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ICA says they have it all under control but do they?

On 28 Dec 2018 , Straits Times published a couple of letters sent in by two irate citizens who wanted to know why the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) hasn’t solved the congestion problem at land checkpoints and suggested they hire retired/rethrenched people to boost their manpower.

Today (10 Jan), ST published a letter in response by the deputy head of public and internal communications of ICA, Brenda Tham. The letter repeated the fact that Singapore’s land checkpoints are among the busiest in the world and averages about 400,000 travellers per day. During festive seasons, that figure can climb up to 430,000 per day.

She also said that unlike air and sea checkpoints, traffic volume at land checkpoints is "dynamic" and "cannot be completely predicted". Ms Tham continued to reiterate previously stated points that ICA officers may be redeployed to different areas depending on the situation.

On the suggestion of calling upon the retired/retrenched, ICA said that they have already been employing retired Home Team officers to augment their manpower during peak periods.

Even so, they appeared to still be understaffed in mid-December 2018 when one traveller claimed to have sat in an 8-hour jam just trying to get across the causeway. The reason for that jam was a lack of open counters on the Singapore side.

In the letter, Ms Tham also said that the ICA has been expanding their use of technology to automate clearance. She said, “since December 2016, ICA has installed 164 automated clearance lanes at the Woodlands and Tuas checkpoints, which has helped increase the clearance speed of motorcyclists by 30 per cent.” On top of that, bus scanners were implemented at the Tuas Checkpoint in July to allow for more efficient and effective bus checks.

These initiatives, according to ICA, “have helped to alleviate waiting time and also cut reliance on manpower”.

Now, that’s a little confusing. The ICA claims to be augmenting their manpower by calling on the aid of retired Home Team officers which implies they are understaffed, but they also reduce the need for manpower due to the integration of technology into their process. Sounds like they’re not admitting to being understaffed.

But then again, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam himself said on 27 December that ICA is facing a shortage of manpower. However based on their letter, ICA is implying otherwise.

Frankly, ICA response doesn’t really address the main issue which is a lack of open counters at land checkpoints. Sure, they have improved the efficiency of their clearance process, but efficient officers with only a handful of open counters will not solve the issue. The volume of people travelling through the checkpoints is way too high for only a few counters to handle.

Critically, ICA has also failed to provide details on how they spent the extra $200 million they were given in the 2018 budget. All that money and still understaffed with no solution in sight to the increasing problem of congestion at the border?