Parliament: Important documents like LPA to be digitalised under proposed changes to electronic transactions law

SINGAPORE – Digitalising important documents like a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) could soon be on the cards, under proposed changes to the law that governs electronic transactions.

The changes seek to, among other things, digitalise an LPA, which allows an appointed person to make medical and financial decisions on another person’s behalf should the latter lose mental capacity.

They will also allow cross-border trade documents to be digitalised, thereby reducing the time and money required to process the huge amount of paperwork.

The amendment to the Electronic Transactions Act was introduced in Parliament on Monday (Jan 4) by Minister for Communications and Information and Minister-in-charge of Trade Relations S. Iswaran.

The Act provides legal certainty for digital transactions, enables e-government services and puts in place a framework for secure electronic signatures.

On digitalising LPAs, the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) has conducted a public consultation on this issue. 

Currently, only hard copies of LPAs are accepted. MSF said last October that digitalising this document could cut the time needed to register the LPA from an average of three weeks to eight working days. This excludes a three-week mandatory waiting period during which a person can withdraw his application and the person appointed to act on his behalf can also raise objections.

The Bill also seeks to reduce the amount of paperwork involved in cross-border trade by allowing for digital documentation with international ports.

Currently, most of maritime trade involves the use of physical bills of lading, which are legal and commercial documents providing evidence for the contract of carriage, receipt and ownership of goods for a cargo shipment.

Given the intricacies of maritime trade law, the paper trail typically runs up to hundreds of pages for a single transaction.

These take up a large amount of time and money to process. Research by container shipping giant Maersk and tech firm IBM in 2014 showed the cost of processing trade documents made up as much as 20 per cent of the cost of moving goods.

Digitalising these documents would significantly enhance efficiency and productivity. The Bill will do this by aligning Singapore with standards from the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law, which spells out an internationally harmonised legal framework for electronic records.

The Electronic Transactions (Amendment) Bill was the only Bill introduced in Parliament on Monday.

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