Published: 06 August 2019
1. Mr Speaker, let me thank the honorable Members for their questions and comments.
Key for MHA to Leverage Technology
2. Many Members spoke at length about why it is important for MHA to leverage science and technology (S&T) to address the challenges ahead, and to set up the new HTX. I thank them for their support of the Bill.
3. As Members have rightly pointed out, the growth of new technologies has changed the Home Team’s operating environment. New threats are emerging as our adversaries are also taking advantage of technological advances.
4. The Home Team must therefore not be handicapped on this front. We will need to invest in building new capabilities and transform the way we work. The setting up of a dedicated Home Team S&T agency is to achieve these purposes effectively and efficiently.
Capabilities that HTX will Build for Home Team
5. Mr Mohamed Irshad asked about the capabilities that HTX will build.
6. There will be a range. Besides transforming emergency response and enabling new clearance concepts, HTX will also develop forensic solutions to enhance investigations. For example, HTX scientists will conduct leading-edge research into the forensic analysis of suspected drug compounds. Advances in DNA forensics will boost Police’s capability to generate leads for criminal investigations. Digital forensics and tackling cybercrime is another area of focus for HTX.
7. Dr Chia Shi-Lu asked about countering biological threats. The detection and handling of chemical, biological or radiological materials is an important area for HTX. HTX will work with SCDF and related agencies such as the National Environment Agency, to develop sensor systems to detect such materials, and the capability to effectively respond to incidents involving hazardous materials.
8. These unique capabilities demonstrate why MHA is setting up HTX instead of leveraging on other existing agencies like DSTA, DSO or GovTech. The mission, operating environment and requirements of these agencies are different from those of the Home Team. Technological solutions and applications need to be customised or in some cases built organically. There is enough scale within the Home Team to merit a dedicated science and technology agency, give specific focus on areas that would otherwise remain ancillary. This is the nature of things. If you do not put it as the focus of a particular dedicated agency, then you must run the risk that these are ancillary to other agencies. Then it will be a question mark whether you can build up sufficient capabilities in a short time to counter the challenges. I think that is an important point to make because if we were not to be able to plug the gaps that we identified, it actually is a disservice to Singaporeans who obviously expect us to be up to speed, up to mark in all of these areas that we face threats in. But I must stress that the agencies, even though they are dedicated and separate, they do not operate in silos.They do cooperate very closely with one another and later on I will also give some examples.
Clarifications on the Bill
9. Sir, allow me to now answer specific questions on the Bill’s provisions.
10. Mr Patrick Tay asked who HTX will be accountable to. HTX is a statutory board under the Ministry of Home Affairs. As such, the Minister for Home Affairs has overall responsibility for the agency. The Minister is in turn accountable to the Cabinet and to Parliament. On Dr Chia Shi-Lu’s specific question about accountability for budgeting as well as utilisation, the same parliamentary and audit processes that apply to all Government statutory boards will apply to HTX as well. So for example, the Estimates Committee, which consists of Members of Parliament, poses tough questions on the Ministries’ utilisation of Budget. HTX will be subjected to the same discipline.
11. Mr Tay also asked about the classification of HTX services as an essential service under the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act, (CLTPA). Now, as the work carried out by HTX officers directly contributes to national safety and security, we have classified the science and technological services provided by HTX as an essential service under CLTPA. This is the same as services provided by the Home Team, which are also deemed as essential services. HTX employees, are however, not Home Affairs Uniform Scheme officers. They will therefore be allowed to join the unions.
12. Mr Tay asked about the transfer of employees to the new HTX scheme. The new HTX scheme of service will be introduced in December 2019, when the agency is set up. Clause 46 of the Bill ensures that existing officers on the Home Team Specialist Scheme who are transferred to HTX will enjoy terms no less favourable than those enjoyed by the respective individuals on the eve of transfer. Mr Tay also raised important questions about career prospects as well as how we get the different cultures to work together. It is a Home Team culture to begin with. But the short answer to Mr Tay’s questions on career prospects is that it is certainly in HTX’s own interests to ensure that officers feel motivated and want to give of their best. So I see no reason why HTX’s leadership would want to slacken on this front.
13. Mr Louis Ng had a question about Clause 11 of the Bill which lists the five categories of individuals who are disqualified from serving on HTX’s Board, and why these are different from that of A*Star and DSTA. The categories listed are the same as Statutory Boards that were set up in recent years. This includes GovTech and the Infocomm Media Development Authority, which are both agencies in the technology domain. Statutory boards adopt these categories as a measure of good governance. As for his suggestion to standardise this across all Statutory Boards, we will refer this to the Public Service Division for their consideration.
14. Lastly, Dr Chia Shi-Lu had a question on funding for HTX. The funding for HTX will come from MHA’s block budget, and not from other R&D funding sources. HTX, like other statutory boards, will submit its annual report and accounts to Parliament.
Cybersecurity Risk, Data Governance and Protection
15. Mr Speaker, I now turn to the points raised by Ms Anthea Ong, Ms Rahayu, Mr Louis Ng and Mr Irshad on the topic of data. Specifically, they have queries and suggestions on the collection, sharing, and security of data. All of which are very important.
16. The collection of data will continue to be done by the respective Home Team Departments (HTDs), in accordance with their statutory duties or to maintain their mission-effectiveness. That is something they will have to continue doing. For example, ICA is required by the National Registration Act to collect personal information from residents. Police officers may also ask for a person’s particulars as part of a criminal investigation. It is unlikely that HTX officers will collect any kind of personal data in the course of their duties. I should make this clear.
17. HTX will however play the important role of the safeguarding the Home Team’s IT systems and the data they hold. To support Home Team operations and ensure that our data is well-protected, HTX will run the MHA Security Operations Centre (M.SOC). Operating 24/7, M.SOC will proactively monitor and detect suspicious activities or attempted intrusions into the MHA network. M.SOC will also provide immediate response and investigate into cybersecurity incidents and issues.
18. While we continue to improve data security protocols, the sharing of data between public agencies must also carry on. As Ms Rahayu has pointed out, data and insight sharing across government agencies can lead to better outcomes for citizens. One such example is how Traffic Police shares accident data with the Land Transport Authority (LTA). This helps LTA identify junctions or roads for engineering redesign and enhancements to improve road safety.
19. Ms Ong and Mr Irshad also raised concerns about privacy as we improve our surveillance capability. We are very conscious of the need to protect privacy. In this regard, we have strict protocols in place, to ensure that only officers with proper authorisation can access them. The feedback we have received about POLCAM is that the public feel safer with the cameras. And indeed, in tandem with other Police enforcement efforts, POLCAM has resulted in the sharp reduction of many crimes such as property crimes and unlicensed moneylending harassment. POLCAM footages have also been critical in solving many crimes and locating missing persons.
20. MHA takes its responsibility as a custodian of the data it collects very seriously, and will continue to pay careful attention to this. We will also work closely with GovTech and the Cyber Security Agency to ensure a whole-of government approach to data and cyber security.
21. MHA is currently working together with other government agencies, to review our data security policies and practices as part of the review process under the Public Sector Data Security Review Committee led by Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean. The Committee is currently deliberating on specific measures to improve the data security regime for the Government and will submit a report to the Prime Minister by 30 Nov 2019. The Committee takes the key guiding principle that the Government places utmost importance on its duty to use citizens’ data responsibly and securely. Responsibility, security, are key guiding principles for the Committee. This is very much in line with the spirit of members’ suggestions on how MHA can protect citizens’ data better. I am sure that the Committee will also take into consideration your specific concerns and suggestions and we will certainly raise them in our discussions with the Committee.
22. But if I may paraphrase Ms Jessica Tan, we must also, at the same time as being cautious, not become paralysed by fear. If we do not try to use data responsibly and securely, for good purposes then we will also never learn, and that would be a missed opportunity.
HTX S&T Talent Attraction and Development Strategy
23. Ms Tan spoke about HTX’s future success being contingent on its ability to attract and develop S&T talent. We agree fully. The key determinant of HTX’s success will be the quality of its people. That is why HTX will have a two-fold human resources strategy – first, developing the existing pool of officers, and second, attracting new talent to join the agency.
24. I spoke about how HTX will start off with about 1,300 officers brought together from the different HTDs. Mr Patrick Tay has asked about the establishment. That I think is something that is still evolving because the agency is new. The agency has to decide on its priorities and what the focus will be for the next couple of years. It will not be too late to establish the sizing and the type of people we will need when these priorities are firmly established. We have started investing in the resources to further the professional development of our existing officers for a start.
25. This year, MHA has rolled out a new sponsorship programme for officers to take up more advanced degrees and professional certification. We must maximise the talent and potential of our officers, through continuous learning and upskilling.
26. To Mr Chris de Souza’s point on the benefits of consolidating of S&T expertise, setting up HTX will indeed mean better career progression for Home Team scientists and engineers. A dedicated agency such as HTX can offer multiple routes of advancement for STEM talent, whether it’s leading research teams, managing projects or leadership positions, as compared to if they remained within individual HTDs.
27. Besides developing existing officers, HTX will also be recruiting STEM talent in the next few years. This is in line with MHA’s increased investment in S&T capabilities, which is projected to go up to $1.9B annually by 2025. Attractive scholarships will be introduced to groom future STEM leaders. Mid-career professionals with the right training, skills and aptitude will also be recruited to augment our talent pool. There may be some specific areas for which we may not have local expertise, and thus may need to source for them internationally. But I do not expect this to be very large.
28. For young Singaporeans taking up studies in STEM, I think it’s a very exciting future for them. The establishment of HTX will add to the range of meaningful careers that they can take part in Singapore so that they can be at the leading edge of developing technology solutions to keep our nation safe.
HTX in Wider Science and Technology Ecosystem
29. Members like Mr de Souza and Dr Chia, also raised questions on how the new HTX agency will work within the broader S&T eco-system. Singapore today has a vibrant network of S&T actors, thanks in part to Singapore’s investment in S&T over the decades. Not only are there established multi-national corporations, we also have many innovative start-ups.
30. HTX intends to fully tap on this rich environment. Over the years, MHA has built strong collaborative relationships with key industry partners. Public-private co-creation through innovation trials have led to the development of new capabilities. SCDF’s iconic light fire attack vehicle, popularly known as the Red Rhino, is now in its 6th version. The vehicle’s evolution into an essential fire-fighting platform is the result of the sharing of ideas and experimentation with a local company Hope Technik from the time it was quite a modest start-up. Partnership with the private sector will continue to be a mainstay of MHA’s capability development efforts.
31. Mr Irshad will be glad to know that HTX will also partner other public sector S&T agencies, such as GovTech, DSTA and DSO, to name a few.
32. For example, HTX will coordinate and work closely with DSTA. In areas where DSTA has deep expertise and experience, such as Command, Control and Communications (C3) systems and Marine systems, HTX and HTDs will continue to tap on DSTA.
33. I would also like to thank Mr de Souza for his suggestion that HTX share with other agencies as well as private companies. HTX will share its expertise and capabilities with agencies which have similar needs to the Home Team. For example, forensics and sense-making solutions can be used by other agencies with enforcement functions like the Corrupt Practices Investigations Bureau (CPIB) and Singapore Customs. As for the private companies, where the opportunities present themselves, we will keep an open mind.
34. Sir, I would like to conclude by thanking the Members for their questions and suggestions. The strong interest in HTX shows this House’s support for the Home Team, and the hard work they put in to keep Singapore safe and secure. The creation of HTX as a force multiplier for the Home Team ensures we remain mission-effective in the face of future challenges. And I am confident HTX will deliver on its promise as the multiplier to transform the Home Team through greater use of S&T.
35. Mr Speaker Sir, with the support of the House, I beg to move.