Parliament 2014: Classifying breach wrongly 'a major factor' in response

PARLIAMENT Classifying breach wrongly 'a major factor' in response DPM Teo Chee Hean took questions from various MPs in Parliament yesterday about what led to the border breach and how it could have been avoided

Mr Hri Kumar Nair: Why did the first two officers allow the car to go through without raising an alarm? Were any attempts made to locate the car while it was in Singapore for those three days? And why were those attempts not successful?

How many officers will be subject to disciplinary proceedings for this incident?

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean: As far as we can know, the first officer at the counter consulted another officer, and hesitated, and took 2-1/2 minutes instead of sounding the alarm immediately. So that caused a problem.

The second officer at the secondary security checkpoint did not do so either. I do not know the reasons why.

The officers are not new officers. They have been in the service for some years and, looking back at their records, have in general been good officers. So we don't know the reasons why they did not sound the alarm immediately despite being trained to do so.

With regard to disciplinary proceedings, I won't want to go into numbers right now.

What efforts were taken to locate the car over three days?

A major factor was to misclassify the incident as an immigration offence and not a major security breach. As a result... the police did not put out a high level and persistent alert to all ground forces. Therefore, they were not looking for the vehicle and driver as actively and vigorously as they should have.

Ms Lee Li Lian: Is the current number of immigration officers enough to deal with the surge in travellers during peak seasons? What is being done to ensure that the attention of immigration officers is not compromised as a result of tiredness and/or long working hours?

DPM Teo: Woodlands Checkpoint is one of the busiest land checkpoints in the world, with more than 300,000 people and 130,000 vehicles passing through each day.

The workload is high and officers need to remain vigilant and alert at all times. To manage this, we have over the years put more resources into Woodlands Checkpoint.

The total increase of manpower between 2008 and now is 58 per cent. During the same period, the total increase in travellers and vehicles is 26 and 36 per cent respectively.

In addition, the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority has leveraged on technology and expanded the physical clearance capacity at Woodlands. ICA introduced an advanced automated clearance system and biometric identification of motorbikes in 2006. In the next phase, we'll see 30 car counters added to the 40 we currently have at the old Woodlands.

This is expected to be operationalised in 2016 for the car counters.

Associate Professor Eugene Tan: Is this a question of officers trying to downgrade the seriousness of the breach? Why couldn't the different agencies coordinate in a situation like this? How could this lapse have occurred in the added light of many other incidents involving the Home Team?

DPM Teo: I find the decision that was made by the ground commanders unacceptable. There is a protocol to classify this as a security breach... it's a serious error on their part.

Mr Yee Jenn Jong: What are the arrangements between the Home Team and the private security company in ensuring the suitability of the auxiliary police officers (APOs) for the various job functions?

What sort of decisions go into deciding what type of job functions can be outsourced? Is the training the same for the APOs and full-time officers performing the same duty? Are any of the APOs allowed to start their work before completing all their training?

DPM Teo: None of the APOs can start their duties without having completed the training. None of the ICA officers can either.

In general, we will employ APOs where there are very specific functions to be carried out.

Where there are functions which require a broader range of judgments, broader application of policies and so on, then we will employ our Home Team officers who will be able to understand and apply... more complicated and complex protocols in a better way.

Mr Nicholas Fang: Were the particulars of the driver and the vehicle not circulated to all the other ground forces? Is that why at Cantonment, when the officers responded to the 999 call by the taxi driver initially, and then at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the officers failed to respond immediately or recognise immediately that this was a vehicle involved in the breach three days earlier?

DPM Teo: Exactly so - that's why the mistake in classifying the incident was a major factor in the subsequent inadequate response.

But even on its own, the officers at Cantonment complex could have responded better. 


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