Parliamentary Speeches

Ministry of Home Affairs Committee of Supply Debate 2018, “A Future-Ready Home Team - Effective, Prepared, Trusted” - Speech by Mrs Josephine Teo, Minister, Prime Minister’s Office, Second Minister for Home Affairs & Second Minister for Manpower

Published: 02 March 2018



1. MPs spoke about the different challenges the Home Team faces. I will expand on MHA's responses in the areas of counter terrorism, Home Team transformation in technology and manpower, and also on the Private Security Industry.


Counter-Terrorism Remains High on Our Priority


2. Let me deal first with terrorism. Mr Christopher de Souza and Ms Rahayu Mahzam spoke about this.


3. The threat to Singapore is at its highest level in recent years. It has not abated, it has probably intensified. How will we deal with it?  Essentially, there are three strategies. First, is to guard against social fault-lines and segregationist tendencies are of the biggest concern. The Minister has already explained how we go about it. Second, to make it harder for terrorists to carry out attacks. Make them think twice - thrice, if possible, before they target us. Thirdly, be well-prepared to respond. When it happens, will be shocked but we must not be immobilised. I will expand on latter two strategies.


Enhancing Deterrence and Preparedness


4. We have made significant moves to enhance preparedness and deter attacks. Our laws are being updated. Last year, we amended the Public Order Act, we introduced the Infrastructure Protection Act. Later this month, Parliament will debate the Public Order and Safety (Special Powers) Bill. We are coming to Parliament to seek members' support because Police may need the additional powers to protect public safety for serious incidents like a terror attack.


5. This does not mean that the Police is not at the same time, doing other things, such as enhancing operational response capabilities. In December last year, we put in place In-Situ Reaction Teams. These are officers who patrol areas with high human traffic. For example, Orchard Road and Marina Bay. We started them ahead of the festive season. They are armed with sub-machine guns and if something happens, they can intervene more swiftly and effectively until the other forces arrive.


6. Mr Christopher de Souza, Ms Rahayu Mahzam and Mr Desmond Choo rightly pointed out that the preparedness must go beyond the Home Team. Every Singaporean has a role to play and that is why community partnership is key part of the Home Team's work and also why we launched the SGSecure movement.


7. We are now moving into the next phase of SGSecure. What that means is that from awareness, we now focus on preparedness. One focal point is the workplace because every one of us goes to work every single day. We spent a lot of time at the workplace. So we launched the SGSecure Guide for Workplaces in September last year. It provides tips and resources for employers. There are advisories that employers can distribute to their staff. What it does is to guide people on what they can do in an attack - where to hide safely and how to perform improvised first aid because you will not have all the essential materials that are usually associated with first aid. You have to improvise.


8. So overall, we are making good progress in enhancing deterrence and preparedness. But we cannot let our guard down and must continue to press on.


Home Team Transformation


9. So let me turn to Home Team Transformation. Mr Desmond Choo has asked for a progress update. The Home Team Transformation has to be a multi-year effort, but with a clear and consistent purpose. And that is to renew and strengthen our capabilities so that we can remain a prepared, effective and trusted force.


Leverage Technology


10. Technology a big part of that transformation journey. We are using technology in two areas - one, to counter emerging threats, and two, to improve our effectiveness.


Serious Emerging Threat: Biological Attacks


11. Let me say a little bit more about emerging threats, in particular biological attacks. Terrorist groups are seeking to develop such capabilities. What they plan to do is to use viruses or infectious diseases as weapons. How do we know that this is happening? The Al-Qaeda has an Encyclopedia of Jihad and in the 11th volume of this encyclopedia, it is entirely devoted to chemical and biological weapons. When terrorists are captured, the reports also show that they admit to such plots.


12. The question is - why are biological weapons attractive to terrorists? The reasons are because they are hard to detect because it is not immediately observable that a biological attack has taken place. By the time it is known, they would already be many victims. It can cause widespread panic and the public could be gripped by fear. They could either want to quarantine themselves or avoid contact.


13. That will pose a major risk for a place like Singapore where many people pass through our borders. We are a global and regional hub for business, for finance, for aviation, for maritime matters. It can mean a total shutdown for Singapore. We have some experience of that, like during the period of SARS.


14. How can we deal with this threat? MHA has implemented a Bio-surveillance Programme and this is taking place at our borders. We have laboratories and we have equipped them with state-of-the-art Lab-on-Chip system. Mr Desmond Choo would be happy to know that this Lab-on-Chip system that is in use at our borders is developed by local company Veredus Laboratories. This system superior in two ways. First, it can test for multiple biological threats, not just one. Secondly, the speed of detection is much quicker. You can get results within three hours compared to traditional screening methods which require four times the amount of time - 12 hours. It has also been tested elsewhere in Singapore at large-scale public events and when epidemic outbreaks elsewhere are at risk of reaching our shores.


15. Thankfully, no incident of bio-terrorism agents have been detected so far. We developed the capability so that in case it happens, we can take preventive or mitigation measures more quickly so as to reduce the spread of viruses and diseases.


Improving Effectiveness: Operations


16. Technology is also being used to improve our operational effectiveness by cutting down time spent on routine tasks. It is helping our officers do more with less and it is helping to reduce the exposure of our officers to dangerous situations.


17. We take the SCDF for example. Since 2014, they have using something called the Unmanned Fire-Fighting Machine (UFM). What the UFM does, is that it can shoot giant jets of water to extinguish fires and it is remotely controlled. Therefore, it can go deep into dangerous areas and is much less risky than deploying our officers to do so. It has proven its usefulness in fighting major fires at Sungei Kadut, Jurong Island and Tuas. SCDF is also developing exo-skeletons. It can help SCDF officers lift heavier loads so that they can sustain operations for a longer period of time.


18. Another game-changer in Home Team Transformation is something that we, as MPs, are all quite familiar with - the PolCam initiative. This was launched in 2012 and is welcomed by many residents. The footage has helped solve more than 900 cases of unlicensed money-lending (UML). UML cases involve damage to property. These cases have fallen by more than 80% from more than 7,600 cases in 2012 to just about 1,000 cases in 2017 - an 80 per cent drop.


19. The Police have been coming down very hard on unlicensed moneylenders. They have successfully curtailed all of these cases that I mentioned, especially those that involve physical harassment or confrontation because they cause damage to property. The Police have been relentless and as a result, the UML syndicates have been forced to change their modus operandi and find other methods of harassment.


20. Associate Professor Daniel Goh spoke about the spike in moneylending harassment in 2017. These were mostly cases that did not involve damage to property. They involved non-physical forms of harassment, such as through text messages and social media. They are not necessarily a sign of heightened loanshark activity. It could simply be due to the proliferation of online messaging services and also the easily available technological tools to mask the identities of the senders. Naturally, the victims are distressed and harassment by text messages and online means are much harder to prevent and crack.


21. We deal with them in a few ways. First, people should know that UML is illegal, and if they borrow from unlicensed moneylenders, they risk becoming the victims of harassment. Second, if the borrowers are harassed by unlicensed moneylenders, they get protection from the Protection from Harassment Act and this provides a means for victims to seek protection. If harassment involves threats, hurt and property damage, the victims should report the cases to the Police, and the Police will investigate. If it is found to have been grievous, they will take action against the perpetrators.


22. But resources are limited and the public should play its part - to not to borrow from unlicensed moneylenders in the first place, to advise family and friends against doing so, and also to seek help through other means. These are just some examples that the Home Team is using technology to counter emerging threats and enhance our effectiveness.


23. As a result of these efforts, technology investment will increase significantly. Our annual investment in technology infrastructure alone, and by that, I am referring to sensors and sense-making, for example, the C3 (Command, Control and Communication) systems, these are projected to triple over the next two years. It demonstrates our resolve to remain effective even with rising terror threats and manpower constraints.


Manpower Transformation


24. But technology alone is not enough. The value of technology lies in how it is used. The man-machine mix must be effective. Mr Desmond Choo alluded to this.


25. Job re-design will therefore be a big part of this effort. It will help to ensure that Home Team jobs remain relevant and challenging, and will allow our officers to maximise their value-add. One example is the ICA's Bus Scanning Project. You can find it at the Tuas Checkpoint where two radiographic imaging scanners are being installed. What these two scanners do, is to scan all the arriving buses to detect anomalies such as hidden compartments. And how does it help the officers and the Home Team? Well, their time and attention are freed up. They can use the scanning results to perform targeted checks instead of performing checks on all the buses. What this means, is that it gives the real criminals a harder time. Of course, the officers need training to re-skill and re-orientate, and they are getting that re-training. They learn X-ray image analysis and also how to do security profiling using analytics. About 40 officers have been trained so far.


26. Mr Desmond Choo asked how retiring officers are being supported in job placement. To remind the House, the retirement age was raised from 50 to 55 in 2013. The Career Transition Office for Home Team officers was set up in 2016. It is helping retiring officers to find employment within the Home Team or public sector agencies, as civilian officers or with private sector companies, for example, security firms. It organises networking sessions with prospective employers and it also recognises that for the officers, adjustments are needed. Officers can try out potential job opportunities whether at public agencies or private sector companies. Up to three months prior to their retirement, they will continue to receive salaries from the Home Team even as they try out these new jobs.


27. Mr Desmond Choo also suggested further ideas for transforming the Home Team. They are all good ideas and we will seriously consider them.  


Transformation of the Private Security Industry


28. Dr Tan Wu Meng asked about plans to transform the private security industry. The Security Industry Transformation Map (ITM) was recently launched. It is a tripartite effort between the Government, security service providers as well as the buyers, and the union. The core idea is this - we want to transform service delivery through four things: intensify the use of technology and innovation; promote smart buying for the Government to take the lead in doing so and align regulations; as well as upgrade skills and career advancement opportunities. The benefits are real - productivity gains for security service providers; cost savings or better value for the service buyers; better employment outcomes for security personnel; and a more secure Singapore.


29. Dr Tan hopes that older workers can continue to contribute and I fully agree with him. I have seen how it can be done. Of the 47,000 active security officers, about half are above the age of 50. Of this group, another half are above the age of 60. So, the security industry is not a profession that has shut off seniors. And on the contrary, even with the use of technology, we will see them playing an active role.


30. The technology can help to take over labour-intensive tasks, for example, ground patrols. It will make work easier for older security officers who can still have a meaningful role - tap their experience, make judgments when the security alerts through video analytics for example, are presented to them, and advise their younger colleagues on the best response. Government support is available for job re-design. The Workforce Singapore agency offers customised guidance and funding support.


31. Dr Tan highlighted his concern that security training materials are not written in simple English. The security courses are generally accessible to most learners and the passing rate in 2017 was about 90 per cent. The training standards are set by SkillsFuture Singapore in consultation with the Police and other industry stakeholders. The course providers have flexibility. For example, they can use videos for instructions. And instead of written tests, they can take oral assessments. Experienced security officers also do not have to attend classroom training or take written tests. They can obtain a Statement of Attainment through assessment-only pathways, which means face-to-face interviews and role play.


32. Mr Edwin Tong spoke about having sufficient qualified security consultants for the purposes of the Infrastructure Protection Act. Several initiatives are in place. The Skills Security Framework offers a career pathway in security consultancy. There is the specialist diploma also in security consultancy that will start next year. He asked if there are other qualifications that can be considered, and the answer is yes. The tripartite partners have a joint stake in the Security Industry Transformation Map and they are confident we will achieve the vision of a security industry that is vibrant, technologically-advanced and competitive.




33. Mr Chairman, if you will allow me, I would like to conclude in Mandarin.


34. 接下来几年,内政部将不断检讨和加强我们的法律框架,改善工作程序,并推动内政团队的转型。我们将投入更多资源,提升科技实力,以便应对新的威胁与新的挑战,同时也提高内政团队的办事效率。让我举一个例子来说明。


35. 电脑和智能手机越来越普遍,利用数码媒体犯罪的案例不但直线飙升,也更加错综复杂。警察部队要调查这些罪案,就必须从手机和磁盘等数码器材内,抽取信息和证据。如果警察部队不更新查案和搜证的方法,不可能足以应付新犯罪手法所带来的新挑战。因此,警察部队将推出"数码取证站" (Digital Forensic Kiosk),让查案人员能更直接有效地从数码仪器设备抽取、组织和分析信息。这个信息站也可以根据罪案类别扫描所有可能的证据。这将有助于查案人员更快掌握相关证据,提高查案效率。


36. 我们在提升科技的同时,也必须确保内政团队成员都获得足够培训,掌握新技能,帮助他们在工作岗位上有效地作出贡献。促成转型之外,内政团队要取得成功,最关键的还是团队里每一位成员的专业态度和热心奉献的精神。为了保障我们家园的安全,内政群英时时都坚守岗位、尽忠职守,甚至是在大家欢庆假日或夜里熟睡时,也不例外。而且,他们往往还超越职责的需要,付出额外心力,为人民服务。


37. 国人对内政团队,拥有高度的信任和信心。我们绝对不会把这份信任与信心视为理所当然,而会更加努力,确保内政团队不辜负国人对我们的信任和期待。


English Translation of Chinese Speech:


34. In the coming years, we will continue to review and enhance our laws, upgrade our procedures, and focus on transformation of the Home Team. We will invest significantly in technology to counter emerging threats and improve the effectiveness of the Home Team. Let me share an example. As laptops and smartphones have become ubiquitous, the number of criminal cases involving digital media has gone up manifold. To investigate these crimes, information and evidence need to be extracted from digital devices such as handphones and thumb-drives. It is not sustainable to maintain the status quo in the way we approach investigation and the handling of evidence for such crimes.


35. Instead, SPF will be introducing a Digital Forensic Kiosk, which allows Investigation Officers to directly and more efficiently retrieve, organise, and analyse information from digital devices. The kiosk will also be able to scan for possible evidence based on the type of case being investigated. Overall, this will allow our investigation officers to quickly access evidence and carry out their investigations more efficiently.


36. Even as we invest in technologies and systems, we will also ensure that our officers are given the necessary training and re-skilling so that they can continue to contribute effectively in their roles.


37. Beyond our transformation efforts, ultimately, it is the professionalism and dedication of each and every Home Team officer that matters the most. They put in a lot of hard work to keep us all safe and secure, even when the rest of Singapore is enjoying our public holidays or asleep at home, and often go beyond their call of duty. The public's trust and confidence in the Home Team continues to be high. We do not take it for granted, and will strive to continue to deserve this.


Managing Security Threats
Law and order