Ministry of Home Affairs Committee of Supply Debate 2017, “Standing Strong in the Fight against Terrorism and Drugs” - Speech by Mr K Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law

Published: 03 March 2017



1. Madam Chair. If I may make some observations as a background context for many of the questions that have been raised, first, the fundamentals of law and order in Singapore are very strong. The overall crime rate in 2016 was the lowest in the last three years. We were again ranked first in Gallup's Law and Order 2016 Report. That report studied the public's sense of safety and the public's confidence in the Police force.


2. Madam Chair, there has been discussion about the Public Service in the last two days. In that context, let me share with members a Public Perception Survey that the Police conducted last year, the results of which came to me yesterday. The results will put in context the general discussion on Public Service.


Public's Sense of Safety and Security


3. On the question of the public's sense of safety and security, 92 per cent rated general safety and security in Singapore as "good" or "very good". 92 per cent is quite astounding. The top three reasons were low crime rates, more Police around, and fast response to crimes. Again, this gives the context to what most people think. 93 per cent felt safe walking in their neighbourhood at night. That was attributed to a highly effective Police force, more Police presence and again, quick arrest of criminals. If you think about it, 93 per cent feel safe at night in a public place. You will not get this result anywhere else in the world. New Zealand and Hong Kong, also known for good safety, carried out their own survey. They had 75 per cent of people feeling safe at night. If you go to other first world cities, I suspect the figures will be much less and in some cities, I think you will find much less than 50 per cent.


4. Almost half of the public said the installation of Police cameras at housing estates made them feel safer. An incredible number of the public holds the Police in high regard. 87 per cent regarded the Police as a world class crime-fighting organization. 90 per cent believed that the Police are ready to deal with any major law and order incident and are well-prepared to respond to future security needs. So if we ignore some of the artificially created online attacks on the Police, this is what people on the ground really believe, as opposed to members coming here and trying to make it out that people say this and people say that and trying to create the impression that the majority believe it. I have no doubt some people believe and I have no doubt members are honest when they put it out, but you got to have context. 88 per cent felt that the Police provide a high quality of service.


5. All of this reflects the extraordinary level of faith and trust Singaporeans have in the Police force. I have no doubt that the same goes for other Home Team departments. I believe, for example, SCDF ranks very high in people's assessments. Many law enforcement agencies around the world envy this.


6. All this has been possible because of several factors, but a key and critical factor is the immense dedication and commitment of our Home Team officers. This is a survey on the Police Force. But at the broader level, it also gives a perspective to the discussions about the Public Service. Singapore is where it is today because of three key reasons – excellent political leadership, excellent Public Service, and excellent quality of our people who are extraordinarily capable. If any one of these factors were absent, we would be in a very different position.


7. I can understand the frustrations of MPs in individual cases. All of us face these cases. They arise for a number of reasons, for example structural reasons, inter-agency issues. But in perspective, these cases are the exception and not the rule. In a large majority of cases, our public servants are outstanding, dedicated and go well beyond the call of duty and serve with heart.


8. And I know the MPs who spoke share this view. I spoke with Er Lee and Louis, they confirmed this with me. And NMP Kuik has made a Facebook post setting out her thinking along these lines.  


9. It is therefore good to see the position in context. Without an outstanding public service, we won't be here. And without an outstanding public service, we won't get to where we want to be. Many things go right, so we don't think about them. The Public Service works very hard so that the rest of us can go about our life seamlessly.



10. Madam Chair, I will now focus on three areas – Terrorism, SGSecure and Drugs


Strengthening the Home Team's Capabilities against Terrorism


11. In the Public Perception Survey I mentioned earlier, four per cent felt less secure compared to two years ago. Of those who felt less secure, almost half attributed this to the threat of a terror attack. Terrorism remains a key concern of the public, not only for those who felt less secure, but also those who felt secure, but felt that the Home Team will easily handle it.


12. Mr Chris de Souza and Dr Tan Wu Meng asked about the threat situation in respect of terrorism.


13. The threat of terrorism continues to be high. ISIS-related attacks were carried out in Indonesia and Malaysia last year. The southern region of the Philippines may become an ISIS province or wilayat. It has experienced a wave of terrorism-related attacks. Most recently, on Sunday, a German was beheaded by the Abu Sayaaf Group.


14. ISIS seems to be concentrating on Southern Philippines. In 2016, four militant groups established an umbrella group called the "Islamic State Philippines" (ISP), and pledged their allegiance to ISIS. ISIS also endorsed ISP leader, Isnilon Hapilon – a leader of the Abu Sayyaf Group in Basilan, as "amir", or supreme leader, for Southeast Asia. We need to watch this carefully. The area can attract would-be terrorists from the region and become a safe haven to train terrorists who can then come back to harm us.


15. Within Singapore, we took security action against nine Singaporeans last year. The Home Team has taken significant efforts to strengthen our counter-terrorism capabilities in 2016. Mr Chris de Souza and Dr Tan Wu Meng asked for an update on this.


16. First, we launched the Police Emergency Response Teams (ERTs). The ERTs are on the ground daily and spread out across Singapore. They patrol public places, such as malls and stadiums. They talk to building owners and operators and familiarise themselves with their operating environment. They are trained to respond swiftly to neutralise threats.


17. Two, we sharpened our operational preparedness with major public exercises. In October 2016, we conducted the largest counter-terrorism exercise to date, involving more than 3,200 participants. It tested the island-wide response of Home Team and Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) officers for terror threats.


18. Three, we enhanced our Police camera coverage and video analytics capabilities. We completed the installation of Police cameras in all 10,000 HDB blocks and Multi-Storey Carparks (MSCPs) under "PolCam 1.0". The House was updated on that. We have started installing cameras in public areas, towns and neighbourhood centres, and hawker centres. Over the next few years, we will install about 11,000 Police cameras at 2,500 locations island-wide.


19. We will also develop video analytics capabilities from 2018 onwards. We will continue to strengthen our capabilities through 2017. Amongst these steps, I will share two examples.


20. One, ICA has started to enrol iris images. This will help ICA more accurately verify a person's identity. For travellers, if they face difficulties with fingerprints, they can still do self-clearance, as long as their iris matches. 


21. Two, to further enhance our frontline response capabilities, the Police plan to equip frontline officers with pistols. Pistols will give our officers better firepower, compared with revolvers. They have up to three times more ammunition.


22. On dealing with terrorists, our position is we will deal with anyone who engages in conduct that is potentially a trigger for terrorism. If necessary, we will detain the person.  Otherwise, the person may be counselled or placed on a Restriction Order. The Internal Security Act (ISA) allows us to do this. That has helped us to avoid what has happened in other places. Let me quote two examples that have been widely reported in the media.


23. First, Jamal al-Harith. According to media reports, he is a British citizen. In 2001, he was picked up by American forces in Afghanistan. He was detained in Guantanamo Bay. In 2004, he was released without charge and repatriated to the UK. He launched a claim against the UK government and was reportedly awarded one million pounds.


24. In 2014, he left the UK to join ISIS in Syria. Last month, he reportedly carried out a suicide bomb attack in Mosul. There is now much debate and concern within the UK, whether the Government's compensation was used to fund ISIS. It's not a question of whether the UK approach was right or wrong. Each country has got to decide its own approach. It's basically a question of how much risk you are prepared to take with such people. We believe people in our society will not want to allow this to happen here. In Singapore, Jamal would have been detained under the ISA. Singaporeans accept a tighter security framework. The second example is Anis Amri, the Tunisian truck driver, who drove a truck into the Berlin Christmas Market last December.


25. Between 2011 and 2014, he served a four-year prison sentence in Sicily for several crimes, including arson. He arrived in Germany in July 2015. He visited radical mosques, mingled with extremist preachers and was linked to extremist networks. The German authorities had him on their radar and security services closely observed him. But the laws did not allow the authorities to pre-emptively arrest him, or produce him in court.


26. Unable to find sufficient evidence as required by them, the monitoring stopped in September 2016. The state Police chief said that they had, "Exhausted all legal powers to the limit to ward off potential dangers". Three months after the monitoring stopped, in December, the Christmas market attack took place.


27. We should not reach that stage in Singapore. The trade-off for us is between taking a greater risk or intervening earlier. My view is we must be able to intervene early and decisively.


28. Madam Chair, Mr Chris de Souza and Ms Rahayu Mahzam spoke about the Police report lodged over an Imam's remarks on Christians and Jews. The Imam is reported to have quoted a verse from the Quran. He seems to have said, I quote, "God grant us victory over Jews and Christians", amongst other things. And he seems to have repeated it and said it more than once.


29. Investigations are ongoing. We will know the context of what he said once the investigations have finished.


30. At this stage, let me say this, to make clear the Government's position. If the Imam had referred to the phrase, to say, for example, that such phrases can promote ill-will, hatred, enmity or violence against other communities, and that this is not acceptable in a multi-religious society, then there can be no objection. But if he had said that Jews and Christians should be defeated, and for God to grant Muslim brothers victory over them, to make that very point, then that is completely unacceptable. If any member disagrees, I welcome him or her to stand up and clarify. The Government has taken a strict position when Muslims have been attacked. People have been charged and sent to jail. There have been many examples. Let me give one. In 2009, a Christian couple was sentenced to eight weeks' jail for distributing publications that cast Islam in a negative light. The same applies to any attack on any other religion.


31. We will not tolerate any religious preaching that encourages violence, or seeks to pit one religion against another.


32. If the Imam had not made any inflammatory suggestion, no action will be taken, and we will issue a public statement. But if he did indeed make such suggestions or had engaged in such preaching, then some appropriate action will be taken. We have to be fair to the Imam. Thus, I have set out the position in the broadest possible way, outlining the Government's position so that everyone is clear, where, as a matter of principle, the Government stands on these issues. Even as we make clear that we don't fully know the exact context in which the Imam spoke.


33. The Government's position has to be made clear because matters like this have the potential to escalate, with people jumping in, opinions being formed and hardened along religious lines.


34. A National University of Singapore (NUS) academic, Khairudin Aljunied, has come out to criticise the individual who made public what the Imam has said. Mr Aljunied has encouraged vilification of that individual. Looking at what Mr Khairudin has said, he seems to suggest that it is okay for the Imam to say that Jews and Christians should be defeated. He assumes that the Imam intended to mean that and Mr Khairudin sees nothing wrong with that, even if the Imam had intended the meaning of his words.


35. Mr Khairudin's position and actions are quite unacceptable. He has jumped into this, without verifying the facts and without checking the context. He supports a position that is quite contrary to the norms, values and laws in Singapore.


36. The Police will look into the issues, and the conduct of everyone involved quite thoroughly. When such issues arise, it is best that parties refer it to the Police. Going public may inflame the views further.


SGSecure: A United Singapore Against Terrorism


37. This brings us to SGSecure.  In September 2016, we officially launched SGSecure. The objective is to have at least one Prepared Citizen in every household who knows how to recognise and report suspicious behaviour and items, protect their family and themselves, and keep calm and reach out to others in times of crisis.


38. To achieve this, we have embarked on an extensive outreach effort.


 39. Mr Patrick Tay, Dr Tan Wu Meng and Ms Rahayu Mahzam asked for an update.


 40. Our Home Team officers, NSmen, volunteers, and grassroots leaders have been conducting house visits. During these visits, they explain to residents how they should respond in the event of an attack and encouraged residents to participate in SGSecure programmes.


 41. We will push ahead with our efforts in 2017.


42. We also launched the 'SGSecure in the Neighbourhood' programme. We revamped the Emergency Preparedness (EP) Day in 2016. Residents learn skills such as CPR and first aid. Live exercises sensitise residents to the threat of attacks and train their responses. We will roll it out across all 89 constituencies over the next two years. We will expand our outreach efforts to workplaces in 2017. We will train public officers in SGSecure skills. We will partner MOM, NTUC and the Singapore Business Federation to engage businesses and unions.


43. We will have SGSecure briefings and conferences, customised EP Days and Counter-Terrorism seminars for industries such as the security, manufacturing and hospitality sectors. We urge companies to come forward and join us.


 44.               This year, we will also focus on strengthening community cohesion and resilience. We need to make sure our community comes together, as one united people, after an attack. Ms Rahayu Mahzam spoke about how we can improve the training of our community leaders to respond after an attack.


45. We have begun to pilot Crisis Response Exercises (CRX) within the constituencies. CRX will involve Community Emergency and Engagement (C2E) committee members, Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circles (IRCC) representatives and other community stakeholders in the neighbourhoods, schools and merchant associations. They will work together in a simulated attack scenario to assist the community after an attack and to manage potential communal tensions and restore social cohesion.


46. Second, our Home Team psychologists will partner the People's Association. Together with psychologists from Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) and Institute of Mental Health (IMH), they will support and train grassroots leaders to provide swift and effective psychological first-aid to affected residents after an attack.


47. Madam Chair, Mr Desmond Choo asked how NSmen can contribute to the Home Team's efforts beyond their NS call-up. Our NSmen play an important role in SGSecure. They can be active responders in emergencies, whether on or off their NS duties. Some of our NSmen have also stepped forward to mobilise their communities. For example, SCDF NS Commander LTC (NS) Raizan bin Abdul Razak. He works with his local grassroots at Tampines West to raise awareness of the terrorism threat and rallies fellow SCDF NSmen to promote SGSecure in their neighbourhoods and social circles.


48. We celebrate Home Team NS50 this year. A series of events and initiatives have been lined up to recognise the important contributions of our NSmen made towards nation-building. We will continue to count on them also in the fight against terrorism.


Safeguarding our Tough Stance against Drugs


49. Madam Chair, I will now turn to the threat of drugs.


50. The New York Times ran an article in January this year, on what it called the "Killer Drug Epidemic" in the United States. Across the US, cheap smuggled heroin is "handed out like candy". In 2015, more than 33,000 people died from opioid abuse, and that doesn't include the number who died due to gun-related violence but linked to drugs. The 33,000 figure is higher than the number killed due to pure gun homicide. Babies are born with drug dependency. Entire neighbourhoods are affected and there is little hope for young people in these neighbourhoods.


51. The article told the story of a young 24-year-old girl who was doing well in school. Unfortunately, she developed anorexia. That led to alcohol, then drugs. She got addicted, went in and out of rehab eight times, but was still unsuccessful. To pay for her drugs, she lied to her family, pawned her mother's jewellery and went into prostitution. Countless others die, either through drugs or through drug-related violence.


52. There are hundreds or thousands of such examples across the world. Singapore is one of the few countries in the world that has dealt effectively with the drug problem. Our approach, we have a tough legal framework against traffickers and abusers. We are firm and relentless in enforcement. We carry out intensive efforts to educate Singaporeans on the dangers of drug abuse and all this is complemented by comprehensive rehabilitation measures.


53. The Economist ran a major article in January this year. It said that Asia's harsh anti-drug policies are falling out of step with the rest of the world. It criticised these policies as needlessly severe and probably ineffective. Yet, it had to concede that Singapore's drug consumption is admirably low. It caveated that by saying this is because we are small, we have secure borders, we have little corruption, we have effective anti-drug education and laws that allow searches without warrants and detention without trial.


54. Apart from our size, none of the other factors happened by themselves. They are the result of our policies and many years of hard work. There is strong public support both for our tough laws and our approach. Singapore's example demonstrates that the vision of a drug-resistant society is not impossible with the right policies properly executed.


55. The same Economist article referred to me as "Singapore's fearsome Law and Home Affairs Minister" and it quoted my speech at the 2016 United Nations General Assembly where I said, "Show us a model that works better, that delivers a better outcome for citizens, and we will consider changing. If that cannot be done, then don't ask us to change." I don't accept the description "fearsome". But I will not flinch from taking a position in Singapore, and outside Singapore, that I believe is in the interests of our people.


56. In this context, let me also put to rest one other myth. Recently, there have been some suggestions that international pressure will cause us to deviate from our policies. And the death penalty was referred to in that context. Such suggestions are delusional. We do what is right for Singapore. A penalty will be in the books if we believe it to be right. And it will be removed if we believe that removal is the right thing to do. And not because of any international pressure.


57. The challenge of keeping Singapore drug-free is increasing. First, there are growing threats from the region. Southeast Asia continues to be a major market and producer of illicit drugs. Myanmar and Lao PDR account for 22 per cent of the total global area used for illicit opium poppy cultivation. The trafficking of ice and heroin in the region generates over US$32 billion annually. This lucrative black market has attracted criminal syndicates, from Africa, Iran, South Asia and Mexico and of course, China. Singapore will be overrun by these syndicates, if we do not take a tough approach.


58. Our neighbours share our concerns. They too, want to be drug-free. Their challenges are somewhat different. We will continue to partner them as we work towards a united position in ASEAN.


59. The second challenge is that the number of new drug abusers in Singapore has increased. Close to two-thirds of new abusers in 2016 were under the age of 30. A survey conducted by the National Council Against Drug Abuse (NCADA) in 2016 found that young people below the age of 30 were more open-minded towards drugs, as compared to a similar 2013 survey.


60. This is a worrying trend. Dr Tan Wu Meng also raised similar concerns.


61. This problem is compounded by the rise in online drug availability. Online black market sites allow users to buy drugs anonymously. The drugs are couriered in small parcels, unmarked, innocuous-looking and difficult to track. The young are especially susceptible. Many of us may think that only young people from low-income households are vulnerable. But the Task Force on Youths and Drugs commissioned a study in 2014. It found that most young cannabis abusers come from either middle or high socioeconomic backgrounds. Many of them did well in school.


62. CNB will take active measures, together with our community partners, to tackle this concern. Parliamentary Secretary Amrin Amin will elaborate on this.


63. Third, there is increasing international pressure to adopt a softer "harm reduction" approach. We have to remain steadfast in our resolve to keep Singapore drug-free. We will continue to work with our partners at regional and international platforms, to safeguard our position.


64. Thank you. 


Managing Security Threats