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Emerging stronger together with co-ops – strengthening personal data protection and corporate governance

Remarks by Mr Alvin Tan, Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth & Trade and Industry at the Annual Co-operative Leaders’ Conference 2021

Mr Tan Kian Chew, Chairman of the Central Co-operative Fund

Mr Tng Ah Yiam, Chairman of the Singapore National Co-operative Federation (SNCF)

Mr Ang Hin Kee, CEO of SNCF

Co-operative Leaders

Ladies and gentlemen

  1. Good morning! I can’t be there in person today but if you can see where I am, I am in my hotel room serving my stay-home notice (SHN). As Mr Tng mentioned earlier on, this is something that we all get used to. Mr Tng mentioned that swabbing is the normal way that we do to cope with COVID. I think over the last week or so when I was in Italy at the G20 Energy Ministers’ Meeting, I think I have already had about 5 to 6 Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests. That is the new normal. We test, trace, and vaccinate, and in many cases, we have to serve SHN to help to protect people around us. So as Mr Tng mentioned, this is really very much the new normal.
  2. But it’s also very good to be able to use technology to get to see many familiar faces. I remembered last year when we did the “Emerging Stronger Conversation with Co-ops”, which MCCY and our Singapore National Co-operative Federation (SNCF) family organised – that was in November last year. At that meeting, we discussed how our co-ops can prepare for a post-COVID Singapore, or as what our Multi-Ministry Taskforce (MTF) Minister had mentioned, an endemic COVID-Singapore. At that event in November, some of you shared the challenges that your co-ops faced when we had that conversation.
  3. As all of you know, the global situation has turned even more challenging. If you are following the news this week, US-China relations have yet to improve. There were meetings this week where I think there is still a lot of tension between these two superpowers. Many of you also know that the Delta variant is ripping through over 142 countries, and it is wreaking havoc close to home, where our neighbours are seeing unprecedented deaths from COVID-19, and the impact of climate change has led to heatwaves and floods in Europe and Asia.
  4. In fact, when I was in Naples, Italy in the G20 speaking with other ministers about climate and energy, many of them were affected, from China to the Netherlands – big floods. But closer to home, I always share with friends and others that we sometimes forget that there is an inferno around us – a fire. Many of our neighbours are confronting the horrors of the pandemic. There are record cases, deaths, lack of hospital beds and oxygen, and we are doing our part to help our neighbours to cope with this crisis.
  5. And even as we focus on the impact of COVID-19 in Singapore and on our shores, sometimes we do forget the magnitude of this inferno – how big the fire is burning all around us. Because the impact on Singapore and Singaporeans, and our livelihoods1, while significant, has been relatively buffered to a large extent, compared to what our friends and neighbours are facing, and I thought it’s worth putting that into context. So, in light of this inferno and in light of this fire, how have we been able to buffer ourselves from this pandemic? I might suggest that it’s really our people, our spirit and our resilience, in fact, our co-operation.
  6. Our Government has also played its part by putting in place many support schemes and measures to help us all tide through this period. Our community – individuals, community partners and organisations – have also stepped forward to rally and help those severely affected during these times. So next week is our National Day – we celebrate our nation’s birthday. And I think we can be thankful for this Singapore Spirit of caring for and giving back to our nation, our people, and our community.
  7. Co-ops, being member-centric self-help organisations, must be at the forefront of championing this spirit of care for our members and for our greater community. The spirit and ethos of social corporate responsibility, of doing good and serving with the heart, must be and is already in the DNA of every co-op and co-operator. And I wanted to assure all of you that you are not alone as you serve your community.
  8. SNCF, together with the Central Co-operative Fund (CCF) Committee, and the Registry of Co-operative Societies (RCS), will walk alongside you. We know that some of our co-ops were badly or adversely affected by the pandemic last year, and we thus waived the first tier CCF contributions that was payable in 20202.
  9. We are happy to extend the waiver of the first tier CCF contributions payable in 2021. The amount of contributions waived is estimated to be $800,000. And you have heard in Parliament this week, we will continue to monitor this COVID situation very carefully because it is very fluid with the Delta variant and we hope not to see other variants emerge but we will have to adjust our response and remain focused living with COVID with our endemic COVID-19 strategy. At the same time, we also want to understand your challenges and provide necessary support so that our co-ops can continue with their mission of helping our members and the wider community.
  10. So in today’s programme, we’ll get to hear from advocates in the fields of data protection, hospitality planning and corporate governance. It’s a good opportunity to learn from them and for us to gain insights on how your co-ops can better serve your members better. Let me talk a little bit about personal data protection.

    Personal data protection

  11. Data protection has been a growing issue in recent years. With tech advancements, today’s businesses, including co-ops, are now driven by big data. And the more we generate data, the more the risk of data breaches and leaks.
  12. As someone who spent many years in the private sector, especially in the tech sector before I joined the Government, I know that trust is key in this digital economy. Co-ops have painstakingly built up trust amongst your members over time.  And this trust also involves protecting personal data.
  13. So to uphold this trust, co-op leaders must ensure their co-ops have adequately trained officers and also robust processes to safeguard and manage your members’ data.
  14. So, you know about the Personal Data Protection Act or ‘PDPA’, which has been put in place since 2013. The PDPA comprises various requirements relating to the collection, use, disclosure and care of personal data. And this PDPA also applies to co-ops, too. I know Lyn Boxall is in the audience and will talk more about that later.
  15. To support co-ops along their PDPA journey, CCF launched a PDPA Grant in February this year. What does this grant do? It helps to co-fund co-ops’ PDPA related expenses such as training, consultancy and audit.
  16. I do encourage co-ops that have yet to start their journey to use this Grant. Do speak to the officer at SNCF on the PDPA requirements to understand how it impacts you and for you to also help to map out a training journey for your co-op. So that is data protection, which is very critical now.

    Corporate governance

  17. The second one is on corporate governance. You safeguard your members’ data but members also expect the elected and appointed officers to manage the co-op efficiently and effectively. They expect the same officers to uphold the highest standards of governance when these officers are discharging their duties.
  18. Good corporate governance is embodiment of a well-run co-op. And only a well-run co-op can earn and build trust with its members and the community. Good corporate governance also reduces ambiguity that may cause potential conflicts within the co-op and makes it easier to attract members to serve on its Management Committees.
  19. Good corporate governance are also founded upon the principles of transparency, accountability and security. A successful co-op must be built upon the foundation of transparency and be above board when dealing with members and partners. And we all acknowledge that mistakes will inevitably occur but we will learn from them and strengthen processes to prevent repeating the mistakes. That is accountability. So, both transparency and accountability will help to give your members and partners the security for trust to grow.
  20. And whether you are a small or large co-op, your members and stakeholders do not expect any less from you in terms of good corporate governance. So it’s really encouraging to hear that many co-op leaders have attended the governance courses organised by SNCF. SNCF is also working with training providers to explore more training opportunities and new courses for the co-ops. I encourage all of you to sign up for the courses when they become available. I’m glad we are also able to learn more about governance issues at this conference. It’s really a good opportunity to share your co-op’s own experiences and exchange ideas and best practices with other co-op leaders.
  21. Together, we can improve the standards of governance and data security in the co-op sector, and further strengthen and grow our co-operative movement in Singapore.
  22. Thank you once again for having me here, or be it virtually, this morning. I wish you all the best in this conference. Stay safe everyone.

1 Source: Labour Market Survey, Manpower Research & Statistics Department, MOM. Annual Retrenchment numbers – 26,110 (2020), 10,690 (2019), 10,730 (2018).

2 In 2020, the ‘CCF Support Package’ for co-ops in 2020 was additional to other government packages and it comprised a (a) waiver of first tier CCF contribution, i.e. 5% of co-ops’ first $500,000 of the surplus (for any financial year ending between 31 Dec 2019 and 30 Sept 2020) and (b) $2,000 grant to all co-ops. The CCF Support Package cost CCF $864,000 in total.


Last updated on 30 July 2021