Parliament: MHA budget on boosting Home Team agencies' capabilities to double to $1.9 billion 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 - Annual spending to develop the capabilities of Home Team agencies will more than double from $979 million in this financial year to $1.9 billion in 2025.

This will be directed by a new Science and Technology Agency, said Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo on Friday (March 1).

Giving reasons on the need for a new agency during the debate on the budget for the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), Mrs Teo said that it will allow the Home Team to bring its capability development in-house.

She said the MHA has thus far been partnering other government agencies and industry partners, such as ST Engineering and Singtel, to develop these capabilities.

"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," she said, adding that more details will be provided in due course.

Mrs Teo said a Bill to establish the agency as a statutory board under the MHA will be tabled in Parliament, and it will be set up by the end of this year.

The new agency will develop the Home Team departments' capabilities in that area by conducting research and creating new systems deployable across all their operations, but will not duplicate efforts by 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," explained Mrs Teo.

Other reasons include the need for the Home Team to stay ahead in areas such as forensics, biometrics and surveillance, as these capabilities become increasingly critical to safeguarding Singapore.

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

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

She added that for those scientists and engineers, technical expertise is crucial, but they must also understand the Home Team's operational needs, in order to come up with effective solutions, and also work alongside Home Team officers.

"Ultimately, to combat fast-evolving security threats and to safeguard Singapore, the Home Team must possess deep in-house capabilities and expertise to build mission-critical capabilities in a responsive manner," said Mrs Teo.

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 are themselves using technology to employ more sophisticated tactics.

"The workload of the Home Team 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 a question from Aljunied GRC MP Low Thia Khiang about data security, 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 who have a legitimate reason, and there are systems in place to track and monitor who accessed 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 (GovTech), said Mrs Teo.

"Anyone found abusing data for unauthorised use will be severely dealt with under the law," she said, adding that surveillance and data collection capabilities are solely aimed at better safeguarding Singapore.

"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."