Efficiency at borders 'not at expense of security'

Some inconvenience must be accepted to ensure Singapore's safety: Desmond Lee

Efficiency at Singapore's borders cannot be pursued at the expense of security, especially with the terrorist threat at its highest level in recent times.

Some inconvenience must be accepted in order to keep Singapore safe and secure, Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Lee said yesterday.

He stressed this during a closed- door speech during the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority's (ICA) annual workplan seminar at the Home Team Academy.

Addressing Home Team officers, Mr Lee said the country's "borders are our vital first line of defence when it comes to fighting the threat of terrorism".

He pointed out that with 197 million travellers crossing the nation's borders last year - or more than 500,000 travellers a day - there would be pressure from the public for fast clearance. But he urged ICA officers to remain vigilant.

Mr Lee publicly commended four ICA officers for their roles in detecting radicalised individuals who were transiting through Singapore.

Two of them - corporals Juliati Mohd Arip and Mohammad Sufi Wahit - had spotted two suspicious Indonesian men at the HarbourFront Ferry Terminal last November.

The duo were dressed in casual shirts, jeans and sports shoes, and looked like any other backpacker.

But one of the men had a new passport that appeared to have been tampered with.

Mr Lee said the ICA officers checked the men's belongings and found materials related to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terror group.

"It was later discovered that both of them had intended to travel to Iraq to join ISIS. Cpl Juliati and Cpl Mohammad Sufi foiled their plans," said Mr Lee.

Two other officers - Sergeant Rasul Haron and Checkpoint Inspector Low Thian Ghee - were on duty at the Woodlands Checkpoint in February when they spotted four Indonesians behaving suspiciously.

Again, checks on the four uncovered ISIS-related material in their possessions, said Mr Lee, adding that the alertness of ICA officers had foiled their plans.

Mr Lee also praised all 5,000 ICA officers for protecting the country's borders around the clock, 365 days a year.

"All of us in ICA must continue to be thorough in our checks and remain vigilant at all times to spot those with malicious intent," said Mr Lee. "The safety of our families, our friends and our loved ones depends on your vigilance."

In a separate speech yesterday, Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs Maliki Osman reiterated this point.

" While these enhanced checks at our land checkpoints in Woodlands and Tuas may add a delay to our commutes to and from Malaysia, I hope that you understand the need for such checks in order for us to keep ourselves safe," he said.

Dr Maliki, speaking at a panel discussion on counter-terrorism at the UniSIM Centre for Applied Research, also highlighted the risks posed by terrorism, and what Singapore is doing to counter the threat.

"Terrorism poses a threat to more than just our physical security. It also threatens our raison d'etre and cohesiveness as a thriving multiracial, multi-religious society," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 12, 2016, with the headline 'Efficiency at borders 'not at expense of security''. Print Edition | Subscribe