30 Oct 2020

Minister’s Awards Presentation Ceremony 2020 – Speech by Mr K Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law

Home Team Colleagues,

Ladies and Gentlemen.

1.          Good afternoon.

Introduction

2.          Today, we recognise the outstanding work by our officers and partners in the past year.

Challenges Faced By The Home Team

3.          The Home Team continues to do well in keeping Singapore safe and secure. But as always, there are challenges. Today, I will highlight three key challenges.

4.          First, the fight against COVID-19. Our Home Team officers have been deeply involved since the start of this year. We, together with other agencies, have helped to bring local community transmission down to a low level. But the risk of another wave of infection is ever present, as we have seen happen in other countries, including in this region. The fight may be long. We have to adapt to this new environment, to ensure that the Home Team delivers on our core mission of keeping Singapore safe and secure.

5.          Second, the terrorism threat has not gone away. ISIS’ violent ideology continues to attract followers, and it remains a very serious threat.

6.          Third, increasing attempts by some in our society, and outside, to de-legitimise the Police and other enforcement agencies. When the Police take action, there are some who will claim that investigations are politically motivated, make other baseless claims about law enforcement processes. Some want special exemptions from investigations when the allegations against them are serious in nature, such as those involving Criminal Breach of Trust or sexual harassment. But the rule of law applies to all, regardless of who you are.

7.          The Police have a duty to uphold the rule of law, to act and investigate every credible report and allegation. We should not be, and we will not be intimidated or allow attempts to de-legitimise lawful Police actions.

8.          There are also attempts to de-legitimise the Police by putting out misinformation. Let me give two recent examples.

9.          First, very recently in mid-October, there was a video of Police officers apprehending a lady that was posted online, which went viral within an hour. The Police had actually received a call for assistance at Novena Square, near the Ministry of Home Affairs. A 35-year old lady had shouted randomly at a stranger in a restaurant. She was said to have poured a bowl of soup over his head. There was an attempt to confront her, and there was a scuffle which led to the woman spitting at the man and biting his hand. The man had to be taken to the hospital.

10.          Some were quick to make accusations based on a photograph of the Police confronting the lady. They said the arrest was “totally unacceptable”, that the Police was abusing their power, infringing human rights, without setting out what the woman was supposed to have done. They just took a video of her being arrested and made it out like the Police were arresting her for no reason.

11.          When Police officers engaged the lady, she continued to shout incoherently, hurled verbal abuse, and spat at our officers. The woman’s next-of-kin arrived at the scene, but they could not calm her down either. She was assessed to be posing a danger, to both the public and to herself. She was apprehended under the Mental Health Act and is currently receiving treatment at the Institute of Mental Health.

12.          Another example is a photo which circulated online widely in July last year – it showed our Police officers engaging two madrasah students. The photo was circulated to spread a falsehood, that the officers were conducting spot checks on the two madrasah students, because the officers had a quota to fulfil. But in fact, that is not true, and the Police had to step in to debunk the falsehood.

13.          What were the Police officers doing? They were engaging the students to encourage them to participate in Riders-On-Watch, a community partnership initiative. They were trying to get them to become volunteers, give them confidence and work with the Police. They do this with many students and many others in the community.

14.          So, these sorts of irresponsible comments stir up racial sentiments, spread untruths about the Police, and cause unease and affect public confidence, or at least they seek to.

15.          We are all dealing with a more challenging operating landscape, especially with irresponsible allegations spread over social media.

Recognising Excellence in Home Team Officers’ Work

16.          In the middle of these challenges, I am glad that regular surveys continue to show public trust in the Home Team remains high. But we cannot take this for granted. To maintain this trust, we must continue to strive for excellence, forge and leverage partnerships, build capabilities for the future. I will take this opportunity to highlight some of the award recipients.

Striving for Operational Excellence

17.          First, in operations. The Home Team conducted many successful operations in the past year. Let me name a few.

18.          The Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) disrupted a criminal network on illegal trade in wildlife products in April and July last year and this led to a record haul of pangolin scales and elephant ivory worth more than $160 million.

19.          Our response to illegal drones at Changi Airport in June 2019, prevented further drone incursions and disruptions, and allowed smooth resumption of airport operations.

20.          The Central Narcotics Bureau’s (CNB) arrest of 24 persons for drug offences in July last year – 1.8kg of new psychoactive substances were seized.

21.          In March this year, close to 200 Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) firefighters battled a huge fire overnight in an industrial area in Tuas.

22.          The Home Team conducts a myriad of operations. Every single operation, regardless of scale, impacts the safety and security of Singapore.

Forging Partnerships

23.          Operations or projects cannot be accomplished by a single department or by MHA alone. Inter-agency collaboration and cooperation with our community partners, are vital.

24.          The Foreign Vehicle Turn-Back initiative exemplifies this. Getting foreign vehicles to settle their fines has always been a challenge. Unlike local vehicles, we don’t have access to an official database of ownership of foreign vehicles. As such, agencies have been unable to identify the owners and could not serve summonses or notices on these drivers. Furthermore, we have no jurisdiction over foreigners once they have left Singapore.

25.          To deal with this, the Singapore Police Force (SPF) and the Home Team Science & Technology Agency (HTX) developed a Whole-of-Government (WOG) violation database which incorporated data from the Housing Development Board (HDB), the Land Transport Authority (LTA), the National Environment Agency (NEA) and the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and linked it to ICA’s checkpoint systems.

26.          Since the implementation in April 2019 of this system, fines settlement rates went up by 30 per cent, and over 600 foreign vehicles with outstanding fines were detected and turned back at checkpoints.

27.          The community is also a vital partner of the Home Team. One award recipient is the team from Singapore Prison Service which introduced the Family Interventions & Reintegration Support Team. Family Case managers work with community partners to better support families impacted by incarceration.

28.          They help to maintain and strengthen familial bonds of the serving offenders. The family in turn becomes a source of motivation for the offenders’ rehabilitation.

Innovation and Transformation

29.          As the operational threat landscape evolves, we must constantly anticipate emerging threats, innovate and transform, and leverage technology.

30.          MHA is devoting significant resources in this area to augment the Home Team’s capabilities. One key milestone is the establishment of the Home Team Science and Technology Agency last year.

31.          One award recipient today is a team from HTX and SPF that rolled out 300 “Digital Forensic Kiosks” to SPF units.

32.          Previously, digital devices seized during investigation were handed to a digital forensics examiner. The examiner will process and extract the data, before handing over to the Investigation Officer. This can take days or even weeks sometimes.

33.          The new “Digital Forensic Kiosks” is a self-service platform, which can efficiently and effectively extract content from various digital media.

34.          As criminals increasingly carry out crimes over the internet, building up MHA’s digital forensics capability is a key priority. This project has greatly increased the Home Team’s capacity to process digital evidence.

People at Our Core

35.          Technology is important, but it is ultimately the people that make the organisation succeed. Looking through the award recipients, I am heartened. Many of our officers are willing to challenge the status quo to drive innovation and transformation. Many more continuously strive for excellence in their work.

36.          I would like to mention two individual award recipients. First, Mr Victor Loo, from SPF, F Division. In Jurong Division, he led four project teams and guided ten innovation projects. These projects range from introducing digital noticeboards which improved communication across the branches of Jurong Division, to developing a mobile application that streamlined the budget reporting process. His belief is that there is always a better way to do things, and that has brought about immediate improvements to the way our officers work. Victor will be awarded the Home Team Innovation Award (Platinum).

37.          Another individual award recipient is Mr Ho Koan Ge. He oversees international engagements for MHA and received much praise from foreign counterparts for his consistently high standards of work. He flew the Singapore flag high, while building bridges for MHA’s collaboration with our foreign counterparts. He will be receiving the Distinguished Star Service Award.

Conclusion

38.          Every project, every operation, every officer contributes to the safety and security of Singapore. I would like to congratulate all award recipients and I would like to thank all Home Team officers for their good work. MHA, well done! Thank you.

 

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