Parliamentary Speeches

Ministry of Home Affairs Committee of Supply Debate 2015 – Speech by Mr Teo Chee Hean, Deputy Prime Minister, Coordinating Minister for National Security and Minister for Home Affairs

Published: 06 March 2015

Resourcing A Ready Home Team and Taking Community Partnerships to the Next Level, For A Safe and Secure Singapore


1. Madam Chairperson, let me first thank the Members for their views and questions relating to the Home Team, and also for their support and thanks to the officers from the Home Team for the work they do.


2. May I have your permission to display slides and ask the Clerks to distribute a handout with some Home Team statistics? I shall now explain our plans for resourcing a ready Home Team and taking community partnerships to the next level, for a safe and secure Singapore.


Keeping Singapore Safe and Secure


3. Robust laws, effective enforcement and strong community partnerships have helped us maintain a high level of safety and security.


4. Singapore's overall crime rate of 589 cases per 100,000 population remains low compared to other cities such as London, Sydney, Tokyo and Hong Kong. This is in spite of a 7.4% increase in the number of crime cases in 2014 compared to 2013, and this was driven largely by an increase in online crimes. We'll say more about that later. The number of unlicensed moneylending harassment cases fell below 6,000 cases in 2014, a substantial decline from the almost 18,000 cases in 2009. The recidivism rate for ex-offenders is low, and has remained relatively stable.


5. While the number of drug abusers arrested fell by 14% in 2014 compared to 2013, we remain concerned about younger persons getting involved in drugs. SMS Masagos will say more about the work of the Task Force on Youths and Drugs later. The number of immigration offenders arrested continued its downward trend – there were 2,040 immigration offenders arrested in 2014, a 63% decrease from 2009, while maintaining the same level of enforcement. Our fire fatality rate has also remained low compared to cities such as New York, Tokyo and Hong Kong.


6. Our road safety situation has improved. The numbers of fatal traffic accidents and fatalities have been on a downward trend for the past three years. The installation of new digital red light cameras at road junctions has also helped to improve safe driving behaviour. The number of violations detected went up sharply when these red light cameras were first installed in March 2014. This is significant, as it means that many drivers had previously been beating red lights, and each of these occasions could have caused a serious accident. However, the number of violations detected per camera per month had decreased by over 80% by December. In fact, by December, fewer total violations were detected by these red light cameras compared to July 2014, even though there were twice as many cameras. The cameras have helped to improve driving behaviour and road safety.


7. The Safe Cities Index 2015 by the Economist Intelligence Unit recently ranked Singapore top for personal safety, which measures crime, police engagement and perception of safety.


Challenges Ahead


8. Mr Hri Kumar asked about our future security challenges. Let me elaborate on three key developments – terrorism, transnational and cyber crime, and domestic challenges such as our changing demographics.




9. First, terrorism. Terrorism is a global threat, which also impacts Singapore and our region. The conflict in Iraq and Syria has already drawn more than 20,000 foreign fighters, more in numbers and countries of origin than in the Afghanistan conflict in the late 1980s. This includes an estimated 350 from Southeast Asia. Upon their return home these fighters may be more prone to violence. Almost on a daily or weekly basis we see new revelations or videos of fighters from our region who have been involved in Syria or Iraq.


10. Self-radicalised individuals may also be influenced by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to carry out attacks in their home countries. Such attacks are often opportunistic, and therefore difficult to detect and prevent. The Sydney siege in December 2014, the Paris attacks in January 2015, and the Copenhagen shooting in February 2015 took place even when these countries were already on high alert.


11. The Home Team will continue to deter and deal with terrorism by securing our borders, hardening our infrastructure, and maintaining our capability to respond swiftly and effectively to any threats that come to light. We will continue to conduct exercises to hone our response, as well as enhance our intelligence capabilities and work with international partners to identify and pre-empt terrorism threats.


12. We take decisive action early to place persons who pose a threat to our security under detention or restriction orders. Since 2002, our security agencies have detained 66 such persons under the Internal Security Act, of these 66 persons, 57 have since been released. Currently, nine persons are under detention and 21 persons are on restriction orders, including some who had intended to take part in conflicts overseas. It is heartening that Singaporeans from all communities understand the fragility of our peace and harmony, and support the work of our security agencies. Other jurisdictions, in Malaysia, Australia, the US and Europe are strengthening their laws to allow preventive measures against terrorism threats.


13. Our community and religious groups also play a key role in preventing and deterring terrorism, and in maintaining social cohesion and harmony in the aftermath of an attack.


14. For example, Singapore's Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) launched its Resource and Counselling Centre in July 2014. The RRG has produced pamphlets and on-line material to counter extremist ideology, in particular the type that draws persons to fight in Syria and Iraq. Singapore will be hosting the East Asia Summit Symposium on Religious Rehabilitation and Social Reintegration on 16-17 April 2015, to share best practices and build capabilities among more than 20 participating countries to counter radical ideology.


15. Individual Singaporeans too play an important part in maintaining vigilance. If you notice any signs that a friend or family member has possibly been radicalised, you should alert the authorities. Acting pre-emptively could help stop them from harming themselves and protect others from being harmed. Through such alerts, we have already been able to refer young people who were becoming radicalised for religious counselling and to bring them back onto the correct path.


16. However, despite our best efforts, it is not possible to ensure that a terrorist attack will never succeed or happen in Singapore. I agree with Mr Hri Kumar, Mr Arthur Fong about the need to ensure that our society is ready to withstand a terrorist attack, and maintain social cohesion and harmony in its aftermath. Madam, those who carry out such attacks seek to divide our society and strike fear in innocent people. If an incident were to occur, we must stand united as a community and condemn the violent acts of these particular individuals. Such extreme views do not reflect the beliefs of the wider community, and indeed are rejected by them. As Singaporeans, we must continue to build on what we have in common, rather than accentuate our differences. We must also carry on with our daily lives, reach out to each other, and not allow fear to paralyse our society.


Transnational crime, cyber crime and cyber security


17. Second, transnational and cyber crime. Globalisation has made it easier for criminal groups to plan criminal activities outside Singapore, carry them out here, and enjoy the proceeds of their crime elsewhere. With the Internet, and electronic transfer of funds, criminals also find it easier to operate across borders, and to enter new markets. The Police and CNB have recently dismantled several cross-border illegal money lending and drug smuggling syndicates. SMS Masagos will say more about our efforts to combat the drug menace.


18. Cyber crime, in particular, is a new frontier. Members such as Mr Hri Kumar and Mr Edwin Tong spoke about this. Last year, we saw a sharp increase in online crimes. Cheating through e-commerce, Internet love scams and cyber extortion cases grew by 200% to 2,113 cases in 2014. Police will increase their public education efforts against cyber crime. For cheating crimes on the Internet, the victims themselves can take action to avoid them, by being more vigilant and careful. Hence we have education programmes to inoculate them against this.


19. Cyber-security is also a concern, as a growing number of critical systems such as power generation and banking are computer controlled or connected to the Internet. Both government and private entities around the world have been targets of cyber attacks by state and non-state actors. Sensitive information has been stolen, or infiltrated systems damaged. "Hacktivists" have also been taking to cyberspace to disrupt services and spread fear and alarm, to promote their causes.


20. We amended the Computer Misuse and Cybersecurity Act in 2013 to enable the Government to take more effective and timely measures to prevent, detect and counter cyber attacks on essential services. After studying the matter carefully, we have also set up the National Cyber Security Centre in April 2014 to provide early detection capabilities, and worked with stakeholders responsible for our critical information infrastructure to strengthen our overall cyber defence capabilities.


21. To improve our national cyber defence efforts, a new Cyber Security Agency under the Prime Minister's Office will commence operating on 1 April 2015. My colleague, the Minister for Communications and Information Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, has been appointed by the Prime Minister to be the Minister-in-charge of Cyber Security and will address these issues in greater detail in the debate on MCI's estimates, including Mr Tong's comments about the adequacy of experts.


Domestic challenges


22. Third, besides the security challenges of terrorism, and transnational and cyber crime, our changing domestic operating environment also places greater demands on the Home Team. As the number of citizens aged 65 years and above grew from about 318,000 in 2009 to 415,000 in 2014, SCDF saw a corresponding 31% increase in ambulance calls over the same 5-year period. We expect demand for emergency medical services to rise further, as the number of elderly citizens doubles to about 900,000 by 2030. We will also need new Police and Fire Stations to serve new towns and new commercial developments.


23. With more people travelling for work and leisure, the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) saw more than 500,000 people passing through our checkpoints daily in 2014. That is 500,000 people every day crossing our checkpoints last year. This is an increase of about 33% from 2009. With Changi Airport Terminal 4 and the Rapid Transit System coming into operation, we expect the numbers to grow further in the coming years.


Resourcing the Home Team


24. So, Madam, how do we deal with these challenges? Over the past two and a half years, the Home Team has been reviewing our strategic long-term plans, together with our partner agencies and also with the Ministry of Finance. The aim was to map out the strategies to address challenges facing the Home Team over the next five to ten years, and match them with the resources.


25. We will ensure that the Home Team is adequately resourced to implement these strategies and plans. Within the 5 year period, we will add 2,000 more officers across the Home Team, and MHA's expenditure will increase from the current 1.1% of nominal GDP in FY2014 to around 1.3% of GDP. For FY2015 it will increase by 11.7% and reach 1.2% of GDP.


26. With greater certainty and a higher level of funding, we can make long-term plans, develop our forces more systematically, build stronger operational capabilities, as well as strengthen community partnerships.


27. I will elaborate on our plans in these three dimensions. Making full use of the potential of our Home Team officers, significantly stepping up our investments to leverage on systems and technology, and taking community partnerships to the next level.


Making full use of the potential of our Home Team officers


28. First, making full use of the potential of our Home Team Officers. Several Members such as Mr Hri Kumar, Mr Arthur Fong and Dr Janil Puthucheary asked about the Home Team's manpower resources. Over the last 10 years, manpower in the Home Team had grown from about 19,300 to 24,700 officers – that's 5,000 officers over ten years. We will continue to grow these numbers judiciously and moderately. Over the next 5 years, we will add another 2,000 officers to the Home Team to cope with increasing traveller volumes, boost frontline policing and emergency medical services, and improve response to public order incidents and fires. We have also made progress in expanding the Special Operations Command (SOC), something that Mr Hri Kumar asked about. The Police started recruiting additional officers last year, and aim to recruit about 150 officers to the SOC by end 2015. And we expect that all 300 officers will be added to the SOC by 2017. This involves selecting very good people, making sure that they are well-trained and properly equipped. So, it takes a bit of time.


29. Even though all of us would like to have more manpower, there are natural limits to how much we can grow the Home Team, given the smaller cohorts of young Singaporeans entering the workforce each year. We will partially address this issue by re-employing more of our officers. The retirement age for Home Team uniformed junior officers was extended in October 2013 to 55. We want our officers to continue working with us as long as they are fit and able to carry out their duties.


30. We will continue to provide opportunities for our Home Team officers to upgrade their capabilities, including sponsoring them for diploma and degree programmes and deepening their specialist skills. As we rely more on better qualified and trained officers, we will re-structure our Home Team officers' careers to provide more opportunities to advance into the senior ranks. For example, the Police are studying ways to provide more seamless advancement opportunities for their officers. These measures will ensure that we are an employer of choice, and help us retain officers, particularly the good officers that we have.


31. We will also provide more comprehensive training and meaningful deployments for our NS personnel. Our NSFs and NSmen already carry out frontline duties on a daily basis. At least 2 out of the 4 firefighters that you see in every SCDF fire vehicle responding to fires daily are full-time NSmen. From this year, we will deploy more SCDF NSmen who are back for their in-camp training, to complement regular officers as frontline responders. So when you see them responding to an emergency or fire, about half of them are full-time National Servicemen, or our NSMen, responding to the call of duty every day.


32. Our Police NSFs and NSmen also patrol our neighbourhoods, coastal waters, airports and public transport network. The Police will assign more PNSFs to frontline duties, and better align full-time National Service with their corresponding NSmen roles.


Significantly stepping up our investments to leverage systems and technology


33. Second, we will significantly step up our investments to leverage systems and technology as force multipliers. We expect to increase our development expenditure gradually from about 8% of the Ministry's total expenditure in the past five years to about 20% over the next five years. Together with comprehensive operating models and strategies, this will help our officers do their work more effectively. We will allow technology to do the things that technology does better so that officers can do other things that, with their personal interaction and judgement, can do better.


34. For example, SCDF has brought its new command and control system into service in end-2013. The new Police command and control system together with the new Police Operations Command Centre commenced operations in November 2014. We will continue to improve and integrate our command and control systems so that we can build a consolidated situation picture and help our ground officers and our frontline officers when they are sent to the scene, to respond more quickly, precisely and effectively.


35. Footage from Police Cameras (PolCams) installed at the void decks of HDB blocks and multi-storey carparks has led to the arrests of UML harassers in 224 cases since 2012. PolCams have already been installed in over 4,000 HDB blocks. And installation in the remaining 5,000-plus blocks will be completed by end 2016. I'm happy to say that residents have welcomed it and Members of the House have told me that residents have welcomed it and asked if we can speed it up. We are going as fast as we can.


36. We will also build a new Police Divisional Headquarters and two fire stations in the next five years to meet increased demand from new towns and commercial centres.


37. Mr Edwin Tong and Ms Sylvia Lim asked about our checkpoints. We have completed several key measures recommended by the 2014 Ministry-level review committee. These will enhance security at our land checkpoints. We have introduced an integrated command and control structure to strengthen coordination among the officers from the various Home Team agencies operating at these checkpoints. In addition, 119 CCTV cameras have been installed to enhance coverage and monitoring at the checkpoints. Mobile crash barriers have been deployed as an additional line of defence to stop vehicles from dashing through. More than 1,000 additional CCTV cameras will be installed at both checkpoints by June 2017 for greater coverage. These cameras will be connected to a video analytics system to enhance the identification of vehicles, and security threats such as intrusions and unattended baggage. Other measures, such as double drop-arm barriers at the vehicle counters, crash-rated vehicle security barriers, anti-climb fences and anti-crash walls, will be implemented in phases over the next three years to minimise disruptions to the continuing checkpoint operations.


38. Madam, these initiatives form part of our overall strategy to use technology to keep our checkpoints secure, while facilitating timely clearance in the face of growing traveller and cargo volumes, and the growing security challenge. All 164 motorcycle counters at Woodlands and Tuas Checkpoints will be automated by end 2016 compared to the 43 automated ones currently. These automated counters speed up motorcycle immigration clearance by up to 30%, and help reduce congestion for all users of the checkpoints. Automation also allows ICA to re-deploy officers to other critical tasks such as screening travellers who may have a high-risk profile. To further improve immigration clearance and border security, from April 2015, ICA will conduct a trial at Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal to capture the fingerprints of all arriving persons. The fingerprints are used to verify the traveller's identity before he is allowed entry to Singapore, and will facilitate automated self-clearance during his departure from Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal. If the trial is successful, ICA will implement this system progressively at other checkpoints. This will make it easier, facilitate departure for visitors and Singaporeans and also help us save on manpower.


39. To handle the high traveller volume at Woodlands Checkpoint, ICA will also operate 10 more car counters at Old Woodlands Checkpoint by 2016. This is on top of the 40 car counters already at Woodlands Checkpoint, and up to 20 additional car counters at Old Woodlands Checkpoint that currently operate during peak periods, Sundays and public holidays. We are also studying the medium- to long-term infrastructure needs at Woodlands Checkpoint and the new transit links across the Johor Straits.


40. MHA will also invest in our marine capabilities to safeguard our shores. More sea and land-based barriers will be deployed to harden Singapore's coastline. We will equip Police Coast Guard with better surveillance and interception capabilities to deny intrusion and disable vessels carrying out illegal activities. MHA will also integrate the Police Coast Guard, ICA and SCDF marine command bases for better coordinated response to marine safety and security threats.


Taking community partnerships to the next level


41. Madam, the community plays a major role in keeping Singapore safe and secure. This includes building resilience to counter radicalisation and withstand any terrorist incident, fighting crime, helping youths in befriender programmes, keeping our roads safe, supporting re-integration of ex-offenders, reducing the risks of fires, and responding to fire and medical emergencies. Many people have volunteered their time, contributed ideas, initiated programmes, responded to emergencies, and reported crimes. And we thank every one of them for their help.


42. We intend to build on this strong foundation of community involvement, and take our community partnerships to the next level.


43. We will better organise, facilitate and support these community efforts, through programmes and platforms that for example, encourage crowdsourcing. Technology can help us to do so, in a sustainable and scalable manner. Beyond the PolCams that we have in all 10,000 HDB blocks and multi-storey carparks, there are already some five million smartphone cameras in our own pockets, and almost a million vehicles on the road, with an increasing number of them with cameras installed. The Police will take a major step to improve its existing platforms for members of the public to send in videos on traffic violations and crime-related information. This will also be a critical source of information should there be a major incident, such as after the 2013 Boston Marathon bomb attacks when Boston police made good use of videos from the public. Second Minister Iswaran will elaborate on this later.


44. We will also invest resources to make it easier for community responders to help. If someone has a cardiac arrest, there is no one who can provide help faster than the person who is right next to him. Swift and effective CPR from bystanders can significantly increase the victim's chances of survival. Since May 2012, SCDF's 995 emergency line has medical dispatchers and nurses to coach emergency callers over the phone to administer CPR for cardiac arrest victims in what are often the crucial minutes, before medical assistance arrives. With telephone assistance, the proportion of cardiac arrest victims who received CPR from bystanders has more than doubled from 22% in 2011 to 47% in 2014. SMS Masagos will say more about the major initiatives we are introducing for community partners to help save lives in a medical emergency, using both technology available today, as well as using people who want to be our partners.


Acknowledging the Contributions of Our Home Team Pioneers


45. As we prepare ourselves for the future, we must also recognise and honour our Pioneers who built a strong foundation for the Home Team. Over the past 50 years, our Home Team Pioneers have tackled serious security challenges – including terrorist acts, subversion, secret societies, major crimes, riots, drugs, and major civil disasters and fires. They showed courage and determination, and risked their lives to maintain Singapore's peace and security, and to strengthen our national unity and social harmony.


46. We want to pass on the values and ethos of our Pioneers, to inspire new generations of Home Team officers. For this, we will be honouring our Home Team pioneers, who embodied the spirit of pride, service, sacrifice and duty in their service to Singapore, with a special "Tribute to Home Team Pioneers" consisting of an exhibition and reception for our pioneers in May this year. This highlight is part of a series of Home Team SG50 events, culminating in the Home Team Festival in November.


47. Madam Chairperson, safety and security have been the foundation of our social stability and economic progress. The Home Team will continue to build on the strong foundation laid by our Pioneers. We will make timely investments to build a capable and future-ready Home Team, with committed and well-trained officers, who effectively use systems and technology, and take our partnership with the community to the next level. Through this inclusive and comprehensive approach, we can build a safe and secure home together.


48. Thank you, Madam Chairperson. 


Managing Security Threats
Science and Technology
Community Engagement