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Photo by Straits Times

Is the issue of terrorism overhyped in Singapore?

by Ghui

The Singapore government has always spent quite a significant potion of the state budget on defence. I suppose this dates back to Singapore's early days when we were fending off potential attacks from neighbouring countries bolstered by our small size and relative vulnerability to external influences.

Given that the world has now changed and global eminence is determined more by the control and mastery of technology and data than the use of arms and soldiers, I am not sure that physical defence is still as crucial. I am not questioning its undoubted importance. All I am wondering is if the balance is up to date and in line with international events? These things are after all not static and have to move with the times in order to be relevant and efficient.

Based on a report in the Straits Times, the Singapore government is planning to ramp up its security spending given the heightened terrorist threats in recent years.

For the purposes of making a point, please allow me to make a generalisation in the interests of being concise - is the issue of terrorism overhyped?

I am in no way suggesting that it is not a very serious issue. Terrorist attacks have occurred in many countries leading to death and destruction. Singapore should always be alert and prepared. That said, we already spend a colossal amount of money (for such a small and peaceful country*) on security and defence – is spending even more necessarily helpful or required?

Past a certain point, it isn't really about the number of cameras and software we have but the population's readiness to make decisions and take actions outside the box under situations of high stress that will make the difference between life and death.

Besides, is the threat of terrorism higher today than say 10 years ago? Arguably, where Singapore is concerned, the threat is as high as it was a decade ago? Why then the increased spending now?

The issue with terrorism is its fear factor. Say the dreaded "T" word and everyone's heart starts beating quicker. But let's not miss the forest for the trees. Is the combating of terrorism more important than say spending more on ensuring that our transportation systems work on time? I ask this question in light of the amount that we already spend on security and defence and also bearing in mind our recent transportation woes.

In querying the increased spending on defence and security, I am not necessarily criticising the decision to so do. All I am hoping for is more discussion, explantion and debate on how the money is being spent and why.

If it becomes clear (after the open presentation of data and information) of why these monies need to be spent with clear explanations of where and how the threat on terrorism has actually increased in the last few years, will lead to a better justification of why spending more is actually required.

Lest we forget, the monies spent by the government come from our taxes. It is public money and it is not in infinite supply no matter what we may think.

*Around $5.7 billion for Ministry of Home Affairs and 14.2 billion for Ministry of Defence in 2017. As a comparision, Malaysia spent $4.1 billion for its Ministry of Home Affairs and around $4.5 billion for its Ministry of Defence in 2016.

Editor's note - Singapore is probably one of the few countries that remind its citizens that they are under constant threat from terrorists on a daily basis on advertising and public announcement on public transport. It is when the people are in fear where they will seek status quo for security, an example of this is where People's Action Party called for a snap election soon after the 9/11 incident in United States and won with resounding results.