Straits Times: Is MHA suffering from work overload, Sylvia asks

PARLIAMENT

Shanmugam replies that ministry is looking at issues of operational fatigue

BY ZAKIR HUSSAIN

IS THE Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) overstretched, as recent security lapses might suggest?

In reply to this question from Non-Constituency MP Sylvia Lim, Second Minister for Home Affairs K. Shanmugam said his ministry was conducting a “human factor” study to look into issues of operational fatigue.

The study will also look at resources and manning levels in the Home Team and “see if there are sub-optimal areas that need urgent attention”.

Mr Shanmugam did not elaborate further on the study, but said the ministry was exploring whether it could continue to operate at current manpower levels.

Contacted by The Straits Times, Mr Jay Jhaveri, Asia director for World-Check, a private-sector firm that maintains a database of high-risk persons and entities, said such a study would typically look at the issue of risk.

“In areas where risks are greater, the study could identify where more technology or human resources or a combination of the two would have to be deployed,” he added.

The study comes at a time when a number of Home Team agencies have been embarrassed by security lapses.

In February, Jemaah Islamiah (JI) detainee Mas Selamat Kastari escaped from detention. In June, two robbery suspects escaped from police custody at the Subordinate Courts but were quickly apprehended.

The same month, a 61-year-old retiree got past immigration controls at Changi Airport using his son’s passport.

Ms Lim, who is the chairman of the opposition Workers’ Party and a polytechnic lecturer, acknowledged that for each of these breaches, there were many other times “when security was successfully provided”.

“What I think is constructive…is to step back and have a thorough review of the increasing demands on the MHA, the resources needed and how to ensure that the public interest is protected,” she said.

“I am aware of how heavily deployed the Home Team has been in recent years,” she added, citing counter-terrorism activities and the strain of hosting large-scale events like international conferences.

She pointed to the growing population as another strain, as more firemen and police officers would be needed, for example.

Mr Shanmugam acknowledged that the changed security landscape since the Sept 11, 2001, terror attacks on the United States had “raised significant demands” on the Home Team.

Front-line officers had been “stretched and strained” on high alert since end-2001, he said.

That was when the authorities uncovered a plot by JI members to mount attacks in Singapore.

The total number of overtime hours clocked by Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) officers varies between 23,000 and 28,000 every month, Mr Shanmugam added.

He also noted that last year, the ICA cleared some 143 million travellers through land, sea and air checkpoints, or close to 400,000 travellers each day. Of these, an average of five people carrying the wrong passports were detected every day.

It also detected 37,800 cases of smuggling at the borders and more than 2,200 foreigners who tried to enter Singapore fraudulently.

zakirh@sph.com.sg

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