most users.

In response, Cheong admitted that about 3,200 pairs of twins cannot sign up digitally for an account on a digital platform. For the time being, the government has no reliable solutions but required the process be conducted physically. Cheong explained that the main consideration lies with data security. Cheong explained that only twins who look nearly identical will be affected.

With e-governance being prevalent in the government’s blueprint for next year’s policies, banker-lawmaker Ip Sio Kai asked how the apparatus would be able to help in enticing investments or businesses to Macau.

He pointed out that if businesspeople from lusophone countries could process business registrations fully digitally, they might be more interested in investing in Macau. Ip’s colleague at the parliament and the bank, Ngan Iek Hang, also commented that e-governance should be completed for the convenience of the people.

Ngan also expressed concerns over the security of the One Account platform, before questioning how digitization of government services can be achieved.

Cheong did not give a direct answer to Ip’s question on attracting investments by e-governance, but added that cross-border data movements, mainly between Macau and Hengqin, are in fact being operated. Cheong stressed that this must be done with the consent of the concerned parties or stakeholders though.

As he replied to Ngan’s question, the senior official emphasized that the One Account service relied heavily on the cloud computerization centre co-established by Chinese internet mogul Alibaba.

Elaborating on migrating services online, Cheong stressed that the government’s first priority is to prevent problems from occurring. Minor problems such as system crashes were already a concern, let alone the server being hacked and consequential data leakage.

Although not under his authority, the Macau health code declaration and de-facto entry permission system mandated by the government has seen intermittent system crashes.

Not happy with the answer, Ip called for a dedicated bureau or office to handle matters related to inviting businesses in his follow-up opportunity.

Alibaba will continue to handle the city’s migration to complete e-governance, the secretary disclosed, in response to the questions from several lawmakers.

Declining lawmaker Si Ka Lon’s suggestion on unifying all government apps, Cheong explained that each specific service will have a specific app, but services facing the public will be included in the One Account app.

He added that previous commissions of Alibaba had focused on the development of the One Account app. In the future, Alibaba will still be commissioned to help the government develop e-governance.

He even revealed that during the work with Alibaba, the latter was stunned by the differences in workplace culture and law between Macau and mainland China. “They were surprised to find the number of practices allowed by local laws so different from those allowed by mainland laws,” Cheong said.

Cheong added that Macau still has a lot to learn on smart city development but promised that the digitization of license applications will start from the Municipal Affairs Bureau (IAM) next year.

Lawmaker Ron Lam spoke highly of the One Account app, saying that within the first hours of legalized digital driving license presentation, he was spot checked by traffic police twice and “the experiences were seamless,” he said.

While Cheong disclosed the plan to introduce a new generation of ID cards next year, Lam asked if digitization of the ID card could be achieved. He added that he understands that a physical card must be retained for certain scenarios.

In response, Cheong said the government is in fact constructing a digital identity for each eligible resident. Banks and public entities will be bound by law to accept digital identifications as valid. “Some border checkpoints will also accept digital identification for immigration clearance purposes,” Cheong added.

Parliamentary plenary started with glitch on Ma’s enrolment button

When the president of the parliament requested lawmakers to register to speak, Ma Chi Seng raised his hand to indicate the failure of his enrolment button. After being asked by the president to try again, his enrolment could still not register.

Afterwards, the president allowed the meeting to continue with Secretary for Administration and Justice André Cheong introducing the topic. After his introduction, the glitch still existed. The president then proposed to allow Ma to speak in the middle of the queue. The proposal was seconded by all lawmakers.

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