Minister’s Awards Presentation Ceremony 2019 - Opening Remarks by Mr K Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law

Published: 30 September 2019

Home Team colleagues,


Ladies and gentlemen


1. A very good afternoon to all of you. We are here again on this special occasion, to recognise Home Team officers for the excellence in their work, for their dedication, and for their commitment. 


2. We also recognise our partners in other Government agencies who work closely with us. 


3. We start by looking how the public perceive us and look at us. 


4. Singaporeans continue to hold the Home Team in very high regard. Most often they come across either the Police or SCDF, and also some of the others.


5. 90 per cent in a recent Public Perception Survey trusted Home Team officers to do their duties objectively, with integrity. Singaporeans were confident in the Home Team’s ability to manage a national crisis.


6. But I will add this caveat, that this cannot be taken for granted, and you cannot assume it will always be there, and it is very easy to lose this. We have an example in front of us - we have some colleagues from Hong Kong here. Their Police Force is considered one of the best in Asia. Disciplined, highly professional, and effective. But the community’s relationship with the Hong Kong Police Force has become severely strained over several weeks of unrest. 


7. There are many different narratives of what is going on. The local media, the foreign media, the social media - all with their own agenda, their own bias, and unfortunately, much of this is one-sided. The protestors are always put forward in a positive light - they are democracy fighters. The Police are always put forward in a negative light. Frequently, bricks are thrown at them, they are attacked; that’s not captured. Their responses are captured. 


8. Unfair criticisms about how they have dealt with the situation have obviously coloured public perceptions. And in a few weeks, perceptions have changed, and it has become a “people versus police” situation. That is very deliberate, because what you see in the media is often women being identified as being victims, or older people against police in full gear.


9. The key lesson for us and for me, is that the starting point has got to be that the Police are not the solution. The Home Team, the internal agencies are not the frontline solution for all problems. They are a solution for tactical problems, but the problems first of all start from politics and the fundamental social and economic issues. Those problems - the strategic issues, the housing issues, the social economic issues, cannot be dealt with as if they are tactical issues. Letting the Police go and deal with the protestors - you will never solve it.


10. The responsibility starts with the Government, to get the basic issues right in society. If those are not right, the politics are not right, then no amount of policing is going to help, and the Police cannot deal with it.  If the fundamental issues are wrong, and 10,000 people go on the streets every day, or every week, no police force I think can deal with it, including in Singapore. How do you maintain law and order? It is bound to be difficult.


11. So that is the first point. It always starts with the Government - it starts with the policies, it starts with getting the basics right. If the basics are not right, you can’t get the civil service or uniformed groups to go and deal with it. 


12. The second issue is the communications and the responsibility. I think in the Hong Kong situation - it is not a criticism of anyone - you know it is not possible in situations like these to let the police take full responsibility. The primary responsibility in situations like these has to be the political responsibility - the Ministers standing in there and taking responsibility. 


13. I want to remind people of something that I said, three years ago, about the Benjamin Lim situation in Parliament. The Ministry has got to take responsibility politically for the operational policies. And ultimately, responsibility for that is with me, personally as a Minister. It is not the individual police officers. The Police’s responsibility is to act in accordance with the protocols that is in place.


14. The public has got to know that the responsibility is with the people right at the top, not the individual officers facing the public on the ground. That has got to come front and centre. The Police have to know, because then they know they are protected. Operationally, if they do something wrong, of course they will take responsibility. That is very important. For the public – that the Minister or Secretary takes primary responsibility, not individual police officers - that has got to come through. And Government communications explaining why this is happening, what is happening, what is our response, why we are going to respond in this way.


15. The third is another key lesson, which is to deal with the purely technical situation. I think what we have learnt from what’s been happening is, situational updates are extremely important. Keeping the public fully informed and what is happening in a timely way. Not just the usual press statements and press conferences, but videos, pictures and quite importantly, the ability to push those messages on to the ground. Because if we leave an information void, the public will turn to unverified sources, rumours, misleading stuff, distorted information, falsehoods - and a picture will be painted. So you’ve got to try and prevent it - it will happen anyway, but you’ve got to try and prevent it.


16. So these are the three lessons I see. First, the underlying issues have to be dealt with by the Government - the responsibility for that is not with the forces. Second, somebody has to come out there and take responsibility for what is happening and explain - that’s got to be the Minister, and the political office holders. And third, timely, effective, on-the-spot information, and developing the ability to push that information on to the ground.


17. With that, let me turn to the challenges that we speak about every year.


18. The issue of terrorism is still with us - it’s going to be with us for a long time; racial and religious issues; our young people are becoming more receptive to drugs, as other societies take a more liberal view; online scams; people using new technology like drones, threatening safety and security; the increasing workload and the manpower constraints. We’ve talked about these several times.


19. I’ve also spoken about how we deal with the change that is happening in society and the change that we have to put in ourselves.


20. The way we deal with it, you know - we build partnerships, we work with partners from other Government agencies, the local community and the international community.


21. Let me highlight two examples from last year.


22. Our stance against drugs. Internationally, there is a highly coordinated, commercially driven, pro-drug liberalisation agenda, and it is important for us on the other side to maintain our own international policy space on narcotics.


23. One key platform is of course the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs in 2019. That’s the 62nd UN Commission, and as usual, many countries were seeking to push for drug liberalisation, especially the recreational use of drugs.


24. Our team put in place a comprehensive plan. They worked with like-minded countries, fellow Government agencies including MFA and HSA, and civil society organisations like SANA. We put forward our position very strongly. With the support of these partners, we were able to ensure a successful negotiation on the Ministerial Declaration that was satisfactory for us.

25. Second, infrastructure. We wanted to raise the standards of infrastructure protection and build a stronger security industry. Our team, MHA, worked with the private sector, together with SCDF, the built-environment associations, the building developers and owners, and private security firms. Came up with the new Infrastructure Protection Act, set up the Centre for Protective Security under the SPF, and rolled out an Industry Transformation Map.


26. The success of this required working very closely with a wide range of stakeholders. They have different interests, different backgrounds. But they all worked together with us on a common set of goals.


27. These two teams will be receiving the Home Team Achievement Award today.


28. The second way in which we try and deal with the challenges is of course, enhancing our own effectiveness, through a combined One Home Team Response.


29. Within the Home Team, this is a game changer. Our ability to bring in the different parts of the Home Team, the expertise, and to get us to solve problems together.


30. In February this year for example, there was a major road accident involving Malaysian workers at Tuas Checkpoint. The SPF, SCDF and ICA came together to respond.


31. This accident happened at one of the busiest times for travellers to Singapore.

The bus was travelling at a high speed. It skidded and hit a wall. Two passengers were flung out. They fell nearly nine metres to the ground below and the bus driver was pinned to his seat. 11 passengers were trapped in the bus. The team had to manage multiple incident sites and casualties and had to rescue the trapped passengers. And they did it all within 20 minutes.


32. They also had to communicate to the Malaysian Immigration and the public. Checkpoint operations was at a very busy time and had to be returned to normal quickly. This required very close coordination and cooperation between the three departments.


33. They are today’s recipients of the Operational Excellence Award, which recognises close collaboration across and beyond the Home Team.


34. Third, we have spoken many times, technology. I will share two examples.


35. First, the Science and Technology Group (STG) which has successfully delivered MHA’s first ever large scale Enterprise Data Centre with our own MHA Private Cloud, a very significant development. It will fundamentally transform our approach to new capability building. Our C4I, sensors and unmanned systems. The development time can be shortened considerably from conceptualisation to implementation. Also, the Private Cloud and Enterprise Data Centre will allow the Home Team to achieve a greater scale of automation.


36. Second, the rolling out of the stimulation system by the Home Team Academy. It is going to provide more realistic training for our leaders and stakeholders. It will allow us to replicate a wide range of scenarios, help train our officers to better respond to incidents and crises, and substantially reduce resources required to run exercises. So again, more achieved, with less.


37. Next, our people. That is our most important resource to deal with the challenges. I will share some examples of officers who have led ground up solutions.


38. First, the Deputy Team Leader from Team B, Choa Chu Kang NPC David Chin.


39. As a supervisor, he had difficulties monitoring his team’s work. He noticed that Team Leaders were spending a large amount of time preparing reports after each shift finishes.


40. David worked out a new application. He called it a Ground Watch Mobile Application. It could pull data from Cubicon Two. It would allow Team Leaders to monitor live their team’s progress and then automate post-shift reports.


41. He got several staff, officers and colleagues on board. He got the budget, and within six months, developed a Proof-of-Concept for the mobile app. It shows a lot of tenacity.


42. This is just one of the many projects that David has initiated. He will be receiving the Home Team Innovation Awards (InnovA) in a while.


43. Some officers have learnt Robotic Process Automation (RPA) on their own and taken it to the next level. They have applied it to their work.


44. For example, the Finance and Admin Division in MHA. Largely not IT trained. They picked up some RPA and coding skills. Then they set about to re-engineer and automate the payments certification processes.


45. The Human Resource Division at MHA also applied RPA to automate many of their own processes, like the dissemination of pre-IPPT medical screening reports to officers.


46. To date, we have had 30 bots being applied in the Finance and HR domains. The estimate is that it saves about 9,000 man-hours per year for the Home Team.


47. More bots are in development at all levels, not just at the highest level. For example - this is a favourite example of mine when I looked at it - Mrs Cheok-Goh Geok Leng, who is 56 this year. She has served as a Management Support Officer in SPF Finance for 37 years. She went and picked up RPA skills and has developed three bots! They automate the generation of finance reports, journal analysis and file mergers for budget analysis.


48. We have decided to name all three bots after her. They are called Cheok – Do, Re, Mi!


49. There are many examples of outstanding work by our officers, and many more unsung stories. Collectively, we can be confident that the Home Team will continue to deliver on its mission, to keep our country safe and secure.


50. My congratulations to all the teams and officers who will be receiving awards today.I look forward to more from you in the years to come. Thank you.