SINGAPORE - Minister for Family and Social Development Tan Chuan-Jin has posted a lengthy Facebook update about his expedited clearance by Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) at the Tuas Checkpoint on Sunday (July 17).
He said that he had joined residents on a one-day durian trip to Johor Baru and had travelled by bus so that he could be with residents and volunteers: "On the return journey, ICA facilitated the clearance for me and my security officers who were carrying their firearms, as well as the residents and volunteers who were with me on my bus."
Workers' Party MP Png Eng Huat had commented on his Facebook that he was "dismayed" to see a lane for immigration clearance specially opened for Mr Tan and his residents. Mr Tan is MP for Marine Parade GRC.
Mr Tan said that he had the impression that Mr Png had queued for a long time when ICA checks showed that it was "all of 30 mins".
Mr Tan added that Mr Png's post was "aimed at stirring hate and anger, not only to be directed at me, which I can understand politically, but also at my residents and volunteers (who organised as well as helped guide each bus), as well as our officers who secure our borders. It's unfortunate that he and his colleagues chose to politicise the issue."
The ICA said on Tuesday in response to media queries that it is normal practice for the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) to give expedited clearance to ministers.
ICA also confirmed that Mr Tan was travelling with 20 bus loads of people, who were his residents and grassroots leaders, on Sunday (July 17) when he, his security officers and the other passengers in his bus were given clearance, without having to queue, at the Tuas Checkpoint at around 9.20pm.
The passengers in the other 19 buses were cleared through the normal channels, ICA added.
"It is normal practice for ICA to give expedited clearance to Ministers, on both sides of the Causeway as well as members of the Malaysian royalty," ICA said.
"Where they travel with others in a group, ICA officers will use their judgment on the clearance process," it added.
Mr Png said in a post on Monday (July 18) afternoon that the Singapore customs was "overwhelmed" when he and some residents were returning from a one-day trip to Desaru on Sunday. Mr Png is MP for Hougang SMC.
"Many tired travellers were relieved to see another counter opened but to their dismay, it was only to allow Minister Tan Chuan-Jin to clear as he had joined his residents for a day of outing and fun too," he said.
He said that most people probably did not mind this, as "being a minister does come with privileges", but he noted that some others in the group with Mr Tan also did not have to queue.
"An entourage of grassroots leaders and members with shopping bags in tow also enjoyed the privilege of fast clearance... No one else could use that counter," he said.
Mr Png added that an 89-year-old resident in his group, and one who was injured during the tour had to wait in line.
"The chaos, anger and confusion at the Tuas Immigration check point certainly made us forget how bad the durians were yesterday, and how bad the system needs to change," he concluded.
According to ICA, records show that Mr Png was at the checkpoint for about 30 minutes, and was cleared through immigration.
When contacted, Mr Png said that the issue was not about Mr Tan given expedited clearance, but the fact that the grassroots people travelling with him were also given special treatment. "ICA sees it fit to state that I waited about 30 minutes to clear customs. I am sure the Minister would not mind waiting 30 minutes for the rest of his travelling companions to clear customs as well", he added.
On Tuesday evening, Mr Png also responded to Mr Tan's Facebook post saying: "I don't have an issue with Minister Tan, personally or politically. I have an issue with inequality."
Another Workers' Party politician, Kenneth Foo, also wrote about the incident on his Facebook page.
Mr Png's post had been shared more than 600 times by Tuesday morning.
Netizens debated the incident in the comments under the post, with some defending Mr Tan and others saying that grassroots leaders should not be given special treatment.
Meanwhile, Facebook group Fabrications About The PAP gave an explanation for the incident.
It explained in a Facebook post on Monday night that Mr Tan was on a semi-official trip. He then chose to join his residents for a Johor Baru tour and take the bus with them instead of driving in.
"It was a semi-official visit and his security officers carried firearms. Thus, his whole bus of residents was cleared at the same time," said the post.