Commuters at Singapore's land checkpoints during the peak holiday period could be forgiven for seeing red when they find some counters closed. It would stand to reason that they expect all counters to operate precisely because of the heavy traffic. Closed counters exacerbate the frustrations of those who join long queues. Travellers found themselves enduring delays as traffic jams plagued the Tuas and Woodlands checkpoints earlier this month. Some said they were stuck for about six hours, others for four to five hours, and one person complained of having been caught in a jam for eight hours. Although no direct connection with closed counters was reported in that instance, the delays and having to inch forward grate on commuters, especially when they consider the journey they still have to travel, and the late arrival times at their destinations.
Still, closed counters at land crossings cannot be blamed for congestion. Nor do they mean Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) officers are idling on the job. Congestion stems from a number of factors: a manpower shortage for one thing - and this is reportedly not from want of trying to recruit officers; an increase in traffic and commuter volumes, particularly during and in the run-up to holidays and on weekends; and impatience and queue-cutting by motorists and other commuters that cause further delays. In late December, the land checkpoints - already among the busiest in the world - see a 10 per cent increase in the number of travellers, amounting to 430,000 crossings a day. It is worth reiterating that security risks increase with traffic volume. ICA officers do not just stamp passports and wave travellers on mechanically. They are alert to variations in behaviour and other patterns that give clues to the malignant intentions of some commuters - from drug and human traffickers, to contraband smugglers, to the more sinister threat of terrorism. ICA officers are, every day, a first line of defence at entry points against those who circumvent laws or are out to do Singapore harm.