Singapore Land Authority and Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore

The Problem

Since 1959, the Singapore government has recognised that every citizen must be given a stake in the country and its future. Home ownership was seen as a means to achieve that. Today, home ownership in Singapore stands at 88.6%. About 74.3% of Singaporeans live in 4-room public housing or larger flats or private homes.

The registration of documents essential in ensuring the legal ownership of the property and entitles a property owner to deal with his property and that all other interests in the property are captured on the land-register. SLA being the custodian of all land registration documents in Singapore has put in place a robust property registration process, which provides a high level of assurance and ease for both buyer and seller. SLA introduced the STARS Electronic Lodgment System (ELS) in 2006 for instruments which allowed the registration process to be completed in one working day.

SLA’s key stakeholders include lawyers, conveyancing secretaries, financial institutions and individuals or business entities that buy and sell residential, commercial or industrial properties. SLA has put in place a Citizen-Business Engagement Framework which encompasses dialogues with the key stakeholders as a customer feedback mechanism and Case Tracking System to manage this process. From the dialogue sessions, SLA officers learnt of the difficulties faced by the law firms as a result of the objections raised against the documents lodged. These objections lengthened the registration process, which caused anxiety amongst the property owners.

The SLA team conducted a thorough review which revealed that of all the factors that led to delays in the registration process, the objection to stamp duty certificates (SDC) occurred 57.6% of the time. This percentage was twice that of the other factors combined.

In Singapore, stamp duties are payable on all property transfer documents, and are collected by IRAS. Payment of stamp duty was previously denoted on the document by way of adhesive or impressed stamp on the document. This practice was discontinued in 1999 when IRAS implemented e-stamping which allows documents to be stamped online, a first in the world. Since then, payment of stamp duty is now denoted on a SDC which is easily printed online after payment is made electronically. The SDC which shows the property identification, a unique reference number, and the amount of duty paid has to be attached to the document as proof of stamping.

SLA officers are required under the Stamp Duty law to ensure that the documents are duly stamped before allowing registration. They did so by sighting the SDC. However, this is not a fool-proof way of ensuring that the documents have been duly stamped.

As SDCs do not bear security features so as to allow easy printing online, they can be duplicated and forged. It is difficult to detect a forged SDC by looking at it without further validation with IRAS.

IRAS was concerned with a rising number of erroneous and forged SDC in recent years. As property transfers involve high value, the risk of transfer documents which are not duly stamped needs to be mitigated. On the other hand, a full-scale audit by IRAS to ensure that all registered documents are duly stamped would be very resource-intensive and costly.

Solution and Key Benefits

 What is the initiative about? (the solution)
The solution proposed by the joint project team from SLA and IRAS is to have the SDC reference number tagged to each document lodged with SLA. There was a duplication of work between the two agencies since the data was already captured when the documents were submitted to IRAS for stamping, and yet the same information is checked again upon lodgment at SLA. Therefore, the team proposed to allow law firms to use the ELS operated by SLA to enter the SDC reference numbers issued by IRAS instead of submitting the SDC together with the documents. The information would then be transmitted over to IRAS’ system for matching. Unmatched data will be generated by the IRAS system for a more targeted and efficient audit. This then removes the need for SLA officers to manually check the SDC for each and every document before registration

The solution also puts in place a system which will alert the ELS users to the requirement for an SDC if the SDC reference number is not inserted. This eradicated any omission to stamp the documents, which is one of the major reasons for the objections to SDC.

Actors and Stakeholders

 Who proposed the solution, who implemented it and who were the stakeholders?
Following a high-level endorsement and support from the senior management in IRAS and SLA, a joint project team with representation from both government agencies was set up to review the registration process to ensure that the documents are duly stamped and to speed up the process of registration,

The joint project team analysed the different aspects of the lodgment process in order to ensure the projects’ success. They sought the help of their respective IT departments to identify the best possible way to leverage on the ELS system and e-Stamping system. Vigorous user acceptance testings were done by the joint project team.

IRAS consulted and obtained approval from its parent Ministry of Finance and the Attorney General’s Office for the legislative amendments, and the gazette to change the law was published on 6 March 2012. A media release was issued on the same day as well.

The project team also approached their respective Corporate Communications Departments to ensure that the project and its outcome received sufficient coverage. There were frequent consultations between SLA and IRAS to ensure the smooth progress and this improved the relationship between the two agencies as well as opened up new channels for the staff to work on resolving other matters with innovative solutions.

Externally, SLA approached the Law Society to ensure that the release of the Practice Circular would be announced to the law firms.

(a) Strategies

 Describe how and when the initiative was implemented by answering these questions
 a.      What were the strategies used to implement the initiative? In no more than 500 words, provide a summary of the main objectives and strategies of the initiative, how they were established and by whom.
At the outset, both IRAS and SLA adopted a win-win strategy to ensure that both the agencies would benefit greatly from the close collaboration to achieve two key objectives:

Firstly, to enhance IRAS’s audit effectiveness in ensuring that the transfer documents are duly stamped. Secondly, to reduce the delay in registration of documents so that customers would not suffer any loss. To that end, the team sought to remove bottle necks in the registration process.

Both organisations have been leveraging on IT greatly to improve work efficiency and productivity and to enhance their customer experience. IRAS introduced e-stamping in 1999 and SLA introduced ELS in 2006 for instruments. Both share the same need to continuously review their existing work processes so as to be more cost effective and to provide greater convenience and cost savings to the public.

The project is a fine example of ‘whole-of-government’ approach adopted by two government agencies to improve public sector efficiency and cost-effectiveness, by enabling their two different IT systems to link and share data so as to perform validation without manual intervention. The system validation is far more cost effective than the manual validation conducted by SLA officers previously.

The project also demonstrated the ‘outside-of-the-organisation’ initiative to collaborate with another government organisation to find a win-win solution to all parties. In this case, SLA enhanced its IT system to cater to IRAS’ requirements, while IRAS exempted SLA from the onerous statutory obligation to ensure that the relevant documents registered with them are duly stamped.

The public, staff from IRAS and SLA, as well as law firms were asked to give active feedback, whether it is in finding the root cause, testing the new system, or general comments. These feedbacks were digested in order to significantly improve the system.

To ensure the sustainability and seamless implementation of the project, briefings were held to explain the new procedures to both SLA and IRAS staff and the changes were documented by both agencies. Both agencies also appointed liaison officers to ensure a smooth implementation when the project was rolled out.

As part of the implementation, a trial run was conducted with law firms. The purpose of the trial run was to obtain feedback from the law firms to ensure that any irregularities were ironed out before wide release. One key observation raised by law firms was the need to register for sub-sale cases which ultimately required more than one SDC Reference. This observation was quickly addressed and more entry fields were introduced in the ELS.

Post rollout, both SLA and IRAS teams held debriefing sessions to address any urgent issues that had cropped up. SLA staff was encouraged to report any problems so that they could be tackled immediately. Frequent checks were conducted to ensure that ELS was updating the IRAS system with the correct data.

(b) Implementation

 b.      What were the key development and implementation steps and the chronology? No more than 500 words
IRAS team sought internal clearance on the legislative changes to exempt SLA from its statutory obligation, and consulted their in-house legal counsels on the changes to the Stamp Duties Act to be made promptly. IRAS followed up and published a gazette to exempt SLA from the requirements of ensuring that a SDC is attached to the documents and eliminated the need for manual checking and thus improved processing time.

Both agencies engaged their IT department on the changes to their respective systems. The system changes enable data in ELS be transmitted to IRAS daily for matching with its e-stamping records. IRAS system will generate a list of unmatched records for audit follow-up.

SLA modified the ELS so that the users will receive a warning if the SDC reference is not inserted. This provided pre-checks for law firms before they lodge the document. Thus it removed the need for objective clarification post lodgment and removes abortive work for both the stakeholders as well as SLA.

The two agencies leveraged on their existing electronic systems to allow the seamless transmission of information from SLA to IRAS. This introduced the one-stop solution for the stakeholders as they do not need to check with both agencies on the status of their registration.

A circular was sent on 15 November 2011 to inform the law firms of the changes and new requirements as well as of the trial period.

The project was launched on 6 March 2012 and it is lauded by the stakeholders as an initiative that further enhances the registration process.

(c) Overcoming Obstacles

 c.      What were the main obstacles encountered? How were they overcome? No more than 500 words
The joint project team’s ultimate goals were to modify SLA’s systems in order to serve the public better and to enhance audit efforts by IRAS. The respective team leaders helped the team members to visualise this goal and to stay focused on bringing about results. The team was fortunate to have staff with many years of experience and expertise between them and who contributed extensively to the team with their sound knowledge and experience in overcoming challenging situations. The project’s success was boosted by their confidence and natural teamwork abilities. Members were very pro-active in combining their skills to analyse and review the situation. Their clever ability in using the tools to analyse and review the various stages of the project was instrumental to the team’s success.

Staff overcame their initial reservations and contributed their input to help the project stay relevant. The project was a difficult one but implementation was possible through excellent teamwork, collaboration and a willingness to adapt to changes to ensure that Singapore maintains a first class public service.

(d) Use of Resources

 d.      What resources were used for the initiative and what were its key benefits? In no more than 500 words, specify what were the financial, technical and human resources’ costs associated with this initiative. Describe how resources were mobilized
Government’s vision of eGov 2015 is to have a collaborative government at the heart of which is an effective and innovative workforce operating in an environment that supports inter-agency collaboration empowered by infocomm technologies. This project fully embodies this vision which was achieved by collaborating with the agencies/departments.

Resources used came from the IT, Legal and the Corporate Communications Departments from both agencies. During the release of the media brief, Corporate Communications Depts ensured that the project and its outcome received sufficient coverage. The IT departments also identified the best solutions in implementing the project in ELS and e-Stamping system.

The SLA team also worked with the Law Society to ensure that the release of the Practice Circular would be announced to all the law firms.

The project incurred implementation costs of approximately $32 000.

Sustainability and Transferability

  Is the initiative sustainable and transferable?
SLA, being the lead agency for the component ‘Registering Property’ under the World Bank Doing Business ranking, collaborated with IRAS (Property Tax Department) to introduce a single e-platform for the convenience of all parties involved in the registration of properties. This reduces the time and number of steps required for registering property, further enhancing the ease of doing business in Singapore.

Going forward, SLA will apply the fundamental principles and aspects of this project and collaborate with Housing Development Board (HDB) to apply them to all public housing registration. This will be implemented when all records for public housing property have been fully computerised.

SLA has approached Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) for a similar joint project to update the land-register whenever the death of a registered property owner is notified in the Registry of Births and Deaths, thereby dispensing with the need to forward evidence when a Notice of Death is lodged at SLA.

A company which changes its name is requried to file a Certificate Incorporating Change of Name at Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA). With this certificate, the company lodges an application at SLA to change its name. SLA will work with ACRA to dispense with the requirement to submit duplicate hardcopy evidence.

IRAS, for the first time, introduces a new concept of invisible proof of stamping without the need for a stamp certificate. The idea has been adapted and extended to all stamped documents apart from those lodged with SLA. IRAS has now availed online proof of stamping to the public. Anyone with a SDC can now readily confirm if stamp duty has been duly paid on any dutiable document by making an online check at the IRAS’s e-Stamping website. This has proven to be the most effective way of checking if a document has been stamped or if a SDC is forged.

Lessons Learned

 What are the impact of your initiative and the lessons learned?
After the implementation, statistics have showed a significant drop in objection rates for SLA. The number of stamp duty payable documents with objections had dropped by more than 95%. This translated in real savings in the man hours for the parties involved in the areas of processing and compliance for both IRAS and SLA.

The buyers and sellers too enjoy the assurance and peace of mind when their transactions are completed with swift registration. The public also has access to more up-to-date information which is commercially crucial. The law firms enjoyed savings in the manpower cost to lodge documents as the process is now all done electronically. Potential liquidated damages which may result when there are delays in the registration have been eliminated

For IRAS, audit is now much more targeted and cost effective. The enhanced IRAS’ audit capability would shape taxpayer compliance behaviour and eventually raise taxpayer compliance, which is a key strategic goal of any tax administration.

The collaboration between SLA and IRAS has alleviated the public’s frustrations by providing a one-stop platform and has opened up new channels for the staff to work on resolving other matters with innovative solutions.

SLA and IRAS staff have expressed their immense satisfaction at being an instrumental part of the public service that has worked together to bring down costs and save time for the public. They are proud to belong to an organisation that listens to the people and is not afraid of change. Dialogue sessions held with law firms have highlighted how they are very impressed that SLA and IRAS have worked together for their benefit. The resulting time and cost savings has helped them immensely as they enjoy substantial relief in a very competitive and fast-paced economy.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Singapore Land Authority and Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore
Institution Type:   Government Agency  
Contact Person:   Hong Eng Lee
Title:   Deputy Director, Managing for Excellence  
Telephone/ Fax:  
Institution's / Project's Website:  
Postal Code:  
Country:   Singapore

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