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Routine check by police officers of an migrant worker at Chinatown (Photo - Terry Xu)

MHA Budget to increase 10 percent, reaching $6.48 billion

Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam announced during Parliament on 2 March that the Ministry of Home Affairs' (MHA) budget will increase by more than 10 percent this year, with a large part of this increase to go into boosting Singapore's counter-terrorism capabilities.

He stressed that under Singapore’s legal framework and constitutional structure, the MHA is responsible for home-front and internal security, including counter-terrorism, crisis and consequence management, stressing that 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".

He then stated that the ministry MHA must and will do all it can to protect Singaporeans, adding, "It is our responsibility and accountability to deal with terrorist threats within Singapore."

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. 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" in his Budget speech last Monday.

Mr Shanmugam said, "When a terrorist attack happens, MHA is therefore overall responsible, will be in charge and lead the national response. Police will manage the incident on the ground and will be the first and main responders. If the scale of the attack is very large, MHA may also ask SAF (Singapore Armed Forces) to provide support to the police as an auxiliary force. Likewise, MHA may also ask other ministries, agencies to support the operations."

"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," he added.

The minister said that, to support the operations, MHA may also call on other government ministries and agencies, like the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Communications and Information.

He said, "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."

"This modus operandi has been discussed and agreed for some time, and as I said it follows the constitutional structure and practice we’ve adopted over many decades - and I made this clear in 2016 when I stated that (for) all operations within Singapore, the police will take command."

"For example, if there is a large-scale attack, if police need additional forces beyond the Emergency Response Teams (ERT), (and) Special Operations Command (SOC), SPF (Singapore Police Force) may call upon SAF for specialised forces such as the Special Operations Task Force. They will also support and reinforce the ERTs and SOC."

"SPF and SAF have developed joint plans and have been conducting joint exercises “to make sure these plans are sharpened”, he said. We are of course very appreciative for the SAF’s commitment, and the commitment of other agencies, to support the Home Team in such situations," said Mr Shanmugam.

Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo stated in her speech that the police rolled out their latest quick response forces in December 2017, known as In-Situ Reaction Teams, which have been patrolling areas with heavy human traffic, for example Orchard Road and Marina Bay.

Mrs Teo noted that 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”.

To this, the Government introduced the Public Order and Safety (Special Powers) Bill on Tuesday to put in place powers that the police may need in the event of serious incidents, such as a stop order against all communication during sensitive police operations. Amendments to the Public Order Act and the new Infrastructure Protection Act were passed last year.