Debate on ministries' budgets: Home Affairs

Parliament: Cost to boost Home Team's capabilities to double in 2025

Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo said a Bill to establish a new Science and Technology Agency as a statutory board under the Ministry of Home Affairs will be tabled in Parliament, and it will be set up by the end of 2019.
Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo said a Bill to establish a new Science and Technology Agency as a statutory board under the Ministry of Home Affairs will be tabled in Parliament, and it will be set up by the end of 2019.PHOTO: GOV.SG

Singapore's annual spending to develop the capabilities of Home Team agencies will more than double from $979 million this financial year to $1.9 billion in 2025.

And how the money is to be used will be directed by a new Science and Technology Agency, which is to be set up by the end of this year.

Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo said in Parliament yesterday that this will allow the Home Team to develop its science and technology capabilities in-house, for example, forensics and biometrics.It has so far been teaming up with other government agencies and industry partners, such as ST Engineering and Singtel, to do it.

"But as we look to further leverage technology, we will need to set up a dedicated agency to further develop the Home Team's science and technology capabilities," Mrs Teo said, adding that more details will be given in due course.

Meanwhile, Mrs Teo told the House that proposed legislation to establish the agency as a statutory board under the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) will be presented in Parliament, with an eye to having it established by the year end.

The agency will do research and create systems customised to each Home Team department, without duplicating the efforts of existing government agencies.

"Centralising science and technology talent that is today distributed across the different Home Team departments will better support career development for the officers, which, in turn, deepens organisational capabilities," said Mrs Teo.

Other reasons she gave for setting up the agency include the need for the Home Team to stay ahead in areas such as forensics, biometrics and surveillance. These capabilities are increasingly critical for protecting Singapore, she added.

The Home Team also has distinct operational and mission requirements, so many of the needed capabilities are unique to them, she said.

"Like other countries which have dedicated technical agencies for homeland security, the Home Team needs to strengthen our core team of scientists and engineers."

Mrs Teo also said technical expertise is vital for these scientists and engineers, who must also understand the Home Team's operational needs in order to come up with effective solutions and work alongside Home Team officers.

 
 

The creation of the agency comes at a time when the terrorist threat remains high, with continued cases of self-radicalisation in Singapore, and as criminals use technology to employ more sophisticated tactics.

"The Home Team's workload has continued to increase and public expectations are rising," said Mrs Teo. "To cope with these challenges, simply increasing manpower is neither sustainable nor effective."

Responding to questions from Mr Low Thia Khiang (Aljunied GRC) on data security amid an increased reliance on technology, Mrs Teo said there are strict guidelines on how data is handled in the Home Team.

For example, sensitive data can be accessed only by authorised officers with a legitimate reason, and systems are in place to track and monitor who accesses the data.

Anyone who suspects their personal data has been misused by any Home Team department should approach the MHA or the Government Technology Agency, Mrs Teo said.

"MHA takes its responsibility as custodian of the data it collects very seriously. We, of all agencies, understand that any data abuse, breach or leak can severely compromise public trust."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 02, 2019, with the headline 'Cost to boost Home Team's skills to double in 2025'. Print Edition | Subscribe