The scourge of terrorism looming over Singapore is the leading force pushing the country to budget 11 per cent more than last year to secure its home front.
The increase, which will swell the purse of the Home Affairs Ministry to $6.48 billion in financial year 2018, is vital, Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday.
The reason is that the threat from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) extremist group will grow in the region following its defeat in the Middle East. As its fighters return to the region, the ministry "must do all it can to protect our people", he said during the debate on his ministry's budget.
"It is our responsibility and accountability to deal with terrorist threats in Singapore," he added.
The need to invest more in the light of this menace was also underlined by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat in the Budget Statement he unveiled last week. The threat is at the highest level in recent years, Mr Heng said.
Its significance is reflected as well in the nod given to the increase, even as Mr Heng told government agencies their annual budget growth from next year will be reined in to 0.3 per cent from 0.4 per cent of gross domestic product.
To battle the terror threat as well as crime, the ministry will triple its annual investments in high-tech solutions in the next two years, said Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo.
PROTECTING OUR PEOPLE
It is our responsibility and accountability to deal with terrorist threats within Singapore.
HOME AFFAIRS MINISTER K. SHANMUGAM
While terrorism occupied a large part of the speeches of both political leaders, the drug menace was a major concern too.
They said the immediate focus in the fight against drugs is on measures to protect victims and rehabilitate offenders.
PSYCHOLOGICALLY RESILIENT PEOPLE
The growing number of Singaporeans who pursue work and educational opportunities abroad may have to wrestle with dissenting views more squarely.
Foreign business partners, schoolmates or friends may at times express fundamental disagreement with Singapore's decisions, policies or actions. They could even persuade you to adopt their viewpoint at the expense of supporting our national interests...
We need a psychologically resilient people, able to withstand crisis or viral attacks, and not be rattled. If someone comments negatively about Singapore and our immediate response is not to verify the facts, but to instead condemn Singapore and, worse, spread the untruths, we are creating for ourselves a hole in our defence that our adversaries would not hesitate to jump at and widen the divide.
SENIOR MINISTER OF STATE FOR DEFENCE MALIKI OSMAN, on correcting falsehoods about Singapore.
As for the battle against terrorists, Mr Shanmugam said his ministry will play the lead role, with the police as the "first and main responders" in a terror attack.
This position is spelt out in Singapore's legal and constitutional frameworks, which state that the ministry is responsible for internal security, including managing the crisis and its aftermath.
In the event of a large-scale attack, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) can be brought in to support the police as an auxiliary force, tapping its specialised units like the Special Operations Task Force.
"To this end, the police and SAF have developed joint plans and conducted joint exercises," he said.
The ministry may also get other government agencies and ministries, such as the Health Ministry and the Communications and Information Ministry, to support its operations, he added.
Joint exercises will be held, and these are necessary for all parties to sharpen their response plans, said Mr Shanmugam.
Mrs Teo said that Singapore must also guard against social fault lines to make it harder for terrorists to carry out attacks, and "to think twice before they target us".
As a precautionary move, the Government introduced the Public Order and Safety (Special Powers) Bill this week to give the police powers to, among other things, issue an order to stop people, including the media, from communicating information that can compromise police operations.
The new Act adds to the arsenal against terrorism, which was reinforced last year when the Infrastructure Protection Act was introduced and changes made to the Public Order Act.
In addition, Mrs Teo said, "every Singaporean has a role to play, and that is why community partnership is a key part of the Home Team's work and also why we launched the SGSecure movement".
Correction note: An earlier version of this report said that the Public Order and Safety (Special Powers) Bill was passed this week, when in fact it was only tabled for the first reading. A stop order under the proposed Act can be placed against all kinds of communication -- photos, text, audio and graphics -- that could compromise police operations. We are sorry for the error.