Published: 20 October 2019
Senior Parliamentary Secretary Amrin Amin,
Members of the Home Team Boards, Councils and Committees,
Home Team colleagues.
1. I can’t tell you how much of a pleasure it is to join you this afternoon. I believe you can sense that the energy in the room is a very warm and enthusiastic one. That really reflects the kind of passion and commitment that each and every one of you bring to the Home Team Boards, Councils and Committees (BCCs), to find some way to serve the purposes of law and order in Singapore in your own ways, and to help us make progress as a country.
2. So, it is a simple gesture of a lunch. We do this annually. Behind this gesture is the remarkable energy and commitment that each one of you brings. As a result of that, there is also the deep gratitude and sense of appreciation that all of us in the Home Team have towards you. Thank you so much.
3. There are many familiar faces, but I also met a couple who have said: “Oh, I’m pretty new to this - only five years.” We hope that it won’t be just five years. As you will observe for yourselves later, we have people who have been serving for as long as 50 years! So five years is just the start.
Maintaining Trust in the Home Team
4. If you look at the whole Home Team family, we are very proud to say that we have 41 Boards, Councils and Committees. If you put all of the members together, we have about 450.
5. Now, 450, no matter how you look at it, it’s not such a big number. But if you think about the time and you think about the quality of the inputs that our members provide – sometimes not directly only through a particular Board, Council or Committee, – if you put all of that together, I think the impact goes far beyond the simple number of 450.
6. Each of the Board, Council or Committee helps the Home Team to achieve our mission in different but complementary ways. Each one of you brings something to the table – your expertise from your various professional fields. But I think, most important of all, is your passion for Singapore.
7. Beyond your specific roles, your work is also key in building and maintaining something very valuable, something that you cannot put a number to, something that you cannot easily quantify – and that is the public trust in the Home Team.
8. Trust has been, and will continue to be a critical enabler for the Home Team. We only need to look at other countries where trust has broken down. We can see clearly that for the Home Team to effectively carry out enforcement operations or to implement sometimes not-so-popular policies, the Home Team must have the trust of the public.
9. Fortunately, over the years, we have been able to build up and sustain a high level of trust in the Home Team.
10. We do regular surveys and in the 2018 Home Team Public Perception Survey, 90 per cent of respondents said that they trusted Home Team officers to perform their duties objectively, with integrity, and they had faith in our ability to manage national crises. 90 per cent – that’s a vast majority, that’s actually a very high level of confidence.
11. The Singapore Police Force (SPF) also did a Public Perception Survey and the findings were consistent. Also about 90 per cent of the respondents said that they had a high level of trust in the SPF. Around 90 per cent viewed Police officers positively and agreed that Police officers are well-trained for their jobs and are effective in fighting crime. This is something we have gotten used to in Singapore. Those of us who travel for work, or for leisure, will appreciate that this is not the case in many other countries.
12. So this leads us to be quite mindful that although we enjoy a high level of trust today, this trust can also be lost or broken. One incident could be all it takes for us to lose what has been hard-earned over the years. So, we must never take it for granted and we must not be complacent.
13. As members of our Boards, Councils and Committees, you are our important partners in this endeavour. You help to build up and maintain public trust, as well as through your interactions with different stakeholder groups.
14. For example, the National Crime Prevention Council and National Fire and Emergency Preparedness Council provide advice on crime prevention and how to carry out public education as well as fire-safety awareness efforts. These efforts directly help build trust with the community by ensuring that the Home Team is continually working to keep them safe and secure. It is because of your work that we have been able to prevent all of these bad things from happening, and that’s why we can continue to live in peace and harmony. So your work is very important.
15. The Board of Visiting Justices and Board of Inspection make sure that our prison institutions are looking after the inmates’ welfare. There are Boards of Visitors that perform similar roles for the Drug Rehabilitation Centres, Community Rehabilitation Centre and the SPF and SCDF Detention Barracks. Their work provides an important check and balance to ensure that the Singapore Prison Service delivers its mandate of rehabilitating offenders while maintaining secure custody of inmates.
16. There are also those who are involved in reviewing cases and make recommendations on whether individuals should be placed on detention, on police supervision or released from prisons. These include the Criminal Law Advisory Committees, the Home Detention Advisory Committees, the Long Imprisonment Review Board and the Life Imprisonment Review Board.
17. I want to take this opportunity to express my appreciation once again to all of you for the efforts that you put in, and of course, including the time as well.
18. I see that quite a number of you are joining us this afternoon together with your spouses and I saw a number who brought their children. We also want to say thank you to them too, because of the time we have taken away from family so that you can contribute to the community.
Recipients of the Long Service Award
19. Today, as part of our appreciation for your contributions, as well as your family’s support, I’m pleased to be giving out Long Service Awards (LSAs) to 95 recipients. These recipients have served from five years to as long as 50 years.
20. I can only imagine the degree of commitment and perseverance needed to serve 50 years. Now, the person who has served 50 years, he would also be a familiar face to many of us. He has served in a whole range of different Boards, Councils and Committees
21. Join me in giving a big round of applause to Mr Toh Weng Cheong!
22. Mr Toh was first appointed as a member of the Criminal Law Advisory Committee (Hearing) in 1969. He also served on the Citizenship Committee of Inquiry from 1985. Eventually he became the Chairman of the Citizenship Committee of Inquiry before he stepped down in 2010.
23. Today, he is serving as the Chairman of the Criminal Law Review Board which reviews cases of detention that are longer than ten years. Mr Toh is also currently a Member of the Board of Visiting Justices and Board of Inspection.
24. Mr Toh, to all other recipients you are indeed an inspiration. I certainly hope it’s an inspiration to everyone else who is getting your Long Service Award. Thank you very much.
Challenges faced by the Home Team
25. Now, I just wanted to say briefly what some of the challenges are in the Home Team. As Chairpersons and members of our Boards, Councils and Committees, we regard you as members of the broader Home Team community. Some of the threats that we face, I think today would be a good occasion to share with you.
26. An increasing area of concern involves threats to our social cohesion and harmony. We’ve seen events happen around the world, sometimes nearer to home that provide very stark comparisons.
27. Ensuring that our community remains united and harmonious is of course fundamental to maintaining social stability in Singapore. Something we should never take for granted.
28. In particular, as a multi-racial and multi-religious society, we cannot afford to allow any attempt at stirring tensions along racial or religious lines. Such tensions can arise from something as innocuous as a comment or a social media post. We need all Singaporeans to be mindful of the threats. For example, being discerning about potentially divisive or offensive opinions and comments.
29. As part of our efforts to tackle this threat, we recently amended the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act to strengthen the Government’s ability to safeguard against, and respond more effectively to threats to our religious harmony.
30. Some of you may also be aware of our plans to strengthen our legal framework to guard against foreign interference. The aim is to be able to detect and expose foreign interference efforts early, and put in place necessary safeguards and disclosure requirements at all likely entry points of foreign interference.
31. Foreign interference is really not a new phenomenon. Minister Shanmugam spoke about this recently. Countries have tried to influence the policies, mindsets and the actions of other countries throughout time immemorial.
32. Even in Singapore, during the 1970s, the Eastern Sun newspaper received funding from Chinese communist elements to publish articles to sway political attitudes here. The Singapore Herald, some of us will remember, received funding from Southeast Asian elements to push an anti-Government position, such as campaigning against National Service. Today, of course, we think it is kind of strange to campaign against National Service, but back when it started in a very young and newly independent nation, that sort of a campaign was able to find some resonance.
33. Many of these age-old tactics are still in use today, such as using diplomatic channels subversively to interfere with other states, using covert agents of influence, or using the media to influence the opinion of a local population towards a particular topic or issue.
34. However, the tactics employed by foreign actors have evolved, due in large part to the possibilities provided by the Internet. The growth of the Internet and the pervasiveness of social media has made it cheaper, faster and easier for foreign actors to interfere in our domestic politics in a covert and clandestine manner. Very difficult to even identify and, of course, to call out.
35. In particular, we have seen the increasing use of hostile information campaigns which target a country’s population and exploit existing fault-lines to create mistrust between the different communities in the population. In other words, they don’t have to inject new issues to get the population exercised, because in every community, in every society, there are already fault lines. All they have to do is exploit those fault lines.
36. So, if you already had some suspicion or some discomfort with other members of the community, they just need to egg you on, encourage you to believe that what you think is also what many other people think, so that you exist in an echo chamber. They will encourage you to take action based on what you think because a lot of other people also support what you think. These are the very dangerous kinds of hostile information campaigns that operate in very, very, covert ways. Sometimes, you are not even conscious of it because it tags on to a bias that is already existent in your mind. Of course, none of us believe that we are biased and that’s why it is so powerful. We do not think that we are acting on a bias.
37. The consequences of these hostile information campaigns are devastating. Once mistrust is created, this can escalate to protests, conflict, and eventually a loss of faith in the authorities and institutions of the country. Of course, the people who pay the price are members of the community themselves, not these instigators of hostility.
38. We need to take proactive action against hostile information campaigns. The destabilising impact that they can have on a country, as well as their potential for creating tensions along societal fault lines is something that we are always going to be vulnerable to. This makes it an issue of national security - nothing less. Given how quickly hostile information campaigns can take effect, we must ensure that our legal framework is also kept up to date. Therefore, it has to evolve to deal with these new tactics and modalities quickly and effectively.
39. At the same time, however, let me assure you that our intent is not to target legitimate civic debate and discussion. Nor do we want to censor fair opinions or commentary by foreigners who conduct themselves in an above-board and transparent manner. More details about the proposed law will be announced at a later date. We hope that by taking this opportunity to share with all of you, you have an understanding of why we are making these moves.
40. Ensuring the safety and security of Singapore requires not just the efforts of the Home Team, but also the support of all our partners, including yourselves.
41. Your continued support and contributions are critical in helping the Home Team to achieve its mission, and to maintain law and order and social stability in Singapore.
42. Again, I would like to congratulate all our Long Service Award recipients. On behalf of the Home Team, thank you for your service and commitment in keeping Singapore safe and secure. Thank you and have a pleasant afternoon.