Cutting Red Tape In Singapore

When Agnes Tan applied for a permit to open a sandwich shop in Singapore's financial district, she had to wait in three different 90-minute lines just to get her floor plan approved. Then, surfing the Web one night, the 27-year-old accountant stumbled on Singapore's "eGovernment" Internet portals. There, she discovered, she could get the rest of the required permits--for everything from kitchen equipment to registering employees for Social Security--from her desk. "Without this," says Tan, "it's a nightmare."

Such services have put Singapore at the forefront of public-sector efforts to cut red tape using the Web. Since 1997, Singapore has invested more than $600 million to move its citizens onto the Net and out of lines. Residents can now go online to take care of dozens of tasks, such as registering births or signing up for military duty. Singapore is "ahead of the curve" in taking advantage of the Web, says Richard S. Seline, electronic-government practice manager at consultant Arthur Andersen in Washington.

The initiative is paying off in less frustration and in more dollars. Some 30% of Singapore taxpayers filed their returns online this year--saving nearly $600,000, says Yong Ying-I, chief executive of the Infocomm Development Authority, which oversees the migration to the Net. While Yong won't say how much Singapore has saved from its Web sites, residents have completed 1.5 million school registrations, trademark applications, and similar bureaucratic errands there over the past year.

Granted, it's a lot easier to be an efficient e-government in a country with just 4 million residents living in an area the size of Manhattan. But for residents such as Tan, letting a mouse do the walking keeps her out of lines and back where she wants to be--serving up sandwiches.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.