SINGAPORE - Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chief Chee Soon Juan said Singapore's immigration policy has to be tightened, a day after the Ministry of Home Affairs announced that eight Bangladeshi workers were detained for plotting violent attacks back home.
"We need to pay a lot more attention on people who come into our shores," he said in response to questions from reporters in Bukit Batok on Wednesday (May 4), where he faces People's Action Party (PAP) candidate Murali Pillai in a by-election this Saturday (May 7).
"You let in hundreds of thousands, millions, you've got to be asking yourself, there must be people there who are not properly vetted," he added.
On Tuesday, the Ministry of Home Affairs announced that the eight workers, aged between 26 and 34, called their group the Islamic State in Bangladesh. They had a list of targets, documents on weapons and bombmaking, and raised funds to buy firearms to carry out the attacks back home.
They have been detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA), which allows for detention without trial for two years in the first instance, and which is a law Dr Chee and the SDP have been outspoken against.
But Dr Chee did not respond directly to questions on whether the ISA was needed and whether he felt it should be abolished, saying the case had "nothing to do" with it and "everything to do with immigration policy".
"Let's get at the root cause of the problem, that is where we need to stop this problem, before something really untoward happens here in Singapore," he said.
"It's really high time you address this problem, and the only way you can do this is when I get into Parliament. We will make sure that we raise this with the Home Affairs Minister, and ask him, give us the lowdown on who's coming into Singapore," he added.
"Yes we will need the talent, but what and how is the vetting process? These are all things that are hugely important, and right now I think we are not addressing it at this stage, and the Home Affairs Minister has a lot to answer for."
Dr Chee, who spent the morning greeting residents on their way to work and also cycling around the estate, also said PAP ministers had not been "challenged intellectually" in Parliament.
And he said he hoped Bukit Batok residents will change that when they vote on May 7.
He noted that both the PAP and SDP have proposed social programmes and pledged to take care of the estate and manage the town council well, but his party's "comparative advantage" was in what it would do in Parliament.
"Whether it's retrenchment insurance, whether it's on CPF, whether it's in the elderly getting more financial assistance, pushing for a bigger Budget to ensure that our elderly are taken care of, these are things that I think we have a tremendous advantage in terms of us going and making sure that some of these issues are pushed," he said.
Dr Chee added that should he be elected, he would make a "qualitative difference" to Parliament, and he would make sure that ministers are able to "justify their positions" on the issues that matter - something that he claimed has not been happening.
"When you begin to chip away at some of these arguments that they have been getting away with for so long - frankly some are very weak arguments - I think we are then going to start making some headway," he said. "I tell you, some of these ministers, they have not been challenged in terms of their arguments, they have not been challenged intellectually."
He cited the progressive wage model, which sets a wage ladder so cleaners and security guards can get higher pay as they upgrade their skills, as something that can be improved.
"You have this monthly wage (but) workers, before they work six to eight hours, and now they are stretched, they work more hours now," he said. "How do you rectify that, how do you address that problem? And if there are complaints, what happens?"
He added that "it doesn't make sense" that the model is not being extended to more industries, and said he would call for an independent "fair-wage commission" if he is elected.