The Woodlands Checkpoint / photo:

ICA has a budget of over SGD1 billion in 2018, $200 million more than 2017. But they’re still understaffed?

The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) is struggling with a shortage of manpower, said Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam on Thursday amidst growing complaints about the horrendous traffic situation at the Woodlands and Tuas Checkpoints.

The minister noted that ICA, as well as many other sectors in Singapore, is facing a labour shortage, especially in jobs where only Singaporeans are able to take up. He said, “It’s not for want of trying, we just don’t have enough manpower in Singapore and only Singapore citizens can take up this job.”

Over the past few weeks, complaints have been pouring in from irate travellers being stuck in traffic jams trying to get in and out of Singapore – some claiming to have been stuck for 8 hours. Many travellers also pointed out that only a handful of counters were open on the Singaporean side, which is causing the massive delays.

On that note, Mr Shanmugan said that more than 500 ICA officers clocked in overtime last week to deal with the surge travellers getting in and out of Singapore. “They are working their guts out,” added Mr Shanmugam, who said only up to 10 per cent of its workforce have been allowed to go on leave during the holiday season.

He also said that officers were deployed based on where the demand is highest, meaning the ICA could cut back on manpower in arrivals to beef up manpower at the departure hall or vice versa. Because of that, some counters would have to be closed.

Responding to netizens query on why more counters can’t be opened, especially during this holiday season, the minister said that people simply do not understand how the system works. He continued, “It’s not as if counters are closed and officers are sitting down, doing nothing. They’re deployed across the counters, across the areas, and continuously have to put in long hours.”

The minister also noted that this traffic situation at the border is not new. In fact, it’s a yearly occurrence that is slowly getting worse as demand rises. Some netizens disagree with that assessment, however, claiming that this kind of gridlock only started recently.

On the bright side, the ICA apparently is working on ways to resolve this issue, including tapping technology to ease the clearance process. He didn’t go into detail about technology measures being considered, however, simply saying that it will be announced when ready.

The thing is, the ICA received an extra $200 million in their budget this year from last year’s amount. That puts their provision at just over $1 billion for 2018. And yet, they still can’t cope with the increase in traffic at the border?

In fact, things seem to be getting much worse instead of better. Not only is the clearance process slow, the ICA is also severely understaffed and are clearly unable to cope with increasing volume of travellers passing through the checkpoints. So what exactly is the money being used for?