Today marks another important milestone in SLA's on-going quest to introduce convenient and easy-to-use electronic services for its users. This is in line with the Singapore e-Government Vision - To be a leading e-Government to better serve the nation in the digital economy.
By harnessing technology in the land registration process, lawyers will enjoy a vast improvement in public services. The strategy behind SLA's online land registration and public search system, STARS (Singapore Titles Automated Registration System), is to computerise the various processes coming within the purview of the Registrar of Titles. I note that this has now been achieved with the introduction of the STARS eLodgment System or STARS ELS in short.
With STARS ELS, SLA has now made possible the electronic lodgment of legal land documents over the Internet.
We have come a long way from the old days when land documents came in the form of common law deeds. In those days, lawyers had to prepare deeds containing lengthy recitals. They also had to make 15-year title searches to ensure that their clients got a good title to the land. Registration of deeds with SLA was not compulsory for the passing of title. As a result, there were often gaps in the chain of title ownership.
To eliminate such deficiencies, the Land Titles Act was enacted in 1960 to import the Torrens system of registered conveyancing in Singapore to replace the deeds system. By the year 2001, SLA had completed a massive project to convert approximately 11,000 common law land lots to bring them under the Land Titles Act. There is now only one land titles system in Singapore, unifying the core characteristics of the passing of indefeasible titles and comprehensive recording of land transactions.
In a quantum leap in 1995, SLA introduced STARS, the online registration and public search system for properties under the Torrens system. With STARS, land titles documents are registered electronically for private land, Certificates of Title are generated electronically and members of the public make searches electronically. It is a far cry from the days when reliance was placed solely on physical documents and the time taken to register documents and conduct searches was very much dictated by manual processes. STARS enabled the public to conduct searches from the comfort of one's office, quickly and effortlessly.
However, even with STARS, the front end of the process was still not computerised. This meant that lawyers still had to lodge their documents manually. The data was keyed in manually and fees were collected through GIRO. It is not difficult to imagine the scene every morning at the SLA Service Counter on the 26th level of Temasek Tower, where members of the public, companies and even financial institutions rely heavily on the timely physical presence of their law clerks who submit physical documents for lodgment and registration on their behalf. There would be jostling and some frayed tempers during the late-morning crush as these law clerks sought to beat the 12 noon deadline, after which no documents would be accepted for lodgment. Lodgment time ends at 12 noon so that lawyers can conduct last minute title searches before proceeding with legal completion, that is exchanging land documents, in the same afternoon.
With STARS ELS, we now transit into a much friendlier landscape where the service is available over the Internet, and law firms can lodge documents from the comfort of their offices. At this juncture, let me say a big thank you to the 8 law firms which sportingly participated in the pilot implementation of the STARS ELS system. These 8 law firms, namely Drew & Napier LLC, Khattar Wong & Partners, Ramdas & Wong, Rodyk & Davidson, Sim Mong Teck & Partners, Tan Kim Seng & Partners, WLaw LLC and Yeo-Leong & Peh LLC, which were nominated by the Law Society of Singapore, provided valuable feedback to SLA. This enabled SLA to finetune the system so as to improve the e-service experience for its users.
Let me now describe briefly some key features of STARS ELS:
||There will be Electronic Filing of Caveats and other documents which do not involve passing of interests in land and where production of the Certificate of Title is not required. Such documents can be lodged anywhere via the Internet as long as the lodger holds a digital certificate to authenticate his identity over the Internet. This eliminates any risk exposure in the handling of the physical documents that may be present in the manual lodgment environment.
||There will be an Electronic Priority Lodgment System for documents such as mortgages and transfers which require the signature of the land owner as they fall within section 4 of the Electronic Transactions Act. As the signatures will be on the hardcopy of the documents, these documents will be presented together with the Certificate of Title (which proves the parties' right to deal with the land) at SLA to complete the lodgment process. With the electronic priority lodgment system, lawyers can transmit essential information on the transaction and book their lodgment priority if they submit their documents by a fixed time on the same day. Lawyers can secure early priority for their documents without worrying about whether their clerks can make a mad dash to SLA in time.
||The preparation of the land documents can be performed online. Lawyers are also given the flexibility to prepare the land document offline using the Document Preparation Software within STARS ELS. Either method of form preparation is capable of ensuring greater accuracy of data contained in the documents because the software has built-in intelligent checks that prevent the user from making inadvertent document preparation errors. Rejection rate for documents will also be reduced. This will be especially useful when the lawyers have to follow-up with the submission of the documents at SLA since the errors detected in the electronic documents could be corrected on the corresponding physical documents and re-executed before submission if necessary. The option to prepare the documents offline will also allow greater flexibility to the lawyers as documents that need to be registered can be prepared before hand and checked via the built-in checks in the software and lodged quickly when required, all within the comfort of one's office.
||An Automated Billing System that will be incorporated as part of the electronic lodgment process will ensure that payment of registration fees is simple and convenient.
||An Automated Imaging and Work Assignment System which will be implemented in SLA is evidence of how technology is maximised to streamline manual processes. This will free the staff from time-consuming tasks and allow them to focus on higher value work instead.
We will be the first in ASEAN to be a world-class land registry with a fully electronic land registration and public search system. It is an important step towards achieving the Singapore e-Government Action Plan to transform the public service into a Networked Government that delivers accessible, integrated and value-added e-services to our customers and helps bring citizens closer together.
I believe that STARS ELS will play a significant role in safeguarding the integrity of the land register. This is because the registration of documents will be based on information entered at source without the need to re-enter the data. One layer of possible human error has therefore been removed in ensuring greater accuracy. We must not overlook the other benefits that STAR ELS will bring us, including value-added services such as the automated notification of successful registration of documents and facilities to request for financial reports on outstanding bills.
The next challenge faced by SLA is to extend the coverage of STARS from private properties to HDB properties. We have a few hundred thousand leases of HDB properties and over a million documents. SLA plans to complete this phase of computerisation by end of 2004. The next great leap is aimed at consolidating the processing of land documents and land transactions for HDB and private properties into a single land title registration system.
To conclude, it gives me great pleasure to now launch the STARS eLodgment System.
Singapore Land Authority
26 August 2003