$9.7m revamp for Tuas Checkpoint

Project documents show that the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority intends for bus passengers at Tuas Checkpoint to get their luggage screened before they get their passports stamped. Currently, bus passengers go through immigration before getting
Project documents show that the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority intends for bus passengers at Tuas Checkpoint to get their luggage screened before they get their passports stamped. Currently, bus passengers go through immigration before getting their belongings checked.ST PHOTO: CAROLINE CHIA

On the cards: * Imaging scanners for buses * New layout of bus concourse * Blast-proof walls

The Tuas Checkpoint will undergo a major revamp from next year, with a raft of measures to enhance security checks of tour buses and passengers.

These include installing imaging scanners for buses, redesigning the layout of the bus concourse and building blast-proof walls. The changes are estimated to cost $9.7 million, and should be completed by November 2017.

The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) on Wednesday issued a call for consultants to develop a plan for the project.

An ICA spokesman said yesterday that the changes were part of efforts to "enhance security and operational efficiency".

"This project aims to better utilise infrastructural space at the checkpoint and to redesign the checkpoint clearance process for bus travellers," she added.

Currently, bus passengers alight at the bus concourse with their luggage and go through immigration before getting their belongings checked by security.

But project documents obtained by The Straits Times show that the ICA intends for passengers to get their luggage screened before they get their passports stamped in future.

Buses would have to stop further away because radiographic scanning portals - imaging scanners - to scan buses will be installed at the alighting bays. The ICA is considering building travelators to help passengers bridge the additional distance.

Officers will no longer have to board buses for manual checks.

Blast-proof walls will also be built at the passenger clearance area and bus alighting bay.

The ICA is looking to appoint consultants by September and to begin construction by next June.

Singapore's various checkpoints handle more than 500,000 visitors daily, and Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean listed several measures to boost border security during this year's Budget debate. These include installing advanced crash barriers and more CCTV cameras at checkpoints.

Said security expert Bilveer Singh: "This is part and parcel of the whole gamut of things to strengthen the nation's security in view of the rising Islamic State threat - the harm could come from people within or without."

Calling buses a security vulnerability, he noted that attacks on such "high-value soft targets" would cause a lot of damage and strike fear in Singaporeans.

"The high human and vehicular flow makes (the checkpoint) an attractive target, and the best we can do is to prepare, plan and anticipate," said Dr Singh.

Travellers told The Straits Times they hoped the changes would not lead to Customs delays.

"Security checks are now part of travelling because of concerns over terrorism but I'm concerned over the further delay," said fitness coach Poon Pek Ya.

The 46-year-old, who organises trips to Malaysia twice a year to compete in triathlon races, said it now takes no more than 15 minutes to clear immigration. "If there is a lot of time wasted, it would be quite a hassle."

But Marine Parade GRC MP Tin Pei Ling, who sits on the Government Parliamentary Committee for Home Affairs and Law, said it was sensible to subject passengers to security screenings first.

"It is timely and necessary to enhance our border security processes and capabilities to better safeguard Singaporeans' peace and safety," she said.

dansonc@sph.com.sg