Addenda to President's Address: Ministries to ensure Singapore's long-term security while tackling pandemic

The SAF's Army Medical Services personnel attending to a foreign worker at Westlite Toh Guan Dormitory, on April 7, 2020.
The SAF's Army Medical Services personnel attending to a foreign worker at Westlite Toh Guan Dormitory, on April 7, 2020.PHOTO: MINDEF

Even as they spend significant resources on battling the coronavirus, the ministries in charge of Singapore's security will press on with building up capabilities for the longer term, including tapping technology and investing in servicemen.

And while the welfare of Singaporeans overseas continues to be one of the priorities, strengthening the country's ties with foreign partners will maintain critical supply links and secure access to Covid-19 vaccines when they become available.

These priorities were outlined by the ministries of Defence, Home and Foreign Affairs yesterday in their addenda to the President's Address.

The Defence and Home Affairs ministries pointed to significant threats and challenges ahead, such as cyber attacks, terrorism, foreign interference in domestic politics, and transnational crimes.

"The geopolitical environment and security landscape which we face are becoming more complex, and further exacerbated by disruptions and differences brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic," said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen.

The Singapore Armed Forces has not compromised on operational readiness despite Covid-19, and has resumed more training activities, as well as restarted overseas exercises to sharpen its capability edge, he added.

Looking ahead, the next-generation SAF will make use of digitalisation, autonomous and unmanned systems, big data and artificial intelligence, he said.

But he stressed that national service remains the crucial backbone of Singapore's defence.

The national service system will be enhanced to support the needs of a new generation of servicemen, and the National Service Review Committee established this year will look at ways to better match skills and experience to vocations and deployment.

 
 
 

Meanwhile, Minister for Home Affairs K. Shanmugam announced that a Safe Travel Office has been set up under the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) to provide "a single touchpoint" for all travellers. The move is prompted by the steps the Government has been taking to reopen Singapore's borders.

The office, set up last month, will provide coordination across the agencies involved in various travel schemes, and make for an easier and smoother travel experience, he said in his ministry's addendum.

In response to media queries, the ICA said a one-stop SafeTravel online application portal has been launched to facilitate travellers' entry to and exit from Singapore, while ensuring public health considerations are addressed.

The portal will also automate travel applications and process public inquiries and appeals. Travellers who wish to find out more about the requirements of the various travel schemes can visit the portal at safetravel.ica.gov.sg

The Home Affairs Ministry will also strengthen capabilities to deal with emerging and evolving threats. In terms of technology, it will develop more digital forensics capabilities to tackle technology crimes, and intensify the role of robots and unmanned aerial vehicles in search-and-rescue, fire-fighting and hazardous materials operations.

Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, in his ministry's addendum, said the ministry remains committed to helping Singaporeans overseas and doing its part to bring peace of mind to their families at home.

 
 
 

Other than looking after overseas Singaporeans, it has two other priorities. One is to manage and strengthen ties with immediate neighbours, Asean and key regional and international partners.

The other is to maintain Singapore's relevance on the global stage and engage international partners in the collective fight against Covid-19.

As the country navigates the choppy waters ahead, Dr Balakrishnan called on Singaporeans to stay strong and united. "This will strengthen our credibility when we work with external partners to strengthen our bilateral relations, regional standing and international presence," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 28, 2020, with the headline 'Ministries to ensure S'pore's long-term security while tackling pandemic'. Print Edition | Subscribe