Ministry of Home Affairs Committee of Supply 2016 – Cuts by WP MPs and NCMPs

(Delivered in Parliament on 6 April 2016)

Terrorism Threat – Pritam Singh

Madam Chairperson, the scourge of terrorism does not appear to be going away anytime soon. As quickly as Al Qaeda affiliates such as Jemaah Islamiyah faded from the public eye in the decade or so after 9/11, and after the death of Osama bin Laden, their place appears to have been taken over by ISIS-inspired ideologues with shocking rapidity.

It is known that some individuals from Singapore and even our neighbouring countries have sought to join ISIS in the Middle East, and a lot of effort has been put in by Singapore to prevent not just its own nationals, but Indonesian citizens for example from transiting through our borders to potentially join ISIS ranks. Unlike the Jemaah Islamiyah movement, there appear to be different opinions with regard to the level of the threat posed by ISIS to Southeast Asia. The Prime Minister in his recent trip to the US alluded to the fact that ISIS has a battalion sized Southeast Asian arm –  called Khatibah Nusuntara. An RSIS commentary last year also reported that about 30 different Southeast Asian groups have pledged allegiance to ISIS. The Executive Director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) which organises the Shangri-La dialogue, in a recent Jane’s Defence Weekly article was quoted to have said that the threat of Khatibah Nusuntara seeking territory in Southeast Asia was exaggerated, even if there is some danger nonetheless.

In addition, Khatibah Nusantara does not appear in the media and in the public conscious as often as Jemaah Islamiyah did previously. Can the Minister share details about the evolution and threat posted by Khatibah Nusuntara and other groups aligned to ISIS – and how it has impacted upon MHA’s work and if there have been any differences in approach in dealing with such groups from the Jemaah Islamiyah experience. How can Singaporeans be innoculated against the deviant teachings of such groups? Has there been a requirement to increase the resources and manpower allocated to MHA as a result of this new wave of terrorism?

Finally, can the Ministry also share how the Ministry’s upcoming SG Secure initiative will be different from its predecessor – the Community Engagement Programme – to better equip and prepare Singaporeans and foreign workers in this new environment of terrorism.

Key Performance Indicators for Ministry – Sylvia Lim

The Ministry has set out its Key Performance Indicators in the Budget documents. I would like to highlight and comment on a few of them, for the Ministry’s review in future.

First, the Home Team has a desired outcome of “a safe and secure society where life and property are protected”.  One of the KPIs is the number of overall crimes per 100,000 population.   I would caution that this figure simply reflects the incidence of crimes reported and recorded by the police.  It does not tell us about crimes that were not reported, and it has been found in other countries that reporting rates are especially low for sexual assault and crimes committed by someone the victim knew well.  Vulnerable groups such as foreign workers, victims of domestic abuse, and others may be reluctant to seek police help due to a fear of repatriation, retaliation, or distrust of the police.  Official crime rates are also influenced by how the police may re-classify cases. Furthermore, crime rates cannot be attributed to the police alone; while police action can reduce certain types of crime, other crimes are not preventable by police actions and are a product of social and economic forces.

If the Ministry wishes to have a more accurate picture of the crime situation in Singapore, there needs to be an attempt to uncover unreported crime.  This is done in other countries through national victimisation surveys, such as the British Crime Survey, where the population is asked about their experience with crime. Such a population survey should also cover why crime victims did not report to the police, thus helping the police address any service gaps.

Another desired outcome of the Ministry is “Secure borders with efficient and legitimate flow of people, goods and conveyances”.  Under this outcome, the stated KPIs all relate to the legitimacy of inflows e.g. number of offences detected and unauthorised vessels intercepted.  There are no measures for the efficiency of flows.  Would the Ministry be brave enough to introduce a measure of efficiency e.g. set a desired time limit within which to process an individual or a vehicle through Woodlands or Tuas checkpoint?

One final desired outcome to highlight is the “Secure and humane custody of prisoners”. Again, the indicators emphasise on the security aspect only e.g. number of escapes, number of assault cases.  What about measuring “humane custody”, which is equally important?

Manpower for Security/Enforcement – Sylvia Lim

Next, I move on to manpower for security and enforcement. My cut is on manpower not just in our law enforcement agencies. It also covers the auxillary police and civilian personnel doing law enforcement on behalf of some statutory boards such as the Land Transport Authority and the Urban Redevelopment Authority.

As far as our State law enforcement agencies are concerned, much has already been said in recent years about the challenges faced by the Singapore Police Force. Currently, the SPF is functioning at probably a very low police officer to population ratio of 170 officers per 100,000 population, and it is trying to leverage on technology, outsourcing and civilianising jobs to cope. What about the other law enforcement agencies such as the Singapore Civil Defence Force, Central Narcotics Bureau and the Singapore Prison Service? Do they face similar manpower challenges and how are they coping with them?

Next, I move on to the auxiliary police forces particularly CERTIS CISCO and AETOS who are deployed island-wide. For this industry, only Singaporeans, permanent residents and Malaysians are eligible to apply. In our daily encounters with auxiliary police, we see a large presence of Malaysians in CERTIS and AETOS uniforms. During the Little India riot, quite a number of auxiliary police at the scene were Malaysians. What is the current proportion of Malaysians out of the total police strength in these two auxiliary police forces? Does the Government have any guidelines on the ratio of Malaysians to Singaporeans?

One officer recently told me that the ratio allowed is five Malaysians to one Singaporean and I wonder if that is true. Are there guidelines on any duty or assignments which must done only by Singaporeans? For example, at the immigration checkpoints, are there Malaysians checking their fellow Malaysians and what would the risk be there?

Lastly, I come to the civilian personnel being recruited to do law enforcement on behalf of certain statutory boards. I understand that CERTIS CISCO is the outsourced agent to do enforcement of traffic violations on behalf of LTA and URA. CERTIS has been recruiting many civilians for such tasks.

Recently, I came across one such recruit, an elderly gentleman around 60 and not in good health. According to him, he attended the recruitment interview and specifically requested that he be posted to do enforcement only for URA carpark violations as he assessed that there was less risk of confrontation with members of the public as compared with LTA traffic violations. To his surprise, the next day, he was deployed to a team to do enforcement of LTA violations. His worst fears were realised when there was indeed a confrontation with an irate motorist booked by his team who apparently chased after the enforcement team to dispute the booking. The gentleman was so traumatised by the incident that he did not return to work.

I do not know whether this gentleman’s experience is an isolated incident or not. However, it raises the issue of how civilians are recruited and trained before they are being deployed to face the public.

Even though such law enforcement has been outsourced to CERTIS, these civilians are exercising law enforcement powers and will affect the public. What role does the Government play in ensuring that such personnel are properly chosen and trained? What oversight role does the Government have?

Gambling Outlets and Licenses – Png Eng Huat

Madam, the ills of gambling addiction are well documented. More often than not, the people who suffer the most are the family members, not the problem gamblers. This is made evident by the rising number of Family Exclusion orders issued for the two casinos. Such orders are initiated by family members to exclude a gambler in their family from the casinos if the gambler is unwilling to address his or her addiction. The number of such orders issued rose from 149 in 2010 to well over 2,000 in 2015.

As more families are grappling with problem gambling, it does not make sense to see gambling outlets sprouting up in easy to access and family oriented clubs at the same time.

The new SAFRA Punggol will open tomorrow. It boasts 5 enrichment centres for children aged 3 to 16 years old, the biggest preschool with an enrolment of up to 120 children, children friendly facilities, and a jackpot facility that opens daily from 10am to 1am, and up to 3am on Friday, Saturday and eve of Public Holiday.

How convenient can one get?  You drop off your children for classes and go meet lady luck at the same location.

In a parliamentary reply in 2000 on the proliferation of betting outlets, the then Finance Minister said, “the locations selected are reasonably far away from places where children will gather, schools, places of worship, and so forth.  Pools will exercise due care and not to place outlets at places where children might be attracted to…”

If Singapore Pools is concerned about children getting exposed to betting activities at a tender age, shouldn’t the clubhouses be concerned too?

Madam, it is one thing to operate a clubhouse with jackpot machines for families with young children to visit once in a while, it’s another thing to have children going to the same clubhouse almost every day for preschool and enrichment classes.

I urge the ministry to exercise tighter control and management of jackpot licenses for clubhouse especially those with preschool and enrichment centre under the one roof.  Gambling and education certainly don’t mix.

Keeping NRICs Up to Date – Png Eng Huat

Madam, in a reply to a parliamentary question, the Minister told the House that there were 61 persons convicted for failure to report a change of residential address within 28 days of the change to the Immigration and Checkpoint Authority (ICA) over a period of three years preceding 2015. In the same reply, the Minister added that such an offence is typically committed in furtherance of other criminal offences.

Unfortunately for some new owners, they will find out the hard way when threatening letters, hell notes, paints, and graffiti start to appear at the doorstep of their new house.

Madam, I do see the need for more safeguards to be put in place to prevent ex-owners of properties from using the old address in their NRICs to commit criminal offences.

Although this House was told that ICA does work with HDB to inform property owners of the need for timely update of address during property sale transactions, I would like to propose that sellers must update their NRIC address by the final appointment date to complete the sale of their flats.

For sellers who are still homeless at that point in time, I would like to propose that ICA accepts personal representation by friends or relatives who are willing to house these sellers as evidence for reporting of change of address.  This will allow sellers to update their NRIC address in lieu of the required documentation and complete the sale of their flats without further delay.  This will also stop sellers from using their old NRIC address to commit criminal offences going forward.

Stateless in Singapore – Png Eng Huat

Madam, we have in our society, over a thousand stateless people aged 50 and above.  Some of these residents would have lived through those tumultuous years of nation building.  Many would have worked and contributed to the economy then.  Some of their children would have attended public schools.

A good number of these residents still live in public rental flats.  Some of them may belong to the pioneer generation as well, if only the colour of their identification cards were pink.

Last year was our jubilee year and I wonder how these stateless people felt living in a country that does not recognize them as citizen despite some of them having lived here for as long as our nation existed.

As SG50 came to a close, I am reminded of the stateless people I met in 2015.

There was a resident with mobility issues.  He told me his parents and siblings are all Singapore Citizens.  He also said he has been receiving assistance from CDC since early 2000.  For some unknown reason, he remains stateless.

Another father and daughter remain stateless in 2015 despite the father having worked for the government and was allowed to buy a flat in the early years, according to the daughter.  She said her entire family were born in Singapore.

Madam, many of these stateless residents are more ‘Singaporean’ than the thousands of new immigrants who were granted citizenship each year.  Some stateless residents have lived here all their lives.  Some of their children or siblings have become citizens as well.

I asked a resident if it matters for his ageing mother, who is stateless, to become a citizen after all these years.  Without hesitation, he said, “Yes, it will make my mother very happy because she will have a sense of belonging finally.”

Madam, could we not exercise a little more compassion as we embark to write the next chapter in our history and grant these stateless residents, 1,411 to be exact, the citizenship they so rightly deserve?

Imprisonment with Humanity and Dignity – Sylvia Lim

Prisoners pay for their crimes by spending time behind bars, sometimes many years and even a lifetime.  Prisoners first have to adapt themselves to prison life.  This involves stressful and difficult adjustments to a strict institutional routine, deprivation of privacy, and living in sparse conditions.  After the initial phase, prisoners often undergo a personal transformation to adapt to prison life, which carries traits such as hypervigilance, over-controlling one’s emotions to avoid showing vulnerability, and social withdrawal and isolation.  These are well-researched.  On a personal level, prisoners may feel guilt and helplessness towards their families, and it is not uncommon to see divorce papers being served on inmates.

The Singapore Prisons Service has committed itself to being “Captains of Lives”.  They are doing an admirable and difficult job, and should be well-supported.

As prisoners are incarcerated as punishment and not for punishment, their stay in jail should, as far as possible, be spent constructively, for rehabilitation and eventual release and reintegration into society.

I have two concerns – the first, on psychological support for inmates, and second, on inmates’ use of time.

First, psychological support.  What is the policy or approach toward the mental health needs of inmates, whether dealing with pre-existing conditions or issues developed during incarceration?   What sort of mental health professionals work full-time in our prisons, and is there a ratio of mental health professionals to inmates?  Do the prisons officers who manage inmates have compulsory training on mental health issues?  There has been an IMH- Singapore Prison Service Psychiatric Housing Unit set up since 2011 – how many inmates have sought treatment there, and are they patients with pre-existing mental conditions or mental needs that developed during incarceration?

Second, inmates’ use of time.  According to statistics from the Singapore Prison Service, the number of inmates engaged in training programmes dropped by 345 from 2014 to 2015. Similarly, the number of inmates engaged in work programmes also dropped by 180 from 2014 to 2015. Is there a reason for the drop?  The SCORE annual report notes that of the inmates deemed employable in 2014, only 81% were engaged in work programmes. I have a few questions here.  First, what is the status of the other 19% of inmates?  Second, how are inmates selected for training or work programmes? Third, how is the employability of inmates determined? Fourth, what other programmes are in place for inmates who have been considered unemployable, to keep them meaningfully occupied?

Tackling Recidivism – Leon Perera

In the 2016 Budget Book, recidivism – the percentage of discharged criminal offenders who go onto re-offend within 2 years – is estimated to rise to 28% in 2016 from 26.8% in 2015.

When someone who has served their debt to society for a crime goes onto reoffend, this is a loss to that person and their family members and friends. But it is also a loss to society.

That reoffender could have become a productive contributor to our economy and society. In Singapore we have examples of ex-offenders who have become entrepreneurs, professionals and even religious leaders.

In this regard I suggest we examine the role that social impact bonds can play in funding innovative programs that help rehabilitate ex-offenders into society and combat recidivism.

The idea of a social impact bond can be summarized as follows, at the risk of some over-simplification. Investors put up money to buy the bond. The bond stipulates that a certain social impact target must be met after some years by an NGO or NGO coalition. If at the end of the bond period the target is met, the government redeems the bond. If not, then the investors lose their investment and it becomes akin to a donation. If the goal is reached, the state ensures that its funds are impactful and well-spent.

Anti-recidivism is a popular subject for social impact bonds because the social impact and the cost to the state can be measured clearly. In fact, the very first social impact bond, launched by the British government in 2010, was for prisoner rehabilitation.

I urge the Home Team to consider issuing a social impact bond to better target funds and spur innovation for rehabilitation and anti-recidivism programs. Such a move could also spark more interest in and acceptance of social impact bonds in Singapore, which would benefit the social landscape here and help unlock more innovative and results-focused approaches in tackling social challenges.