SINGAPORE - The Ministry of Home Affairs' (MHA) budget will increase by more than 10 per cent this year, with a large part of this increase to go into boosting Singapore's counter-terrorism capabilities, said Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam on Friday (March 2).
Revealing the spike during the debate on his ministry's budget, Mr Shanmugam cited the growing terrorist threat as a reason, warning that the extremist group ISIS remains and "in fact, will grow as fighters return to our region".
"MHA must do all we can to protect our people. It is our responsibility and accountability to deal with terrorist threats in the homeland," he added.
MHA's spending has increased over the years: It was $4.88 billion in 2015, $5.23 billion in 2016, $5.83 billion in 2017 and is estimated to rise by around 11 per cent to $6.48 billion this year.
In his Budget speech last week, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat had also stressed the need to invest more in security in the light of the terrorism threat, which he said was the "highest in recent years".
Mr Shanmugam also pointed out that under the Singapore Constitution, MHA is responsible for homefront and internal security, including counter-terrorism, and crisis and consequence management.
In the event of terrorist attacks, his ministry will play the leading role in Singapore's response, with the police as the "first and main responders".
Mr Shanmugam highlighted the police's Emergency Response Teams and the Special Operations Command as playing this role.
If the scale of the attack is large, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) can be roped in to support the police as an auxiliary force, tapping its specialised units, such as the Special Operations Task Force.
"So the police and SAF have developed joint plans, and conducted joint exercises. We are very appreciative of the SAF's commitment to support the Home Team in such situations," said the minister.
MHA may also call on other government ministries and agencies, like the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Communications and Information, to support the operations, said Mr Shanmugam.
"Exercises will be conducted to make sure these plans are sharpened. We will include other partner agencies in our exercises.
"Such exercises with our partner agencies are necessary for all of us to understand how we can operate together with the police in command and control," said Mr Shanmugam.
In her speech, Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo noted that the police rolled out last December their latest quick response forces, known as In-Situ Reaction Teams, which have been patrolling areas with heavy human traffic, for example Orchard Road and Marina Bay.
Mrs Teo said Singapore must also guard against social fault lines, 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.
Amendments to the Public Order Act and the new Infrastructure Protection Act were passed last year.
Responding to questions from Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland–Bukit Timah GRC) and Ms Rahayu Mahzam (Jurong GRC) on the role that Singaporeans can play, Mrs Teo highlighted the national SGSecure efforts.
She said: “Our preparedness must go beyond the Home Team. Every Singaporean has a role to play, and the community must be ready, which is why we have SGSecure.
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.