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Buying property may become paperless soon

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Government looks to amend laws to grow digital economy

It may soon be possible to buy and sell properties purely electronically as the Government looks to change a key digital economy law.

In the same vein, Singaporeans may be able to apply for a Lasting Power of Attorney online, while cross-border trade documentation is also set to go electronic, with the digitalisation of bills of lading, which are documents that acknowledge receipt of cargo for shipment.

These changes, which could make shipping much cheaper and property deals more convenient, could be ushered in with the review of the Electronic Transactions Act as Singapore seeks to amend its laws to grow its digital economy, said Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran yesterday.

"The review aims to facilitate electronic transactions to a greater degree by fostering a more trusted environment where businesses and consumers can transact electronically with greater peace of mind," he said at Innovfest Unbound, which is being held for a fifth year.

With these changes, the Republic will be among the first to tweak its laws in the face of new technologies such as blockchain and smart contracts that are opening up new ways of transacting digitally.

One key part of the review is to bring more transactions into the ambit of the law to provide legal certainty for these electronic transactions, said Mr Iswaran.

He noted that 70 per cent of residential property transaction documents are still in hard copy.

By allowing such transactions to go digital, both buyers and sellers can enjoy a faster transaction process, and spend less time on paperwork and queuing up, he said.

Digital bills of lading will revolutionise sectors such as shipping, which now rely mainly on hard copies, Mr Iswaran told an audience of global tech industry players, investors and business leaders.

"This will reduce costs associated with printing, handling and transportation of hundreds of pages of paper documentation," he said. "And it is estimated that trade document processing and administration can add up to 20 per cent to the cost of shipping a single container."

The Government plans a framework for electronic transferable records that dovetails with the global electronic trade framework.

Such electronic records speed up cross-border electronic commerce and enhance its security, he said.

To seek views from the public and industry players on the proposed changes, the Infocomm Media Development Authority launched a public consultation on them yesterday. The consultation will close on Aug 27 and the review is targeted to be completed by next year.

"I want to encourage the industry to participate actively in this consultation and contribute your ideas and suggestions because that will inform our approach to the formulation of these regulations and legislation," Mr Iswaran said.

Ms Christine Li, head of research for Singapore and South-east Asia at Cushman & Wakefield, noted that the Government has been on a push to automate transaction-related processes in the real estate sector to make it more "smart".

"And this is the part to make automation possible. It's to drive efficiency and reduce manpower," she said.