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Home Team Speeches

07 March 2013

Ministry of Home Affairs Committee of Supply Debate 2013 – Speech by Deputy Prime Minister, Coordinating Minister for National Security and Minister for Home Affairs, Mr Teo Chee Hean – Working Together to Keep Singapore Safe and Secure

          I thank the Honourable Members for their views and questions, and for their interest in matters regarding the Home Team. May I ask the Clerks to distribute a handout with some Home Team statistics?

(I)  Singapore Remains Safe and Secure

2.      Over the years, the Home Team has worked closely with the community to keep Singapore a safe and secure home. In 2012, our crime rate fell for the seventh consecutive year, to the lowest in nearly three decades. Our recidivism rate is stable. Our fire fatality rate remains very low. The number of immigration offenders has steadily declined. The number of road fatalities has also started to come down. However, we are acutely aware that any fatality or serious crime is a tragedy in itself, and can have a detrimental effect on our sense of safety and security. This is one reason why community partnerships and engagements are so important – they create a sense of collective ownership for safety and security which in itself provides a sense of assurance that issues can be addressed and overcome.

3.       Our collective sense of safety and security provides a strong foundation upon which our society has been able to develop and prosper. It has also helped to make Singapore a good place to live, and bring up families. 

4.       While the situation today is relatively good, we still face difficult security challenges, and must remain vigilant to ensure that Singapore continues to be a safe home for all Singaporeans.

5.       Our approach to safety and security is underpinned by three pillars: Robust Laws, Effective Enforcement, and Strong Community Partnerships. This comprehensive approach allows us to tackle issues both upstream and downstream.

(II) Safety and Security Challenges for Singapore

6.       Mr Edwin Tong asked about MHA’s key challenges and priorities. The Home Team’s scope of responsibilities is wide and deep. We have to continually keep a strategic view of the larger issues that impact us, such as terrorism and cyber-security, and trends in society and in the world. At the same time, Home Team officers also have to focus on more specific issues which can give rise to serious consequences if we let up in our efforts against them. Resources, both personnel and technology, as well as command attention and emphasis, can then be applied accordingly.

7.        Let me briefly outline our approach for tackling these key challenges.

Terrorism

8.        First, terrorism. Associate Professor Fatimah Lateef, Mr Vikram Nair and several other MPs asked for an update on terrorism. The terrorist threat remains a persistent one, both globally and regionally. At the global level, Al Qaeda and its affiliates remain active in terrorist activities and in spreading their radical ideology. They have capitalised on the situation in the Middle East and North Africa to further their objectives.
 
9.        Closer to home, Jemaah Islamiyah and other groups such as Jemaah Anshorut Tauhid remain resilient and continue to recruit operatives and carry out attacks in neighbouring countries.  For instance, last year, the Indonesian authorities uncovered a terrorist training camp in Poso, Central Sulawesi.

10.       The foiled plots in Thailand in January and February last year indicate the presence of Hizbollah or Iranian elements in the region. 

11.       We are also concerned by terrorist elements’ growing use of social media to spread propaganda and recruit new radicals. With Singapore’s high Internet penetration, especially among youths, we need to inoculate our young from coming under the influence of radical ideology. This is even more critical given that it is not easy to de-radicalise a person once he has imbibed terrorist ideology. 

12.       A case in point is former detainee Abdul Basheer s/o Abdul Kader who was a self-radicalised individual. He was detained from 2007 to 2010 as he had made specific plans to pursue militant jihad in Afghanistan. After his release in February 2010, he initially made some progress in re-integrating into society. However, while under the ISA post-release supervision regime, he was detected to have reverted to his past interest in undertaking militant jihad abroad. He even made enquiries as to how he could leave Singapore, illegally if necessary, to pursue his jihad plans. ISD had to re-arrest him in September 2012 and placed him under detention the following month, to prevent him from pursuing his violent agenda.

13.        Abdul Basheer is a timely reminder that Singapore must continue to invest efforts in the rehabilitation of our terrorist detainees.  Since Jan 2002, 64 persons have been detained under the ISA for their involvement in terrorism-related activities.  Of these 64, more than two-thirds have been released after they were assessed to have been rehabilitated and not to pose a security threat that warranted preventive detention. This is why the work of the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) in counselling the detainees is so important and must continue. To commemorate its 10th anniversary, the RRG will be co-organising an international conference on terrorist rehabilitation and community resilience later this month, with the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.  The conference will bring together experts and practitioners from Egypt, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the US, as well as European and ASEAN countries, to share best practices and lessons learnt, and this will include, as I said, experts from Saudi Arabia, whose centre I visited a few months ago.

Cyber-security

14.       A second challenge is cyber-security. Cyber attacks, whether by criminals, terrorists or state-sponsored groups, have grown in frequency, potency and sophistication. The attacks can take on different forms, including threats to national security, cyber-espionage, cyber-crime such as theft of identities, data, and intellectual property, or the use of cyberspace to perpetrate traditional crime.

15.       This emergent issue poses new threats to our security. Countries around the world are grappling with this issue and still building up their cyber security and defence capabilities. No country has found a complete solution, and the rapidly evolving nature of cyber technology means that any innovation can become obsolete quite quickly.

16.       In January this year, we amended the Computer Misuse Act, now called the Computer Misuse and Cybersecurity Act, so that we can take proactive measures to prevent, detect, and counter cyber threats to our national security, essential services, defence and foreign relations. We will continue to build up domestic defences against potential attacks. MHA will be setting up a Cyber Security Lab within the Home Team Academy by 2014, to provide a safe and realistic hands-on platform for participants to hone their skills in countering cyber attacks.

17.       Singapore will continue to work closely with other like-minded countries, including through the new INTERPOL Global Complex for Innovation which will open in Singapore next year. It will facilitate cyber research and innovation, provide cyber security training and operational support for law enforcement agencies around the world, and house the INTERPOL Digital Crime Centre.

Managing Crime Proactively

18.       Let me now move on to our domestic priorities for the year, namely crime, drugs and road safety.

19.       In relation to crime, the key is to continue managing it proactively. While our overall crime rate remains low, keeping crime at bay requires constant effort.  This includes making appropriate changes to our laws, to keep them up to date to tackle new challenges, as we did last year when we amended the Misuse of Drugs Act.

20.       We need to continually find new ways of protecting ourselves against behaviour which threatens the community’s sense of security. For example, increased enforcement efforts by the Police have helped us make significant headway against unlicensed money-lenders. From 2009 to 2012, we have seen a 42% drop in unlicensed money-lending and related harassment cases. 2nd Minister Iswaran will elaborate on this later.

21.       Strong community support is also essential in managing crime. The Community Policing System, or “COPS”, has been effective in targeting local crime, not just through dedicating more police resources to neighbourhoods, but also through the community’s active participation. In Bukit Merah East and Tampines, where COPS was launched last May, Citizen-on-Patrol membership has increased by nearly 30%, with an average of about 30 joint citizen-police patrols conducted in these neighbourhoods each month. 2nd Minister Iswaran will elaborate more on COPS’ early successes and the next phase of implementation.

22.       While we remain firm on crime, it is also important to rehabilitate ex-offenders, to help them break out of the reoffending cycle and reintegrate into society. The community has played an important role in this effort, with Voluntary Welfare Organisations, religious groups, and individual volunteers providing counselling, job placement opportunities, and family support, to ex-offenders.

23.       SMS Masagos will speak more on our rehabilitation efforts, and about the Conditional Remission System and Mandatory Aftercare Scheme which MHA will be introducing later this year.

Tackling the Drug Problem Holistically

24.       Fourth, drug trafficking and abuse continue to be a key challenge. Regional drug production is increasing to meet rising demand, and Singapore is one of the transit points which syndicates target, with spill-over effects for our local drug situation.

25.       CNB works closely with ICA to conduct targeted, intensive checks at our checkpoints. CNB also conducts inland operations to clamp down on the distribution of drugs, and works with its foreign counterparts to target drug syndicates.

26.       However, we also need to tackle the problem upstream. CNB continues to work with educational institutions and community partners such as the Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association and National Council Against Drug Abuse to organise preventive drug education programmes on the danger of drugs. SMS Masagos will say more about how we are addressing this problem upstream.

Improving Road Safety

27.       Fifth, road safety. Our road fatality rate has come down in recent years. However, recent incidents underscore the need for us to improve road behaviour and eliminate reckless driving habits that put road users at risk.

28.       We will invest more resources and mount a concerted effort to improve road safety through Education, Engagement, and Enforcement.

29.      We will focus our education efforts on vulnerable road users, such as motorcyclists, children and elderly pedestrians. We will also identify errant drivers, and help them improve their driving habits.

30.       We will engage fleet owners, especially those with heavy vehicles, and other companies who hire drivers. We want them to make safe driving part of their company culture.

31.       We will also step up enforcement to better identify habitually reckless drivers, and deal with them more firmly.

32.       2nd Minister Iswaran will elaborate on these road safety initiatives later.

(III)  Strengthening the Home Team

33.       Mr Hri Kumar Nair asked how MHA ensures that the Home Team can continue to meet operational demands. Indeed, the Home Team will find it more challenging to recruit good officers, and enough of them, due to our ageing population and fewer Singaporeans entering the workforce. Yet, the Home Team faces evolving challenges and growing demands. It is thus critical that we make the best use of the potential of our Home Team officers by deepening their capabilities, and leveraging more on technology as a force multiplier.

Deepening Capabilities

34.       Last year, I told this House that we were enhancing salaries for junior officers, to attract more capable young people to join the Home Team. We raised starting salaries and introduced a sign-on bonus for diploma holders. We used performance-based merit increments to recognise those who work harder and more effectively. We also introduced retention payments to encourage experienced officers to stay in service. We have seen improvements in retention since implementing these changes. The overall Home Affairs Uniformed Scheme Junior Officers (HUS JOs) resignation rate has decreased from 4.6% in 2011 to 3.7% in 2012. I hope that these schemes and others will continue to encourage young people to consider a career in the Home Team, and allow us to retain the talent we have. The respect that Home Team officers get from members of the public also helps them to take pride in their jobs. I hope that members of the public will continue to support them in their difficult and arduous task.

35.       Since introducing the Home Team Specialist Scheme in 2010, we now have over 260 Home Team Specialists in criminal forensics, criminal intelligence, and protective security. We are now going further to professionalise training for our officers to develop deep expertise in their fields. Temasek Polytechnic and SPF have collaborated to develop a part-time Diploma in Applied Sciences (Forensics). This was launched last October.  The course will help to grow the pool of forensics experts in the Home Team.

36.       Associate Professor Fatimah Lateef asked about paramedic training. SCDF reviews and updates its training curriculum regularly to ensure that its paramedics are well-trained to save lives. SCDF recently concluded its review of the Level 4 paramedic competencies programme, and will introduce the revamped programme by the end of the year. SCDF will work closely with Tan Tock Seng Hospital, Singapore General Hospital, and KK Women's and Children's Hospital to provide this training.

37.       To meet the needs of our ageing population, SCDF will add 10 more private ambulances to provide emergency services by end 2013, doubling the current number. We have also equipped 41 fast response fire bikers with Automated External Defibrillators so that our officers can promptly attend to patients who experience cardiac arrest.

38.       We are also cross-training officers to make them more flexible and adaptable. A good example is the Fire Rescue Specialist – Emergency Medical Technician scheme which SCDF is developing. By training firefighters as Emergency Medical Technicians, they will be able to provide the first line of medical response, until paramedics arrive. More details will be announced in April.

Leveraging on Technology

39.       Given manpower constraints, technology is a critical force multiplier, to help Home Team officers work more effectively and efficiently.

40.       We are investing in technology that improves the quality of our training. For example, SCDF’s Advanced Command Training System uses advanced simulation technology to train officers to command firefighting and rescue operations. The system allows officers to train in realistic, stress-testing scenarios, with full recording, playback and analysis. It complements live field exercises, as it can simulate incidents that cannot be reproduced in the physical world, such as major oil refinery fires.

41.       Technology can also provide additional eyes and ears on the ground, allowing our officers to focus on areas where human interaction or judgment is most valuable and necessary. For example, installing police cameras has helped to increase the Police’s presence and create a stronger deterrent effect, without using very much additional manpower. These cameras provide useful intelligence when crimes are committed, and frees up time so that Police officers can focus on investigations and enforcement. 2nd Minister Iswaran will speak more on our plans to use technology to deter and detect crime and traffic offences.

42.       ICA has also been harnessing technology to ensure that immigration clearance remains efficient. For instance, the enhanced Immigration Automated Clearance System allows certain categories of travellers to be cleared more quickly. Mr Sitoh Yih Pin asked if we could have dedicated clearance lanes for Singaporeans at Changi Airport. In most places dedicated lanes are required because queues are very long. Here, I think queues are relatively short and people can be cleared through quite quickly. Unlike foreigners who are restricted to certain clearance lanes, Singapore Citizens are able to use all clearance lanes, including automated lanes, enjoying maximum flexibility and ease of travel.

Partnering Private Industry

43.       Mr Patrick Tay asked about the private security industry. Our partners in the private security industry play an important role in complementing the work of the Home Team. I hesitate to set up a new agency, as setting up a new agency may not address the issues which Mr Tay is concerned about.  SPF already works closely with the industry to continually improve the image and raise professionalism of officers and maintain high standards. Security officers are individually licensed and expected to abide by a code of conduct. Deserving officers are eligible for the annual Commissioner of Police’s Award. All security agencies are graded annually by SPF on a comprehensive set of criteria, which includes operations, training and employment-related criteria. This framework incentivises security agencies to uphold high standards. We will continue to fine-tune this framework and take in views from the industry. MOM will also be introducing measures to raise basic wages and improve employment conditions in the private security industry. More details will be announced during MOM’s Committee of Supply debate.

44.       Mr Edwin Tong raised concerns about online harassment. Indeed this is a concern that has been expressed by many members of the public. The Ministry of Home Affairs is working with the Ministry of Law and the Ministry of Communications and Information to review the criminal legislation and civil measures to deal with cyber bullying and cyber harassment. We are reviewing our laws to ensure that there is effective and appropriate recourse for harassment that is perpetrated online or in the physical world.  We are also considering the need to enhance existing civil remedies for victims.  
 
(IV)  Working Together for a Safe and Secure Singapore

45.       Mr Chairman, a safe and secure environment is the foundation on which our society and economy can thrive.

46.       In the coming year, the Home Team will continue to work closely with businesses, community groups, voluntary welfare organizations, and individuals as we tackle the threats we face. By working together, we own the safety and security of Singapore and we help the members of our Home Team agencies do their work well. Together, we can keep Singapore safe and secure for everyone. Thank you.
 

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