Ministry of Home Affairs Committee of Supply Debate 2017, “Keeping Singapore Safe in a Changing Operational Landscape” - Address by Mr Desmond Lee, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of National Development

Published: 03 March 2017



1. Madam, over the past few years, the Home Team has been transforming to meet future challenges.


2. This year, we are shifting gears significantly, from planning to implementation. 


3. I will cover three aspects of this transformation. First, we are ramping up the use of technology – to better combat crime, secure our borders and save lives. Second, we are further integrating the Home Team's operations, so we can more effectively deal with evolving and complex threats. Third, we are strengthening the Home Team's partnerships with the community, because everyone has a stake in keeping Singapore safe and secure.


Use of Technology


4. Mr Gan Thiam Poh and Mr Desmond Choo spoke about leveraging technology. We are doing so, across the whole spectrum of our operations.


5. One example is the use of UAVs, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. They give our officers a bird's-eye view of the situation, and allow them to make better ground decisions. We have begun to deploy UAVs to support Police and SCDF's operations. For instance, in the Tuas View Circuit fire just last week, after the fire was extinguished, the UAV located hotspots in the large area, which were otherwise out of sight from the firefighters. This allowed SCDF to act quickly and prevent the hotspots from re-igniting the fire.


6. We will train our officers to use technology, and help them adapt to new ways of working. Indeed, our people are central to our transformation. 


7. Officers will deepen their skills, and master new ones. We will redesign jobs, as new technologies are introduced. One example is ICA's automated self-clearance lanes for motorbikes at our land checkpoints. ICA officers who no longer have to man the counters as a result can now be trained and redeployed to detect suspicious travellers, and manage incidents on the ground.


Integrating the Home Team's operations


8. Mr Desmond Choo also highlighted the need for Home Team departments to work together. We have taken steps to further integrate Home Team operations. For example, we are co-locating the various departments' operation centres. By the end of this year, officers from Police, CNB, SCDF and ICA will sit side-by-side at the Police Operations Command Centre enabling faster communication and information sharing, and enhancing coordination of ground responses to incidents.


Partnering the Community


9. Mr Murali Pillai spoke about the importance of the Home Team partnering the community, and I agree. An active citizenry that is invested in the safety and security of Singapore is essential to the Home Team's work. 


10. We have therefore stepped up efforts to strengthen partnerships between the Home Team and the community. Let me share an example of the Save-a-Life initiative by SCDF, to illustrate. 


11. Madam, I will now speak in Mandarin. 


12. 民防部队 所推展的"救人一命计划", 目的是要提高 国人的急救意识,建立一个 众多救生员的国家。


13. 社区志愿者受训后, 可以充当急救员,对医院外发生的心脏骤停个案, 进行第一时间抢救。


14. 我们会通过三个方面,扩大 社区的参与度。


15. 首先,我们会协助国人掌握各种急救术,好在紧急时刻,能及时抢救 心脏骤停的人。我们通过"救人一命计划",如今已经有 大约两千 (2,000) 位居民掌握了心肺复苏术,也学会了使用 自动体外 心脏除颤器, 英文简称AED。在接下来几年内,我们将为至少 两万四千 (24,000) 位居民提供急救培训;平均每一个社区 将会有大约三百 (300) 位居民、有能力充当 社区急救员。


16. 第二,我们会安装更多的 心脏除颤器。目前民防部队已经在8个社区 安装了近460台 心脏除颤器。到了2019年,全岛所有的社区, 每两座组屋范围内, 就会有一台心脏除颤器。


17. 第三,我们还必须设法,把这些援助资源和管道,带给需要急救的人。民防部队为此开发了 myResponder 手机应用程序。一接获有人心脏病发作时,民防部队就会马上通过应用程序,通知在患者附近的用户。


18. 我在此呼吁更多公众挺身而出,学习心肺复苏术和心脏除颤器的使用技巧,下载myResponder 手机应用程序,成为社区急救团队 的新生力军,随时准备 救人一命。


19. Madam Chair, I will continue in English. 


20. Aside from individual citizens, businesses have an important role to play in Singapore's security. 


21. We will amend our laws this year, to require businesses to adopt certain measures to guard against security threats. We will amend the Public Order Act to require certain events to put in place security measures and we will also introduce a Bill to enact a new Infrastructure Protection Act.


22. In imposing these requirements, we are mindful of the potential impact on businesses. We will take a practical approach so as to keep the cost of such measures reasonable. This is a cost which terrorism has imposed on society as a whole. Government has borne a significant share of this cost. Communities have been roped in to play a part through SGSecure. And we seek the business community's understanding that these measures are necessary as a shared effort to keep Singapore and Singaporeans safe.


23. Another important partner in ensuring Singapore's safety and security is the Private Security Industry. The quality of our private security agencies has improved, and The Progressive Wage Model has also laid the foundation to raise the skills, wages and productivity of our security officers. To build on these developments, MHA will work with the tripartite partners to develop an Industry Transformation Map (ITM) for the Private Security Industry, with a strong focus on innovation and technology, as well as upgrading of jobs and skills of our officers.


24. Mr Zainal Sapari highlighted areas for review in the Security Agencies Grading Exercise, or SAGE. In working on the Industry Transformation Map, we will certainly take his comments and suggestions into account. 


25. Ms Sylvia Lim raised some concerns about having foreigners as Auxiliary Police Officers, or APOs. Madam, the reality is that there is a shortage of APOs. It has not been possible for the Auxiliary Police Forces, or APFs, to recruit only Singaporeans. Our supply is limited and so we have to decide what to do. What are our options? Do we live with the shortage of APOs, and compromise on overall security where we need to deploy officers? Or do we find other sources to meet these needs?


26. We have carefully considered the options, and have decided to allow the recruitment of foreign APOs. They supplement our Singaporean APOs to meet our security needs. They are properly screened to ensure that they are suitable for security work. And we also make careful assessments with regard to where they are deployed, and this is reviewed from time to time. We have not heard of a more effective proposal.


27. Ms Sylvia Lim was concerned about foreign APOs bearing arms. There are already, since the 1970s, non-Singaporeans APOs carrying arms and these are the Malaysians. Anytime we give weapons to people, there is that risk. We have had isolated cases of both local and foreign APOs misusing their arms. And so there is a risk when equipping people. But we have to arm our officers with weapons, if the risk assessment and operational needs so require, so that they can carry out their tasks and protect our installations. Not doing so may compromise our security even more. And we have to recognise and manage the risks through screening, training and supervision, whether it is an APO of Singaporean or foreign origin who is equipped with arms.


28. Our priority is still to increase the number of Singaporean APOs. Singaporeans APOs are employed on better terms than foreigners and the Auxiliary Police Forces have stepped up efforts to attract more Singaporeans.




29. I will now respond to other questions from members. Mr Christopher De Souza asked for an update on cybercrime. Cybercrime continues to grow in scale and complexity.


30. Last year, MHA launched the National Cybercrime Action Plan. Under the plan, we have stepped up efforts to raise public awareness as prevention remains key. The Police's Scam Alert portal educates members of public on the latest scams, and we launched an Anti-Scam helpline in November last year, for members of public who wish to seek advice on potential scam situations. We are also enhancing our agencies' capabilities and strengthening our legislation, so that we remain effective in fighting cybercrime.


Remote Gambling


31.   Mr Christopher De Souza also asked for an update on the exempt operator regime under the Remote Gambling Act. As Exempt Operators, Singapore Pools and Singapore Turf Club have to put in place a very extensive suite of safeguards. It is too early to draw conclusions on the impact of the regime on problem gambling. MHA and MSF will continue to monitor the situation, and adjust our regulation, if necessary. The National Council on Problem Gambling or NCPG has also stepped up public education and outreach on problem gambling.


Police investigation procedures


32.     Ms Lim also asked about how the rights of the accused are safeguarded during Police investigations. She also made observations on the time taken for Police investigations in the context of people who hold vocational licenses. 


33. When a police report is lodged and there is a prima facie case, the Police have a duty to investigate. Investigations will invariably impact those involved, such as accused persons, victims, witnesses, and we understand this.


34. Regulatory agencies that issue licenses, including vocational licenses, have a responsibility to consider the potential risk to the public and to assess whether there is a need to suspend or revoke those licenses. And in the case of vocational driving licenses, the suspension or revocation is determined by LTA and they consider each case and whether commuter safety is at risk. But if this creates hardship, then we should immediately refer these individuals to social support agencies so they get the assistance they need. But I assure the member that the Police will conduct investigations as speedily as possible.


35. Although they try to expedite investigations, they require sufficient time to conduct a thorough and fair investigation, and some cases will take longer to investigate.


36. This applies as well for investigations into alleged sexual abuse against minors, which Mr Christopher de Souza asked about. The Police treat such cases with great urgency, but speed should not come at the expense of due process, diligence and sensitivity. 


37. Utmost care is taken to support child victims during investigations. For example, investigations are carried out in private consultation rooms designed to provide a safe and comfortable environment. Investigation officers are specially trained to use interviewing techniques sensitive to the welfare and emotional state of the child. And we are working with agencies to reduce the number of times a victim has to recount his or her experience to different parties.


38. On providing early access to counsel, we need to be fair to the accused, but also to the victims and to society as a whole. We should protect the rights of the accused without prejudicing the rights of the victims and the safety and security of society. We have therefore taken the approach of granting access to counsel within a reasonable time after investigations begin and this has served us well. 


39. Madam, Ms Sylvia Lim has also asked about the status of the VRI pilot. My Minister has spoken about it last year. She may refer to that statement. Essentially we have consulted the legal community and after taking into account the feedback they have given, we have decided that it will be better to put in place the necessary legislative amendments before starting the pilot. The work to amend the legislation is ongoing. We are also working on configuring VRI-enabled interview rooms for our law enforcement agencies, and enhancing training for our officers. We will announce details in due course.  


40. Madam, for youths between 16 to 18 years old facing criminal charges, which Ms Sylvia Lim spoke about, there are various protective measures in place. Offenders in this age group are usually dealt with by the community court, which is committed to restorative justice and rehabilitation. These offenders could be asked to undergo family conferences, or offender-victim mediation. Youths below 19 years who commit minor offences can also be diverted from prosecution in court to community-based rehabilitation programme, such as the Guidance Programme (GP) and enhanced streetwise programme.


41. In October 2015, MSF, MHA and AGC started a review of the criminal justice system for youths. The Committee has made several recommendations, including to further strengthen the protection of youth offenders between the ages of 16 and 18 years old, and raising the threshold age under the Children and Young Persons Act (CYPA) to 18. The Government is presently studying the recommendations and will announce details in due course. 


42.   Ms Sylvia Lim also asked whether parents could be allowed to be Appropriate Adults. There is a risk that some persons related to the young suspect would face difficulties staying neutral during the interview. And so we prefer a neutral third-party, with no direct interest, to be the Appropriate Adult. This will achieve the objective of providing emotional support to young suspects, without unduly interfering with the investigation process.




43. In conclusion, Madam, the Home Team is committed to stay ahead of challenges, by harnessing technology in new and innovative ways, further integrating our operations and partnering the community. 


44. Together, we will keep Singapore safe and secure. 


Gambling and Casino Regulation
Managing Security Threats