Parliament: New law passed to harden key infrastructure against terror attacks

Speaking at the start of the debate on the new law, Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo cited recent terrorist attacks around the world against iconic landmarks and government buildings.
Speaking at the start of the debate on the new law, Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo cited recent terrorist attacks around the world against iconic landmarks and government buildings.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The worsening terror threat has underscored the need for a more systematic way to protect key infrastructure here, Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo told Parliament on Monday (Oct 2).

This was why the newly-passed Infrastructure Protection Act seeks to establish a "clear regulatory framework" to do so, and it is part of a comprehensive strategy to fight terror, she added.

Speaking at the start of the debate on the new law, Mrs Teo cited recent terrorist attacks around the world against iconic landmarks and government buildings and said such buildings were prime targets for terrorists.

"Today's terrorists typically target crowded places or iconic buildings, so that they can take out as many lives as possible, and make a huge statement with their acts. Their aim is to create fear, and upend our way of life in the ideological battle between their and our values," she said.

She highlighted the Marriott Hotel bombings in Pakistan in 2008, where a truck carrying a massive truck bomb was stopped by a security barrier 40m away, which "blunted the attack".

Incidents like that testify to the importance of adequately protecting infrastructure here, she said, adding that Singapore is not immune to such threats. Last year, ISIS-linked militants planned an attack on Marina Bay Sands from Batam, but the plot was foiled by Indonesian security forces.

The new law will will allow the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to designate new buildings as "special developments", and existing buildings as "special infrastructures" - this will require the buildings to go through a "security-by-design" process, meaning they have to integrate security into their designs before they are built or renovated.

The security plans will have to be approved by a new Commissioner for Infrastructure Protection.

These buildings will include those that provide essential services, have high footfall, or have iconic or symbolic significance. They must also have a gross floor area of over 100,000 sq m, be located in specific planning areas, and be designated for commercial, community of mixed use, said Mrs Teo, adding that full criteria will be published in the Government Gazette soon.

The Commissioner will also have the power to issue directives to building owners to put place security measures to address risk of an attack - this could include improving closed circuit TV coverage or installing vehicle barriers.

"Security directives are intended as a last resort. Where a building is assessed to be at risk, MHA and Police will first engage building owners to develop practical security measures and encourage them to undertake those measures voluntarily," said Mrs Teo.

Lastly, the new law will also give security personnel at sensitive installations - such as military camps and immigration checkpoints - powers to deal with threats in their vicinity, such as the power to question suspicious persons and inspect their belongings, and to require them to leave the area.

It will also be illegal to take photos or videos of these installations without authorisation, a move that could prevent surveillance by terrorists. Security personnel will be able to stop people from doing so, and will have powers to examine footage and have it deleted.

"Potential attacks overseas have been stopped by vigilant guards in the surrounding area of a sensitive facility," said Mrs Teo.

The Act, which was first tabled in Parliament last month, was passed on Monday (Oct 2) after eight MPs spoke in support of it.

Several MPs, including Mr Darryl David (Ang Mo Kio GRC), Mr Desmond Choo (Tampines GRC) and Mr Melvin Yong (Tanjong Pagar GRC), asked what training security guards would receive in light of their increased powers.

Mrs Teo said security officers currently have to go through a counter-terrorism course and that MHA and Police are working with tripartite partners to make the course a licensing requirement.