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Property deals in Singapore could go fully digital, under planned law tweaks

SEVEN in 10 property transaction documents in Singapore are handled with hard copies, but paperwork could soon be a thing of the past. (see clarification note)

The Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) has launched a public consultation on its review of Singapore’s Electronic Transactions Act (ETA).

The planned changes would also affirm that new technologies such as blockchain and biometrics are covered by the Act, and would let the IMDA update compliance standards for the third-party certification authorities that issue digital credentials for electronic signatures.

Separately, Singaporeans’ living environments could get another digital boost with the next phase of the Smart Estates Initiative, which is opening a fresh call for proposals, with new sites.

Businesses have been tapping technology to digitalise, which changes how they interact with consumers, Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran noted.

“We need to ensure that we have progressive legislation and regulations to foster business innovation and a trusted environment for these transactions on various digital  platforms,” he added, in opening remarks at the state-sponsored Innovfest Unbound event at Marina Bay Sands.

Under the ETA as it now stands, documents such as wills, trusts, powers of attorney and contracts for immovable property must be prepared in hard-copy format.

The IMDA has suggested that property transactions and bills of lading in the trade sector, as well as lasting power of attorney applications for mental incapacity, be removed from the Act’s exclusion list. Secure electronic signatures would still be needed.

The plan is also for a legal framework to support electronic transferable records that are interoperable with a global electronic trade framework, which Mr Iswaran said would revolutionise paperwork-reliant sectors such as shipping and cut the costs of printing and moving hundreds of pages in paper.

“The aim of this review is to facilitate electronic transactions to a much greater extent, by fostering a more trusted environment where businesses and consumers can transact electronically with peace of mind,” Mr Iswaran said.

The public consultation on the ETA will close on Aug 27, 2019.

Meanwhile, technology providers can soon put forward fresh ideas for the Smart Estate Initiative, which aims to upgrade the built environment while helping businesses such as digital solutions firms grow in Singapore and the region.

The IMDA, which had put aside S$14 million to support smart estate efforts for three years from end-2018, awarded on Thursday some S$1.5 million for eight project proposals, under an industry tech call for innovative solutions at some business parks run by industrial landlords Ascendas-Singbridge and JTC Corp.

The second phase of the scheme will include mixed-use and residential settings, covering trial sites at Frasers Property’s Alexandra Technopark, as well as the Oasis Terraces neighbourhood hub in Punggol and the Housing Board’s Centre of Building Research in Woodlands.

Said Mr Iswaran: “As cities become denser as a result of rapid urbanisation, there are opportunities - and some would argue even an obligation - to transform them for the better through technology, be it in building  design and maintenance, urban mobility, or estate security.”

Applications are open from July 5 to Sept 30, with project awards to be made by early 2020.

Clarification note: An earlier version of this article stated that seven in 10 property transactions in Singapore are handled with hard-copy documents, when in fact it should be seven in 10 of the documents used for property transactions. The article has been amended to reflect this.