Published: 08 January 2018
1. Mr. Deputy Speaker, I thank the members who have spoken in support of the Bill. They raised many useful points which I shall try to address.
A. Integrated Checkpoints Command (ICC)
2. Several MPs asked about the Integrated Checkpoints Command or ICC. Dr. Fatimah Lateef asked for a further elaboration of the ICC concept, and how the Bill will enhance Singapore's preparedness for emergencies. Mr. Patrick Tay asked how the Bill will impact the lines of responsibilities across the various Home Team agencies working at the checkpoints.
3. Under the ICC, the checkpoints are clustered into three domains, namely the Land Domain, Sea Domain, and the Air Domain, which were progressively launched in 2015.
4. An ICA Domain Commander now helms all Home Team (HT) operations in each of the three domains. And so we have a unified command structure under a single commander. And with this, the lines of responsibility as well as accountability are very clear, and these will help in ensuring the security and operations in each domain are properly taken care of. And by doing so, we have also strengthened the co-ordination amongst the officers from the various Home Team departments deployed at the checkpoints because there is a unified command structure.
5. Another potential benefit of the ICC is in joint operations as compared to operations mounted separately by each Home Team Department. In fact, it did not take long for this particular benefit to be realised. In 2016, a joint operation at Woodlands Checkpoint detected four male Indonesian travellers who had plans to enter Singapore to make their way to Syria to fight for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The timely sharing of information and exchange of analysis made the critical difference. The subjects were eventually repatriated to Batam and handed over to the Indonesian counter-terrorism unit.
6. Dr. Fatimah Lateef also asked about the coordination between ICA officers at the various checkpoints, and how prepared we are for a planned multi-site incident.
7. Any terrorist incident involving multiple checkpoints will be coordinated by the Police. This is, again, clear. The Home Team has developed joint operation plans for such scenarios and we have been exercising them. Some of these exercises were publicised earlier, for example:
B. Enhanced Powers for ICA Officers within or in the Vicinity of Authorised Areas
B1. Equipping ICA Officers to exercising the enhanced powers
8. Now, all MPs who have spoken felt it was important for the ICA officers to be properly trained to exercise these enhanced powers. And I fully agree.
9. Before I outline our training approach, let me clarify what is expected of the ICA officers under this Bill, something which Mr. Christopher De Souza had also talked about. Now, the ICA officers are not expected to become Police Officers. What this Bill seeks to do, is to empower ICA officers, who are usually the majority at the checkpoints, to respond to security incidents within and in the vicinity of the checkpoint. This will further enhance the ICC concept, where the nearest Home Team officer to a security incident at the checkpoint will be a first responder acting swiftly to mitigate the situation instead of waiting for the Police officers to arrive.
10. Once the Police officers arrive at the scene, there is a clear understanding that they will take over the management and investigation of the incident, including the recording of statements from arrested persons, and working with the AGC to prosecute the person in Court. The training for ICA officers is therefore designed specifically for them to be the first responders rather than full-fledged Police officers.
11. With this consideration in mind, ICA has been working with the SPF to develop appropriate training courses for ICA officers. We need courses for newly appointed as well as current serving officers who are selected to perform protective security functions. There are modules on the legislative provisions, the management of protective security incidents, interview skills and search techniques. Classroom training is also complemented by on-the-job training with Police Officers serving as coaches, a point which addresses Mr Desmond Choo's observation that the Police officers have much they can share to help the ICA colleagues get up to speed.
12. In addition, ICA officers will join Police officers for relevant courses such as the Public Security First Responder Training, where officers are given tactical movement training to augment their existing competencies in firearms.
13. ICA officers will be assessed to a similar standard as Police officers in these areas before they are deployed for protective security duties.
14. Today, more than 900 ICA officers have undergone the training and ICA will progressively cover all those selected for protective security duties. All new ICA officers will also undergo the training to equip them to operate effectively at the ICC.
15. Besides training, ICA will issue guidelines and directives to the officers on the proper exercise of their enhanced powers, similar to directives and orders governing Police officers today. This is something Mr Louis Ng asked about.
16. Dr. Fatimah Lateef also asked if ICA officers will be prepared psychologically for their enhanced roles.
17. Now, during their basic training, ICA recruits already undergo psychological training to boost their resilience and prepare them for the challenges in their work. Frontline supervisors are trained on how to look out for distressed officers and to provide support. At the same time, selected ICA officers are trained as para-counsellors to look out for and support their fellow colleagues. The officers are further supported by the ICA Psychological Services Branch, which provides staff counselling services
18. As part of the ICC training programmes, ICA officers will be exposed to challenging situations that they may face in the course of their duty, and trained on how to respond. These range from managing security incidents such as a traveller attempting to dash through without immigration clearance to dealing with possible bomb threats. Scenario-based trainings, along with on-the-job training with Police officers will help to prepare ICA officers for their new roles.
19. Mr. Desmond Choo asked if ICA officers and Police officers are provided with training on soft-skills, in particular on "cultural intelligence".
20. As part of their training, ICA and Police officers learn how to manage members of the public in a professional and tactful manner. Officers are trained to be mindful and sensitive towards cultural differences when interacting with members of the public. This is reinforced through in-service training, and reminders on the job.
21. The very nature of ICA's work at the checkpoints involves interactions with people from all nationalities. Our officers have generally done well, with our security-focused, service-conscious approach. ICA officers deployed at Changi Airport also undergo a programme to further equip them with skills to deliver, to be part of the "Changi Experience" for travellers.
B2. Powers of Detention
22. Let me now deal with Mr. Louis Ng's question on why it is necessary to allow ICA officers to detain suspects for up to 24 hours.
23. To be clear, the intent is to minimise the time ICA officers will detain an individual before handing him over to Police officers. This is why the new Section 51AA(12)(a) in Clause 4 requires the ICA officer to immediately inform a Police officer of the arrest. However, there may be instances where the Police needs more time to take over custody of the person, such as during major emergencies. To cater to such circumstances, the provision allows an ICA officer to detain the person for up to 24 hours.
24. Mr. Saktiandi Supaat has asked whether it was necessary for the ICA officer to hand over an accused to the Police immediately, and if ICA officers can perform the required investigations instead to free up Police resources.
25. As I have explained earlier, the intention is not for ICA officers to take over Police's duties, and Police officers are still best placed to carry out post-incident investigations.
B3. Safeguards Relating to Powers of Examination for ICA Officers
26. Mr. Louis Ng spoke about the need for safeguards when ICA officers take statements under the new Section 51AA. He pointed out that the provisions of Section 51AA (6) and (7) were similar to Section 22 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC), but unlike Section 23 of the CPC.
27. I would like to clarify that under Section 22 of the CPC, a statement can be recorded from any persons acquainted with the facts of a case; and this could include witnesses as well as suspects. As for Section 23 of the CPC, the statement is recorded from an individual after he or she has been charged with an offence and will be prosecuted in Court. So there are material differences between the two types of statements provided for under the different sections in the CPC.
28. The intent behind providing ICA officers with the powers of examination under the new Section 51AA of the Bill is to allow ICA officers to conduct preliminary fact-finding and checks during or immediately after an incident. On this basis, the new Section 51AA (5) to (7) of the Bill is modelled after Section 22 of the CPC rather than Section 23. As to the admissibility of such statements, existing case laws interpreting Section 22 of the CPC will similarly apply and be followed by the Courts.
29. If I may reiterate, post-incident investigations, including the recording of statements under Section 23 of the CPC and prosecution of individuals in court, remain the responsibility of the Police. After ICA officers hand over the accused person to the Police, the investigation processes as well as the safeguards will be no different from today's processes.
B4. Reasonableness in effecting Arrest
30. Ms Thanaletchimi asked what it means for ICA officers to use reasonable force within the new Section 51AA (10) (b) to make an arrest.
31. The usage of the term "reasonable" can also be found in Section 75 of the CPC, which is applicable to Police officers and from which this new Section is adapted. Generally speaking, reasonableness will entail using only as much force as is appropriate to effect arrest, and one that is proportional to the level of perceived threat. For example, officers should not use firearms to shoot an unarmed person who may be trying to evade arrest. It would not be proportional.
32. As I explained earlier, ICA officers will be trained to use their enhanced powers appropriately, which of course include the proper use of force.
B5. Salaries, Career Progression for ICA Officers
33. Mr. Patrick Tay asked if the salaries of ICA officers will be adjusted to take into account the additional duties that they are expected to perform. Ms Thanaletchimi also asked if the career progression for ICA officers will be enhanced.
34. MHA regularly reviews the salaries of Home Team officers, including ICA and Police officers to ensure that they remain competitive, taking into account the job demands, the risks as well as specialised skills requirements. And I assure Mr Tay that it is in our interest to assess these factors holistically, and whether any expansion of duties or work conditions warrant adjustments, so that the officers are reasonably remunerated whatever the roles they perform, and we continue to be able to retain them.
35. Similarly, the career progression paths for ICA officers are regularly reviewed. As recently as July last year, a new scheme was introduced to provide officers with a more seamless progression into the senior ranks. And we will continue to keep these schemes of service updated.
B6. Protection of ICA Officers and Workplace Insurance
36. Ms Thanaletchimi asked if ICA officers will be better protected against complaints and legal actions from suspects who had been restrained by ICA officers.
37. There are existing mechanisms within the Home Team Departments to investigate complaints or allegations of misconduct. And officers are empowered to carry out their duties without fear as long as they act in good faith and in accordance with established protocols.
38. Where insurance is concerned, ICA officers enjoy the same coverage as all other Home Team officers such as the Police. And all officers who sustain injuries during the course of work will have their medical expenses fully covered when they receive treatment at government or restructured hospitals.
C. Transit Security Screening
C1. Data Sharing and Cross Border Collaboration for Transit Passengers Screening
39. Let me turn now to Transit Security Screening. Mr. De Souza spoke about the importance of transit passenger screening, and emphasised the need to handle data collected with care. Ms Thanaletchimi also asked how data collected from the screening will be shared, and if there are cross-border collaborations to optimise data-use and information.
40. Transit passengers are currently not required to present themselves for immigration clearance. The screening of transit passengers will thus allow ICA to detect travellers of interest, or those who may be using stolen or lost passports. That is why we need personal identifiers.
41. There are existing provisions in the Immigration Act that enable the sharing of information with law enforcement agencies and other agencies for the purposes of investigations, and for the prevention and detection of threats. But there are also strict protocols governing the sharing of information and safekeeping of data, and they will continue to apply.
42. On cross-border collaboration, passport information of selected transit passengers will be screened against the Stolen and Lost Travel Documents database, which is an international database administered by INTERPOL. And as Mr De Souza informed us, that database is a long one, has 38 million entries, and we will screen selectively against this database.
C2. Minimising inconvenience to Transit Passengers
43. Mr. Desmond Choo asked what measures will be taken to ensure that inconveniences to transit passengers can be minimised even as we step up security measures.
44. In introducing transit security screening, MHA and ICA worked closely with MOT, CAAS, CAG as well as airlines to minimise the impact on passengers. We conducted field trials to test the procedures and those resulted in several process refinements which were very useful. We assess that the minimum connecting times that can be maintained for most of the instances will remain unchanged. We are also working with CAG on protocols to clear passengers with very short connecting times.
D. Clarifications on Other Areas
D1. Involvement of Citizens
45. Ms Thanaletchimi asked how members of the public can also play their part to identify and report potential or possible threats. I really want to thank her for raising this very important point about citizens' active participation, because that can be a crucial difference in ensuring Singapore's security.
46. We started the SGSecure movement in 2016 precisely to raise public awareness of the threats we face, and to increase their level of preparedness in the event of a terror attack in Singapore.
47. Members of the public can certainly play their part in identifying potential threats in their neighbourhoods or surroundings. At the checkpoints, they should not hesitate to inform the ICA officers and the Police if they come across anything suspicious. Members of the public can also report suspicious activities to the authorities via the SGSecure app, and I am glad to say that we regularly get such alerts.
48. Mr. Deputy Speaker, I hope I have addressed our MPs' questions and concerns.
49. In conclusion, the Immigration (Amendment) Bill will strengthen the security of our checkpoints, by enhancing the overall operational effectiveness of the Integrated Checkpoints Command.
50. With the support of the House, Mr Deputy Speaker, I beg to move.