Home Team Promotion Ceremony 2022 - Speech by Mr K Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law

Published: 24 May 2022

Home Team Colleagues,

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,


1.   Good evening.

2.   It is good to come back together after two years of holding this ceremony online to see so many people in one room.

3.   As we come back, I thank all our officers for the work that you have put in in the fight against COVID-19 over the past two years.

4.   And coming to today’s event, more than 7,000 of our HT officers will be promoted this year. Includes uniformed officers, civilian officers, National Servicemen, and our volunteers. So, first of all, congratulations to all our officers who are being promoted.

5.   You have worked hard. Everyone has worked hard. You know, not everyone can be promoted each year. But everyone I think, has pulled together. Where the Home Team is today, is because of the efforts of everyone, and we recognise that.

6.   The Home Team, as a whole, I am happy to say, did very well in 2021. Operational excellence levels were very high. Legislation in Parliament - we passed major Bills. And, we continued to build a highly engaged organisation.

7.   We also continue to look to the future. We invest heavily in technology. I speak about it frequently.

8.   Today, I will touch very briefly on Technology before I move to the main topic of this speech, which is Trust. Trust between our officers, and trust between the public and our Home Team.

Technology in the Home Team

9.   So, first on technology. As all of you know, it is a priority for us.

10.   I don’t intend to go through each item, I just want to show it in a slide, in a summary way, some of the changes over the last few years.

11.   You see the next-generation Fast Response Cars, drones, the Operational Medical Networks Informatics Integrator (OMNII), Multi-Modal Biometrics System, cargo clearance on-the-fly, self-help Police kiosks, Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) Mobile Diary, electronic visit pass, EMS 2.0, and video analytics.

12.   And you would have seen, I hope, some substantive changes across the Home Team – Police, Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA), Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), Prisons, CNB, and others.

13.   Prisons has been using video analytics as part of the “Prison Without Guards” strategy, to pick up abnormal behaviour in prison cells.

14.   CNB has introduced its Mobile Diary, to improve the on-site, on-scene documentation of case and exhibit details.

15.   ICA is introducing its Automated Clearance Initiative this year to increase the usage of automated clearance facilities for travellers, including foreign visitors.

16.   And we set up HTX in end-2019 to really support the different parts of the Home Team, to deepen our expertise in technology.

17.   We will continue to push on with transformation efforts, and increased use of technology. And another slide will show some of the programmes that we will roll out in the upcoming years, across the Home Team.

18.   We will expand the PolCam network, we have a livestreaming of incidents while on emergency calls, the Electronic Nose (e-Nose), smart wearables, the SHARE mobile app which has self-help features for supervisees, the Artificial Intelligence (AI) to assist analysts, Automated Clearance Initiative, iSMART for conveyance, storage of documents, M.A.T.A.R. – our Multi-purpose All-Terrain Autonomous Robots, and XENTINEL which is to detect and interdict drones.

19.   By 2025, SCDF will implement a real-time 24/7 nationwide sensor grid – we call it e-Nose – which will allow early detection of and response to hazardous materials.

20.   By 2030, Police will expand its camera network to more than 200,000 cameras. Really to improve our ability to deal with and respond to crimes.

21.   And much more, including DNA and so on, which I’ve spoken about.

22.   So, you will see continuous change. We will keep pushing on. We will challenge ourselves and push the boundaries.


23.   Let me now move on to the main topic and key focus of my speech today, which is Trust.

24.   Now, trust in an organisation – whether you talk about the Home Team, the Government, Ministry Headquarters (HQ), any Ministry or organisation, public sector or private sector – trust within the organisation, trust by the people it deals with, is absolutely essential for the system to function effectively.

25.   Let me start with quoting George Shultz – great man, former United States Secretary of State. He said:

“Trust is fundamental, reciprocal and, ideally, pervasive.

If it is present, anything is possible. If it is absent, nothing is possible.

The best leaders trust their followers with the truth, and you know what happens as a result?

Their followers trust them back.”

26.   If there is no trust, as Shultz says, nothing is possible. For us, what that means is, we cannot govern well – you cannot do your duties, you cannot do your work, and we won’t be able to take long-term measures, or for example, manage the COVID-19 crisis.

27.   Now, there are two major components to trust. I spend a bit of time on this because I think it is a bedrock for everything we’re able to do as a Home Team agency, and it is fundamental as leaders that we understand this, and that we understand the importance of this.

(1)   There is Public Trust, including

•   Trust in the Government
•   Trust in Institutions
•   Trust in the Home Team, Police, SCDF, Prisons etc.

(2)   And there is Internal Trust – whether our employees trust the organisation and each other.

28.   Public trust and internal trust - both are important.

29.   Now, if you look at public trust, what we look at is independent surveys, we look at the Edelman Trust Barometer for 2022 which found that 74% in Singapore trust the Government to do what is right. We rank higher than many developed countries - US, the UK, Canada, France, Australia, and Japan. 

30.   We look at a 2021 IPS study - high levels of confidence in the Government and in State Institutions. About 80% or more have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the Government, the Courts, the Civil Service, and the Police.

31.   The SPF’s Public Perception Survey last year also shows that public trust in the SPF is at about 96% - very high.

32.   We are in a good position. Public trust and confidence in the Government, in our institutions, in Home Team agencies, is very high and has been consistent over the years. 

33.   Internally, if you look at the Employee Engagement Surveys (EES), MHA’s overall engagement to the organisation score remained high - improved by two percentage points from the previous results in 2018. And I give the credit to our permanent secretary who has been instrumental in pushing our EES and pushing our Home Team leaders to look at it. And the fact that this is important organisationally is emphasised, so that everyone takes it seriously. To get the right results, you’ve got to create an organisational culture that encourages your employees to be positive. So it has a very significant impact on the organisation.

34.   Staff appreciation of the leadership has also improved, by a significant five percentage points. That shows how our officers perceive our Home Team leaders’ effectiveness in leading them to achieve organisational outcomes and care for their well-being. Ground staff trust their leaders. That trust is going up, in the right direction.

35.   This high public trust in the Home Team and the high internal trust within the Home Team gives us a great deal of power, with responsibility. It gives us flexibility. It allows us to take measures, and make decisions in the longer term, and in the public interest, even if in the short term, they may be unpopular. We do what is right. There may be complaints but the substantial public and mainstream largely understand. They believe that we are likely to do what is right, and they are prepared to support us and wait for the results. But if we abuse the trust, over time, then our ability to put out measures will be reduced.

36.   And our own employees internally, our ground officers understand this. They know that when HQ and agencies roll out policies: they trust that we are doing things in the public interest, and they know that they are supported in the discharge of their duties. That is also important. Because if there is no trust amongst our own officers, the organisation will become dysfunctional. How do you stay effective, accomplish the mission? Our own officers are easy targets for attacks.

37.   How do we continue to make sure this virtuous cycle remains?

(1)   You start with a clear framework of laws: which give our agencies the power to act, and not hamstring them. Clear powers and powers to be effective, and the support to be effective, and the resources to achieve their objectives.

(2)   And you need at the top: Political leadership that is firm and fair, and sets the direction, backs up our agencies publicly and gives the leadership support, but also prepared to take action internally, when mistakes are made. Because if there is no will to do that, over time, the organisation will be degraded.

(3)   And third: Across the agencies: officers are well trained, disciplined, who know they will be backed up, as long as they do what is right. If they make genuine mistakes, they are not going to be hung for that.

Illustrations - Covid-19 Situation

38.   Now, these are points that people can understand. But I will ask your indulgence for me to get into some detail by giving you reference to real world situations. A few days ago, an article caught my eye in the New York Times. It was about how COVID-19 was handled in the US compared to how it was handled in Australia. And what struck me about the article is not all the political arguments, and who got it right and who got it wrong, but that the key difference was really trust. That point can apply to every organisation, small or large. And in that context also, how/what the political leadership says and does can affect countries and organisations.  

39.   Let me first of all set out a slide which summarises what the 15 May New York Times article said about some of the statistics.

40.   The USA vs Australia - COVID-19 deaths as of May. In the US: one million, more than the number of Americans who died in the first and second world wars combined. More Americans died of COVID-19 than those who died in the First World War and the Second World War. In Australia, the figure is 7,500.

41.   The percentage saying they trusted their healthcare system at the start of the pandemic: 34% in the US, 76% in Australia. You see what trust can do.

42.   Compliance with COVID-19 measures: The estimates are that Australia had a 90% compliance rate on social distancing, testing, tracing, isolation.

43.   Two years into the pandemic - more than 95% of Australians are fully vaccinated, compared with only 66% in the US.

44.   The demographics of the US and Australia are similar. Both have the same median age: 38 years old. Population size and density are very different. Australia is much smaller in terms of population size and the land area is about ¾ the size of the US. But the difference according to the New York Times is not the density. Because when you look at Melbourne, Sydney, and so on, yes Australia is a big land size, but most of the population is in concentrated areas.

45.   Our position is more similar to Australia’s, even though our situation is much more difficult compared to Australia. Because our population median age is not 38. Median age is higher, and we have a significant aged population, more than 65 years old. And of course, population density is not comparable with Australia.

46.   Many in Singapore, understood that sacrifices had to be made, and they complied with the COVID-19 measures. Our death rates remain low. 96% of our eligible population have completed the full regimen of vaccinations. And really, none of this would have been possible, if there was no trust in the Government.

47.   As I say this, I want to say something about the Homefront Crisis Executive Group (HCEG). People saw the Ministerial Taskforce. Beneath the political leadership was the executive leadership – HCEG. If you look what has happened since late February 2020 right up to earlier this year in Singapore, the engine which helped drive the policies was the HCEG – unsung heroes who saved the human cost, which probably in our case, could easily have been more than 60,000, 70,000, 100,000. The HCEG are unsung heroes and even though it is my own permanent secretary – Kin Keong, I think he deserves applause.

48.   If you look at some comments on the human cost in the US, the lost Americans, it is another New York Times article, it has been immense. You can just imagine, one million people. It is a lot.

49.   The starting point is what the political leadership does, they can do a lot of good or damage to trust. If you don’t protect your officials from unjustified attacks, eventually trust in the system will be affected and you see in some other countries, the officials are convenient scapegoats. There hasn’t been a culture like this in Singapore. But that is not the case across the world. When it goes well, the politicians take credit, when it goes wrong, they point to the civil servants. You see that in other places.

50.   So you require people, politicians who are prepared to tackle the problem head-on, be accountable, and take responsibility.

51.   The situation we have of this very high level of trust is also quite bizarre and unique. It doesn’t happen in most countries. It is a unique play of circumstances that come together to create this. If any one part of it is missing, either in terms of political leadership, or the Home Team leadership, or the way people think about the government, it won’t work.

52.   Crime is low, Police solve cases because people by-and-large comply. If a lot of people don’t care and they start committing crimes, you think our rate of solving crimes will be as high as it is? And would there be confidence in the Police force? Someone who has had a brush with things being stolen, or being attacked – would he be less or more likely to trust the Force, or trust the Government? Which is why sadly because trust is so high, sometimes people who don’t like us think that one way of bringing trust down, is to attack the Police and therefore, attack the Government.

53.   So you need strong and trusted set of Home Team leaders, both in the political side as well as in the HQ and in the institutions to set the direction, do the right thing, and upkeep public trust.

54.   The executive level in the Home Team leadership, can also either support or damage the organisation.

55.   Many of you here today are in leadership positions, or you will take up leadership positions in the Home Team.

56.   I said last year: Maintaining public trust and confidence means you have to be prepared to make difficult decisions for the wider public good, even if the decisions are unpopular. Your responsibility as a Home Team leader is to do what is right, regardless whether it is difficult or not difficult.

57.   And also, when there is a mistake, we have to be prepared to own up and correct them and excise, cut out any infection, and stop the spread.

58.   At the same time, not scapegoat officers if there are genuine mistakes made. People make mistakes. No one is perfect. Your role is to upkeep the morale and encourage your fellow officers.

59.   You look at the UK Metropolitan Police. It is facing intense public scrutiny. Recent events have severely impacted public trust, and raised questions about its leadership and culture. One of the incidents was the murder of a young lady called Sarah Everard. The murderer was a serving Metropolitan Police officer. He was allegedly linked to two indecent exposure incidents in February 2021, and a flashing incident in 2015. The question immediately arises – was he investigated properly? Was he dealt with?

60.   Many of us here know the Metropolitan Police. It is one of the largest, and well-known Police forces in the world. You know its history - the first modern police force. We ourselves have learnt much from them.

61.   Before we criticise them for specific incidents, you ask yourself. To me, the chief difficulties that the Metropolitan police face is really the environment they are operating in. What do I mean? First, the operating environment is not wholly supportive because you got the media, the left, the right, everybody is criticising somebody in authority. And the legal framework in the UK is such that the Police has to run through a series of hurdles to get a conviction. Crime rate goes up, because of the difficulty convicting people who run organised crime groups. And crime rate is up, morale goes down and police get blamed, but how did that situation arise in the first place?

62.   So we are fortunate. Our population is largely law-abiding. Our laws are strict and there is strong public support for keeping the laws strict and enforcing them. And there is strong political support at the top for our Police and our Home Team institutions. We take a no-nonsense approach, and we publicly articulate the support.

63.   This is a virtuous cycle. So, as long as that continues, we will be in a good situation. And your role as a Home Team leader, you can’t necessarily control the political leadership or legal environment. But you can control your own organisation, and your part.


64.   So we count on all of you to lead the Home Team through these challenges, together.

65.   I think if we keep these factors constant, I am confident that we can continue to keep Singapore safe and secure, do our mission.

66.   Thank you once again for your contributions, and congratulations to all those who have been promoted.

67.   Thank you.