On 30 November 2020, Nanyang Centre for Public Administration (NCPA) at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, organised a webinar on "Social Policies and Community Building in the Age of Digitalisation – Post Covid-19 Norm". Dr Naeem Zafar, Chief Economist, Government of Sindh, Pakistan; Dr Tatang Muttaqin, Directorate of State Apparatus, Bappenas, Indonesia; and Assistant Professor Tavida Kamolvej, Dean, School of Political Science, Thammasat University, Thailand, were invited to share their insights on how their governments have harnessed digitalisation to drive transformation during COVID-19.
Clockwise from left: Dr Ang Hak Seng, Prof Liu Hong, Dr Tatang Muttaqin, Asst Prof Tavida Kamolvej, and Dr Naeem Zafar
In his welcome address, Professor Liu Hong, Director of NCPA, highlighted the crucial role of digital solutions in mitigating the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis and in allowing some form of continuity in our economy and society. While many governments in Asia were already in the middle of digital transformation before the pandemic, the pandemic has accelerated this process and made it even more pressing. Amid this transformation, governments should rethink their strategies and practices in handling the challenges brought about by COVID-19 in the age of digitalisation. Digital technologies and online platforms will continue to play a significant role in many aspects of everyday life in the post-COVID-19 world, especially in government services. He stressed the importance for countries to share and learn from each other the best practices of harnessing digital technologies to provide social services and build their communities.
Prof Liu Hong delivering his welcome address
In his opening address as Moderator of the webinar, Dr Ang Hak Seng, Deputy Secretary, Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, Singapore, and NCPA's Adjunct Professor, pointed out that while COVID-19 has greatly affected public health, economy and service delivery, it has also presented an opportunity for countries to transform and emerge stronger from the pandemic. He felt that to turn the crisis into an opportunity, we need to respond proactively. One way to go is to push for the transformation to smart nations, but there will always be trade-offs in the quest for this transformation. As such, how we respond to the pandemic, what and when we should do become very important in determining if the world can indeed emerge stronger after the pandemic.
Dr Ang giving his opening address
A common thread through the presentations was that while COVID-19 has quickened the transition to digitalisation, it has also exposed the digital gap between and within countries. All three speakers shared on how the rise of online learning had created
a system of inequity that disadvantages students in remote areas where digital capacities are limited or less developed.
During the panel discussion, Dr Ang highlighted that governments should not become solely responsible for controlling COVID-19, citing the need for space for people to contribute as well. The speakers generally agreed that while the COVID-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented challenges and changed the way the world works, it is also an opportunity for transformation. There is a need for better collaboration between central governments,
local governments and civil service organisations. Key issues to be addressed include the digital divide, and harnessing digitalisation in government services and healthcare. Governments should collaborate to ride the waves of digitalisation.
The panel discussion was followed by a Q&A session. Responding to a question on how the local communities, in particular, women, can be involved in what the governments are doing, Dr Tatang opined that while women have been playing the role of looking after the household and raising children, they also play a profound role in savings creation and service deliveries. In addressing a question regarding how to ensure that there are proper public governance and public transparency, Prof Kamolvej said that there should be a filtering system to set facts and fiction apart. On how countries can do to help one another, Dr Tatang felt that more support should be allocated to digitalisation, mobilisation, and immigration from one county to another.
A total of 173 participants from government organisations, educational institutions and NGOs in Singapore, ASEAN and Pakistan, attended the webinar.