by Tan Bah Bah
This is what the general manager of a security solutions company said about the Woodlands Checkpoint security: “If we want to completely stop vehicles we would recommend that cat claws devices be used together with another barrier, such as road blockers. I’m not sure why we only have cat claws functioning at the border. Perhaps it is because there have hardly been any major incidents so far in Singapore.”
That seems an indirect but fair assessment of the Singapore home security dilemma, for lack of a better word. The more we progress, the more we take things for granted.
Can we get by with just this equipment? Let us focus on educating the public, encouraging people to be the eyes on the ground. Resources are released to do ‘strategic studies’, ‘overall planning’ and ‘advanced training’. And so on. No major quarrel with all this – if the existing system is working well. Is it?
The cracks are showing.
It started in 2008 with the escape of detainee Mas Selamat from the Whitley Road Detention Centre. The flaw? An unsecured bathroom window at, of all places, a detention centre.
A Committee of Inquiry attributed the escape to three critical factors: the window had no grilles, the guards allowed the escapee to close the bathroom door and the perimeter fence at the centre had a weak spot.
Just on the subject of physical equipment. All those cat claws at Woodlands had looked quite impressive and would probably have deterred many potential breachers. But so long as one offender could crash through it, the barrier becomes suspect. The man who breached the checkpoint on March 7 did Immigration a favour in exposing the relative inadequacy of the barrier though he will be charged for a rash act of driving recklessly. He is also being accused of vandalism after he allegedly drove into the cat claws security barrier and damaged it.
A higher sense of alertness has also to be thorough instilled into our Immigration officers. A Malaysian teacher slipped undetected, repeat undetected, through the Checkpoint on Jan 17,and was arrested three days later. No crashing this time. She simply drove through. What’s happening?
Apart from internal security and Immigration efficiency, the performance of the Singapore Police Force and the Singapore Civil Defence Force was tested and found wanting at the Little Indiariot.
We heard what Commmittee of Inquiry chairman G Pannir Selvam and panel member Tee Tua Ba had to say about the slowness of the Special Commands Operation team and the hesitancy of the ground commanders in acting more aggressvely against the rioters.
A telling statement came from Deputy Commissioner of Police Raja Kumar at the COI: ìThe reality is that we are resource-constrained every weekend,î he said.
The COI hearing has shown that we may be losing much of the original Police DNA – the instinct to dominate the ground in the face of fire. This is the software we need to search for in anyone who wants to put on the police uniform. Being a police officer is not a job, it is a calling.
Another reality is that the Home Affairs Ministry may be breaking at its seams. The ministry has nine departments and statutory bodies under its wing – the fourth largest number in the government, with the same number as the Prime Minister’s Office.
Homeland security has become more complex than dealing with crimes within the domestic borders of a sheltered but now almost beleagured island. By fate, we are located at the centre of trade and business. By choice, we have in our midst millions of foreigners not all of whom come here to wish us well or do well legitimately.
There should be a thorough review of the functions and structure of the ministry. Some cogent questions which ought to be asked are: Should there be a Second Home Affairs Minister to give him support? Should the Casino Regulatory Authority come under the Finance Ministry? Why should the SCDF be part of Home Affairs and not the Defence Ministry?
Is the Home Affairs Minister on top of the situation? If not, he should make way for others who can deal more effectively with the challenge.