Commissioner of ICA
Officers of ICA
Ladies and Gentlemen
Two years ago, the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) was formed against a backdrop mired by the Sep 11 terrorist attacks, the arrests of the Jemaah Islamiyah members in Singapore, and the Oct 2002 attacks in Bali. All these incidents brought home the stark reality of the terrorist threats to the region and to Singapore. We had to strengthen border security. Our borders are our first line of defence to prevent the entry of undesirable persons, weapons and explosives. An effective and strong border control regime is therefore vital in reducing our vulnerability to terrorist attacks.
2. Two years on, the ICA has done well. It has put in place a series of measures to strengthen checkpoint security. For instance, in stepping up security checks at the checkpoints last year, ICA officers foiled more than 18,000 attempts to smuggle contraband into Singapore. The number of smuggling cases by car also decreased last year compared to past years. Last year, 20 vehicles were seized for the commission of smuggling offences as compared to 43 in 2002.
Balance Between Security and Public Expectation
3. Enhanced checks inevitably mean that a member of the public could be subjected to more thorough checks and longer waiting times. The Singapore public has grown to expect more from public services. They have become more demanding and critical, and they expect much faster response time. It is therefore,a delicate and tight balancing act that the ICA has to perform.
4. However, under the current heightened security environment, security has to take precedence. Security is a top priority and ICA takes a serious view of any activity that breaches security or threatens the integrity of our borders. Some travellers have tried to test our border security regime and they have been strictly dealt with. ICA and Police have worked closely together to tighten security checks. Since Oct 2004, the ICA and Police have dealt with 6 persons who either failed to present themselves for immigration clearance or attempted to dash through the checkpoint. Of the six, three were convicted and sentenced to imprisonment, and one was fined. The remaining two were given stern warnings. The ICA will not relent on this and will continue to strictly enforce our border control regime.
5. Nevertheless, ICA is committed to minimising the inconveniences to the public. Indeed, the ICA has a good track record of quality service to the public. The ICA would certainly continue to improve on its processes to make encounters between the public and ICA even more pleasant, and to further enhance the professional image of ICA officers. A key lever that the ICA is using is technology.
6. For example, to enable Singapore citizens to clear immigration more expeditiously, ICA will be enhancing its existing Immigration Automated Clearance System (IACS). IACS, which was first introduced in 1997, makes use of smart card and fingerprint recognition technologies to enable frequent travellers to clear immigration through automated lanes in less than 12 seconds. Currently, travellers need to apply for the IACS access card before they can use the system. ICA is now exploring ways where Singapore citizens can use the IACS gates to clear immigration just using their machine-readable passports. The ICA will be conducting a trial of the enhanced system in the coming months.
7. Another good example is the use of radiographic scanning systems to scan cargo vehicles passing through Woodlands and Tuas Checkpoints. The system is currently in operation at the Woodlands Checkpoint, while Tuas Checkpoint is conducting a trial of the system and is expected to deploy it full-scale in the coming months. The main advantage of these scanning systems is that they cut down on the need for ICA officers to conduct extensive physical checks on cargo vehicles because the radiographic scanning can verify cargo in a safe and non-intrusive manner. Last year, a total of 41 contraband cases were detected through the use of radiographic scanners.
Convenience for Bona Fide Travellers
8. Beyond directly serving the Singapore public, the ICA also has to balance the demands of security against the ease for foreigners to enter Singapore to play, work, or stay. Working closely with its strategic partners including the Economic Development Board and Singapore Tourism Board, ICA is continually calibrating our visa requirements to facilitate the entry of bona fide investors and visitors to Singapore. For example, since 1 July last year visa processing time has been shortened from 10 to five working days for nationals from certain countries. The ICA has been able to achieve this by streamlining its workprocesses, and without compromising on security.
9. Similarly, the ICA has on-going efforts to also make it easier for business travellers from visa-required countries to apply for long-term multiple-journey visas. For example, businessmen supported by our government agencies can be granted long-term multiple-journey visas with validities of up to five years. These facilities are extended to their immediate family members too. Those holding a multiple-journey visa will not need to apply for a visa each time they visit Singapore. We hope this will encourage more foreigners to make Singapore their regional business base.
Security is Top Priority
10. The Sep 11 terrorist attack has changed the world that we live in. Our current heightened security environment is unlikely to be relaxed in the foreseeable future. All Singaporeans have to internalise the new security climate and to learn to treat increased security checks and daily vigilance against suspicious characters and activities as a normal way of life. Indeed, the ICA and other law enforcement agencies need to support and understanding of the Singapore public in ensuring the safety and security of Singapore. On this note, it is my pleasure to declare the ICA Workplan Seminar 2005 open. I wish you another successful year ahead.