Published: 01 March 2019
1. Sir, I thank the honourable Members for their comments.
2. 2018 was an intense year for the Home Team. High-signature events – the Trump-Kim Summit; the ASEAN Summit - because we were the chair of ASEAN; and of course some issues arose in our waters. Some disputes with Malaysia on Johor Port Limits, so to deal with that the Police Coast Guard have been operating at a very high tempo since the disputes began, round the clock. And the entire Home Team, because of the events last year, have been working round the clock.
3. I want to thank all the Home Team officers for their hard work, their dedication and the professionalism at which they approached their work.
Overview of Safety and Security Situation
4. Let me move to an overview of the safety and security situation. Like in past years, we continue to rank very highly on indices on safety and security. The Gallup Global Law and Order Report 2018, World Justice Project's Rule of Law Index 2019 and the Global Smart City Performance Index 2018, all ranked us as number one on this score.
5. Crime and drug situations remain under control and our internal surveys, which we do regularly, show that public trust and confidence in the Home Team remains extremely high.
6. Let me now move on to what we intend to do this year. A significant step this year will be taken to qualitatively improve our capabilities. We are going to set up a new Science and Technology (S&T) agency that will help transform the Home Team, through the increased use of technology to support operations. For example, the use of biometric identifiers at our borders, using our sensors to better detect threats, and robotics to automate and streamline processes.
7. The approach for the new S&T board is that we want to deepen the Home Team’s scientific and engineering capabilities, we want to strengthen our operational effectiveness and we want to work on developing new technologies, focusing on threat detection, digital forensics and unmanned systems. It will pull together the S&T resources, integrate the S&T requirements across the Home Team and attract and develop S&T talent, which is critical. Minister Josephine will speak in more detail about our plans.
8. We will also update the Committee on other plans to maintain Singapore’s safety and security. Senior Parliamentary Secretary Amrin Amin will speak on drug abuse prevention, rehabilitation of offenders, cybercrime and Home Team manpower transformation.
9. Senior Parliamentary Secretary Sun Xueling will speak on improving fire and road safety, and also improving community partnerships.
10. I will speak on two emerging concerns, which Mr Christopher de Souza, Mr Baey Yam Keng, Ms Rahayu Mahzam, and Mr Gan Thiam Poh have raised. First, foreign interference in domestic politics and second, trends that undermine our religious harmony and what we intend to do about both of these.
11. I will also speak about the rehabilitation of low-income drug abusers, a point raised by Mr Pritam Singh.
II. FOREIGN INTERFERENCE IN DOMESTIC POLITICS
12. First on foreign interference in domestic politics. Last month, Senior Minister of State Edwin Tong spoke about overseas examples of foreign interference in domestic politics and elections.
13. I think members would probably know the impact that foreign interference has in politics in different countries. It is well-documented. Hostile information campaigns have been used to weaken countries’ resolve. When countries are in conflict or there is tension between states, one country can use a hostile information campaign to destabilise the other country.
14. Foreign actors have attempted to undermine democracy and elections in a number of countries. Foreign interference has also come into play to try and weaken the social fabric of different countries.
Learning from Others
15. Mr De Souza spoke about the need to look at what has happened with other countries, how they have dealt with them, and learn some lessons on what we can do. We have been doing it.
16. Several countries have in fact passed laws to combat both falsehoods as well as foreign interference. I will quote a couple of examples.
17. In Germany, the Network Enforcement Act requires social media platforms to set up a process. The process must ensure that ‘manifestly illegal content’ such as hate speech should be removed within 24 hours of receipt of a complaint. Failure to comply could mean up to a 50 million euro fine.
18. In Australia recently, legislation was passed on dealing with foreign interference, with stiff penalties. There was a complete ban foreign political donations. Those who act on behalf of foreign nations or entities must declare the relationship. Failure to comply could mean up to 5 years’ jail. Foreign interference aimed at influencing elections or supporting foreign intelligence could result in a penalty of up to 20 years’ jail.
19. The kind of penalties you see indicate the severity of the threat and how countries are reacting to them.
20. We are studying their experiences, what is happening to them, and what they are doing to combat the threat.
21. Our current thinking is that first, early detection and exposure is key. Second, we must be able to act quickly and keep up with new digital-age tactics. Third, apart from strengthening our laws, we have to build up the ability of Singaporeans to discern, respond appropriately, and try and resist foreign interference. We must train people to spot it, but in reality many people will find it difficult.
22. Some of the steps I have outlined can only be taken through legislation. The Government will come to the House later this year with its proposals.
III. Rehabilitation of Low-Income Drug Abusers
23. Let me deal with the concerns raised by Mr Pritam Singh. He said recent changes to the Misuse of Drugs Act may inadvertently operate in favour of drug abusers who come from more affluent households, and are we doing enough to help low-income hardcore addicts?
24. I think the questions are fair. I would say look at the facts. He did preface his speech by saying he did not have the statistics with him. So with that caveat in mind, if you look at long-term (LT) imprisonment, about nine in 10 inmates on long-term imprisonment, before the changes were made, were from the bottom 20th percentile of wage earners nationally. LT inmates are drug abusers who have been picked up for the third time or more. Data shows that those in the lowest 20th percentile of wage earners are no more likely to have both drug and criminal convictions at the same time, as compared to those who earn more. They will be eligible to be channelled to DRC if they admit to drug use and have committed no other crime. That’s an answer based on the facts in the current situation.
25. But take a step back, more philosophically, take a situation where those who abuse drugs, and those who abuse drugs and commit crime – do they need to be treated differently. For those who abuse drugs, the right thing to do is not to look so much at their economic or social background, but to say what is going to help them kick the habit and become useful citizens in society. Our approach based on many years of data and experience, evidence-based, is that we can do more with rehabilitation and that has been welcomed by all.
26. At the same time, let’s take those who commit crime in addition to abusing drugs. What is in their interest? It is in their interest both to kick the drug habit, and at the same time not commit the crime. What is in society’s interest? It is also to prevent them from committing a crime, and ensuring the safety of society. So, those in the second category, need to be helped to move out of criminality and drugs. We try and achieve this through a number of programmes, when they are in detention.
27. How to help them, whether in LT or DRC, stay off drugs and crime, is something that we are intensely focused on.
28. Hopefully, with our programmes, regardless of which socio-economic group they come from, when they come out, they are able to lead a healthy life and a more productive life from their own perspective.
29. For example, we have put in place a range of programmes to address the many different complex causes of both addiction and crime. For all drug abusers, Prisons provides psychology-based correctional programmes. Members can understand, Mr Singh can understand - if you committed a crime, if you have done this, you go in, you get access to psychology-based correctional programmes, which I think they need.
30. To address the underlying drug addiction issues, they also undergo skills training and work programmes. For example, we find that for those who come out who are able to keep a job, the recidivism rate is much lower. So we have to help them while they are in prison, to try and get the right attitudes towards getting and keeping a job. SCORE provides job matching to emplace them in jobs before they are released and job coaches to help abusers stay in employment and draw a steady income. We also partner the community, halfway houses, religious organisations, to provide various forms of support - for example, interim housing arrangements.
31. Those with a higher risk profile of re-offending are given more help through the Mandatory Aftercare Scheme (MAS). After they get released, they go through the scheme. LT inmates will be put through this scheme and legislation has now made it mandatory.
32. Prisons also works closely with community partners and other government agencies with support from MSF, to ensure that abusers and their families who need financial assistance can tap on community resources, whether at the point where they get admitted into detention or post-release. They monitor the results closely, from the changes that have been made and our intention is to try and make it work. And we will make further changes as necessary. We will monitor closely.
IV. Religious Harmony
33. Let me now move on to religious harmony. There were three worrisome trends that the MPs spoke about, what the government’s response is. I will identify three trends that are of concern.
34. First, resurgence of identity politics around the world. More people are identifying themselves in narrow ethnic, cultural and religious terms. They turn inward. They reject diversity. They reject co-existence with others. Political parties and movements that ride this wave have gained traction around the world. For example, far-right parties have made electoral gains in France, the Netherlands and Germany. Alt-right movements have gained prominence in the US as well. Significant support for religion-based parties and parties which advocate moves in this direction have made gains in our immediate region as well.
35. Mr Baey Yam Keng spoke about increasing segregationist ideas, practices. These views are all around. They can come from foreign preachers. They can come from the internet. One particular example of such teaching is in Myanmar. Ashin Wirathu - some members may be familiar with him - urged Buddhists to boycott Muslim businesses and I quote, “do business or interact with only our kind: same race and same faith”. It is all around us and he is not alone.
36. The second worrisome trend as Mr de Souza and Ms Rahayu Mahzam have noted, is that the Internet has allowed hate speech and incitement to spread further and faster. And there can be devastating effects.
37. The third trend is that religiously-motivated terrorist groups continue to spread their propaganda. Overseas experiences show that in the immediate aftermath of a terrorist attack, there is distrust, there is suspicion between communities. And the rise of Islamophobic incidents in Paris, Brussels in the wake of attacks would be known to members.
What We Can Do to Preserve Religious Harmony
38. So how do we respond? Mr Gan Thiam Poh, Ms Rahayu Mahzam and Mr Christopher de Souza asked how we should respond.
39. First, of course, what we have always been doing – continue to build a strong Singaporean identity, preserve and grow our common space and experiences. It’s hard work, it’s a lot of work and it takes a long time. But we are where we are today because of all the steps that we have taken over fifty years.
40. Our education system, public housing, National Service – all examples of us coming together, common space, people of different backgrounds understanding, creating our own value system and building common experiences. And we have to build a strong Singaporean identity through these common experiences,
41. We have to also guard against segregationist thinking, teachings, practices, that seek to reduce the opportunities for Singaporeans of different religions to come together.
42. Second, we have to continue to keep religion and politics separate. Our politics, our approach is secular. We have managed to balance the right to religious freedom, with a secular approach to politics, and with the need to ensure harmony, peace and security in our multi-racial, multi-religious society.
43. A key challenge, and it is an increasing challenge, is to ensure that we can maintain that right balance, in the face of challenges that members have spoken about, that I have acknowledged.
44. So we have to work harder in the community to maintain and strengthen the Singapore value system. We also have to review our legislation to deal with some of the challenges.
45. We are reviewing the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act in this context. We aim to give more details later this year, after we have thought through some of the issues, and done some consultations.
46. Third, we have to preserve the culture of mutual respect for each other’s religions. We have to reach out across religious lines, and keep the avenues of conversation open. Religious harmony is built and nurtured on the basis of trust among the communities. So the Government will continue to provide platforms to facilitate dialogues and build this trust. And of course the Government will be a key player and partner in this process.
47. Thank you, sir.