The Opening Ceremony of the Home Team Festival 2015 and Home Team Connection Appreciation Dinner - Speech by Mr K Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law

Published: 12 November 2015

Our honoured guests from Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam,

Friends from Home Team,


Good evening.




1.     We come together this evening to first mark the opening of the Home Team Festival 2015, and second, show our deep appreciation to our Home Team Connection volunteers. The Home Team Festival attempts to showcase our work, our capabilities, and our plans for the future. The theme for this year's Festival captures the essence of the Home Team's mission, which is "Home Safe Home".


2.     The public exhibition is based on MHA's broad work areas, and the zones are named (a) Border Security, featuring ICA, Police Coast Guard and so on; (b) Safe Neighbourhood, featuring for example, the Police Force, CNB and Community First Responders; (c) Emergency Preparedness, an example being SCDF and (d) Community & Rehabilitation, focussing on the work of the Prison Service, SCORE and Home Team Volunteers.  This year being SG50, we have also included a zone called the "Home Team Memory Lane" to share our history with people who visit the exhibition. Several Home Team events will be held concurrently, for example, the Singapore-Global Firefighters and Paramedics Challenge, award ceremonies for operations, innovation and service excellence, and the Home Team NS Strongman Challenge.


3.     The exhibition in 2013 was extremely successful, with nearly 60,000 visitors. And this year's exhibition takes it further. It showcases important, upgraded capabilities and tries to capture the essence of what we are all about.


Challenges facing the Home Team


4.     As we focus on these things, we have to look at the changes that are taking place around us, and the challenges that we will face in fulfilling our mission. Tonight, I would like to talk about three of the several challenges which the Home Team will face.


International pressures


5.     First, as the world gets more and more inter-connected, we will come under increasing international pressure to change some of our internal policies. International groups try and create new norms which they want all countries to accept.


6.     One obvious example is on drugs, both in terms of how you deal with it and in terms of the punishment for drugs. There is increasing international pressure to decriminalise drug taking.  There is also pressure to adopt "harm reduction" policies to focus on addressing the harmful effects of drug use. These calls have come from Governments, businesses, academia, civil society, and international bodies like the WHO and UNAIDS.


7.     Often, many of those who press for decriminalisation have no or little understanding of the actual experience of different countries. They also have little regard for individual countries' norms, contexts and circumstances.  Instead, they push for policies that they wish to apply to all countries.


8.     As a result of the global pressure, many countries in Europe, South America, and some states in the United States, have now decriminalised drug use. These countries and places have done so, partly by reason of international pressure, and more primarily for reasons which are specific to them.


9.     For example, intravenous drug use and sharing needles increase the risk of HIV and spreads it. That becomes a serious problem. Such "harm reduction" measures, where drug taking is decriminalised, and zones are set up to provide needles, is therefore not directed at drug use, but at reducing the spread of HIV. It might sound perverse, but if you have lost the war on drugs, and it's so prevalent that there's nothing one can do about it, then you go down this route.


10.     We are probably one of the few countries that have been successful in combating drugs, together with some of our regional neighbours. So we do not need to go into needle exchange and we do not need to decriminalise drug taking. But we are still faced with the pressure, when many countries have given up the fight against drugs.


11.     Commercial interests also play a part, as businesses lobby their governments to legalise drug use. And as governments become more and more susceptible to lobbying, this happens.


12.     We have chosen not to go down this route. We have chosen to take a very firm stand. We do not have the issues that many of these countries face. We have been successful so far in controlling the drug menace. We do not have a similar HIV problem. We know the damage that drug abuse can cause to the abuser, to his family, and to the community at large.


13.     We have to be committed to maintain a zero-tolerance stance against drugs. We will face challenges in the international arena.  There will be attempts to get us to change our position on several issues, not just this issue, both on the punishment side as well as the policy side. We have to ask ourselves, fundamentally, what is right for Singapore, and then we must be firm enough to pursue that and stand our ground in international fora.


Active and diverse citizenry


14.     A second challenge is that the Home Team has to keep pace with changing social values and norms within our society. We need to evolve our own norms, our tactics, our procedures, our processes which will allow us to be effective, and at the same time, maintain something that is extremely important, which is very difficult to get - the very high trust that people have in the Home Team. That is extremely difficult to achieve, but in Singapore, we have gotten it.


15.     Year after year, independent surveys show that the regard that people have in the Home Team, for the men and women in uniform, is extremely high. In fact it is one of the highest amongst all sectors. That is hard won and can easily be lost. Unless we evolve with the norms and keep pace with the changes in society, stay ahead of the curve, it can be lost. We will need to safeguard social resilience and ensure that society remains cohesive and united and at the same time, change in tandem with society's needs, if necessary.


16.     One example is this whole debate about more video-taping of actions being taken by officers in uniform. This is a debate that has been brought into sharp focus in the last year or so, particularly in the United States, where third parties take videos of police actions. There has been a huge amount of debate about the implications of these videos that are circulating.


17.     That is why I said trust is absolutely vital. People trust us and we have to maintain that trust. At the same time, we are not going to hold back technology. Everyone today is walking around with a camera because there is one in everyone's hand-phones and you are not going to be able to hold it back. We should accept that there is going to be videos of everything that happens. Every action is going to be videotaped by somebody, either by the person that you are talking to or somebody else in the vicinity.


18.     The answer then, is to professionalise, to learn how to operate in this environment and use it to your advantage. So we take the lead with body worn cameras. The police officers switch it on, and all their actions are taped by themselves. We do not have to wait for somebody else to take it. We are trained and are effective. Everything is captured on camera and we adapt, and use it to our advantage. This is just one example.


19.     In every sphere, if we move in this way, we can continue to walk in step with the changes that society undergoes and continue to maintain the trust. If everyone has a camera, then everyone becomes the eyes and the ears for our law enforcement agencies. If we can encourage people to then identify and send us those photographs, then you will have all around Singapore many law enforcement officers. So it can be used to your advantage because people are law abiding. We need to embrace change, and try to turn it to our advantage.


Higher load


20.     The third key challenge would be the shrinking labour pool and workforce. This means the number of officers we can recruit over the next few years, for the foreseeable future, is going to become lesser and lesser. Every sector of the economy, every government department, every business outside is facing the same issue. We are not exempt. At the same time, as the economy grows, as Changi grows as an airport hub, the load is going to increase. Traveller volume is expected to grow with Airport Terminals 4 and 5, and the Rapid Transit System coming into operation. Ambulance calls will increase, and are expected to double over the next 15 years. By 2030, we will have 900,000 people over the age of 65, one of the fastest ageing societies in the world


21.     We also have to deal with increasingly sophisticated cyber and transnational crime, and the global terrorist threat which is increasing, rather than decreasing. We are aware of the challenges and are working on overcoming these challenges. The starting point has to be greater synergy between Home Team agencies, building joint capabilities and working better together, so that there is better operational response that cuts across different domains. 


22.     Second, technology as a "force multiplier". The exhibition showcases some of it – more automation, more self-service, from collecting our passports to check-in counters at various terminals. Most people should be able to use it. We need to focus on all those fields in the context of security. So, technology can be a real force multiplier that can help us shed a lot of load on the manpower requirements while retaining the ability to intervene. Technology can also give you sense-making capabilities and allow us to focus our resources on where it is really needed, and respond to incidents more swiftly and effectively.


23.     Third, I think we have to strengthen our community partnerships. We have to work with people and align with people much more. There has got to be a community-centred response. We will expand our engagement touch points, and better equip our volunteers to serve the community.


24.     I spoke earlier about how we have to better co-opt members of the public, and, bring in people who want to help the community to deal with the law and order situation and with emergencies. None of this is going to be easy.  And they may not be complete solutions.  But we have to keep the challenge in focus, keep trying to find the solutions and work our way through.


A tribute to our volunteers


25.     Let me now turn to our volunteers. In doing our Home Team work, we have been very honoured, very fortunate, very privileged, to have been supported by an extremely strong, dedicated and committed team of volunteers and partners. You are an integral part of our work and without you, our work would be that much more difficult, if not impossible.


26.     The several thousand volunteers that we have are our unsung heroes. We are privileged tonight to have about 160 of you here, Home Team Connection volunteers, who serve on our 37 Home Team Boards, Councils and Committees, including the Boards of CRA and SCORE, the Criminal Law Advisory Committee, and Boards of Visiting Justices in Prisons.


27.     The Long Service Awards will be presented to some of the volunteers later this evening, to thank them for their contributions. A lot of our work and the trust that the community has in what we do, cannot be done without you.


A tribute to our Home Team officers


28.     Finally, our officers. At the core of everything we do, our officers ensure that the Home Team is successful in our mission. We are very fortunate to have a competent and dedicated team who put their best every single day to keep Singapore safe and secure. This came through in our Jubilee year with so many operations. We have had the period of National Mourning for the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, the Southeast Asian Games, the Golden Jubilee weekend and of course, the General Elections.


29.     Our officers, including Regulars, NSFs, NSmen and Volunteers had to deal with all of these. They kept their morale high and executed their duties professionally. As a result, all of these events took place in an orderly manner without incident. I don't think there are many countries in the world where this can happen. 




30.     As we look to the future, we have to work together as one Home Team. Together, the Home Team and the community will make Singapore an even safer and better home for all Singaporeans.


31.     I wish all of you a pleasant and enjoyable evening, and once again, thank all our guests for accepting our invitation.  Thank you.