ICA SG50 Pioneer Appreciation Dinner - Speech by Mr Desmond Lee, Senior Minister of State, Ministry Of Home Affairs and Ministry of National Development

Published: 22 October 2015

Pioneers of ICA

Home Team colleagues

Ladies and gentlemen


Good evening.

I am happy to be here with you on this special evening to honour our ICA Pioneers and their family members who have played a crucial role in building the foundation of the ICA that we know today.


History of ICA


2.     ICA was established on 1 April 2003 following the merger of the Singapore Immigration & Registration (SIR) and the border control functions of the Customs & Excise Department (CED). The ICA journey has not been without its challenges. As we all know, it is not an easy task to bring together and harmonise two organisations with different backgrounds, authority structures, cultures, uniforms and operating norms. However, thanks to the fortitude and resilience of our Pioneer leaders such as Mr Koh Chong Hwa and Ms Ho Sow Heng, ICA overcame these challenges and is now a cohesive organisation united behind a single purpose and with a single, dedicated mission.  


3.     Mr Koh Chong Hwa, the former Director-General of CED, had less than four months to prepare for the cross over to ICA. He swiftly set up working committees within the CED to look at areas which were to be transferred to ICA, including staffing and finances. As for Ms Ho Sow Heng, then Director Policy of SIR, who also happens to be one of our first female immigration officers, she personally engaged her officers to get their buy-in for the merger and to allay their apprehension.


4.     ICA faced its first national crisis shortly after it was formed in 2003, with the onslaught of SARS. Like a newly-wed, match-made couple, SIR and CED officers had to quickly overcome their unfamiliarity with each other and with their new role, to carry out their mission effectively.  ICA Pioneer, Mr Ismail Batcha, was stationed at the Changi Airport then. As a team leader, he took on the additional responsibility of caring for and assuring his officers, who were worried about contracting SARS from travellers.


5.     As clichéd as it may sound, in the face of adversity, ICA emerged stronger, and became a cohesive unit, bonded by a common identity and purpose.


ICA's Transformation


6.     ICA has grown from strength-to-strength to establish itself as a global leader in border security and identification, even clinching the coveted Singapore Quality Award with Special Commendation just last week, on 14 October 2015. Congratulations!


7.     These successes would not have been possible without the strong foundation laid by our ICA Pioneers.


8.     Back in the 1970s and 1980s, immigration offenders posed law and order problems. Following amnesty exercises in 1989 to allow immigration offenders to surrender and voluntarily return to their home country, almost 12,000[1] of them surrendered and were repatriated. Our Pioneers worked tirelessly over long hours, conducting frantic documentation to verify their identities and register them. They also collaborated with foreign embassies and other Home Team Departments to make arrangements for temporary accommodation and travel documents for these offenders.


9.     Our enforcement and robust immigration laws were effective in clamping down on immigration offenders. Today, our streets are free of illegal immigrants and the number of immigration offenders arrested each year has been on a downward trend, averaging 2,380 [2] for the past three years, or between six to seven detected per day.


10.     In the 1990s, a number of ICA relocations and infrastructural expansions took place. These included the opening of the Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal in August 1995 and the Tuas Checkpoint in January 1998 as well as the relocation of Woodlands Checkpoint in July 1999. These developments improved ICA's border control capabilities. Our Pioneers adapted well to these changes. They adjusted their mindset and equipped themselves with the necessary skillsets to perform their border security functions effectively.  


11.     Several changes also took place on the national registration front. A nationwide national Identity Card (IC) conversion exercise took place in June 1991, lasting over a five-year period. The exercise saw the replacement of paper ICs with highly-durable polycarbonate material with security features to prevent forgery. Our Pioneers played an important role in ensuring that the conversion exercise ran smoothly. They came up with a well-structured plan and engaged grassroots and residents committees. A home service was introduced for the bed-ridden to register their new ICs in October 1992. A team was also deployed to Pulau Ubin in December 1993 to facilitate the re-registration of the residents there.


12.     In addition, ICA Pioneers developed the One-Stop Change of Address Reporting Service (OSCAR), which allows the timely sharing of residents' change of address among relevant government agencies.


Building on the Present, Fulfilling our Aspirations for the Future


13.     The operating environment will become increasingly complex for ICA, with new emerging threats. For example, upcoming facilities such as Changi Airport's Terminal 4, the Rapid Transit System between Johor Bahru and Singapore, and the High-Speed Rail between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, will mean inevitable growth in traveller volume across our borders. To handle these challenges, the current generation of ICA officers must constantly review our operating framework to ensure relevance. I am heartened to note that ICA has implemented bold measures to ensure it remains nimble.    


14.     This year, ICA operationalised the Integrated Checkpoints Command (ICC), which strengthens coordination among Home Team agencies under a single unified command and control structure. This enhances the security of the checkpoints and allows checkpoint officers to react more quickly and effectively to incidents.


15.     ICA also regularly updates its checkpoint processes to ensure future-readiness. For instance, ICA has been actively expanding its biometric capabilities to ensure efficient and secure clearance. This allows the re-deployment of resources to focus on high-risk travellers. Moving forward, ICA is working towards capturing the fingerprints of all travellers upon arrival across all checkpoints. The fingerprints are used to verify a traveller's identity before he is allowed entry and will facilitate automated self-clearance during his departure.



16.     Even as ICA moves forward with bold approaches, you must continue to leverage your strong partnerships with your stakeholders, including community partners, to achieve your mission. I urge all Pioneers to continue to remain connected with ICA and to contribute to the Home Team in different roles and capacities. For instance, with your vast experience and knowledge, you would be best suited to be ICA Ambassadors, who help to explain ICA policies to the public.


17.     We salute you, our ICA Pioneers, for your sacrifices and contributions in building up the ICA that we are so proud of today. To show our appreciation, each invited Pioneer will receive a specially-commissioned Home Team SG 50 medallion. This is a small token of the Home Team's gratitude for your loyal and dedicated service to ICA and Singapore. Thank you, ICA Pioneers!




[1] Paper on Immigration Offender Situation in Singapore presented during ICA-Ministerial Meeting, 21 March 2012