Trespass incident: MPs call for review of border security

SINGAPORE — Urging the authorities to review and step up border security, Members of Parliament (MPs) yesterday expressed shock and disappointment at the recent breach at the Woodlands Checkpoint, which saw a Malaysian woman drive into Singapore, evade immigration clearance and stay here for three days before she was arrested for trespassing at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA).

The woman has been charged with criminal trespass and has been remanded at the Institute of Mental Health for psychiatric evaluation, the police said.

MPs on the Government Parliamentary Committee for Home Affairs and Law whom TODAY spoke to called for an inquiry into the series of lapses, pointing out that many questions remain unanswered. They also stressed the importance of having a “watertight” border as a critical line of defence against threats to national security.

Marine Parade GRC MP Tin Pei Ling said: “I am quite shocked by this incident because the border and checkpoints are our first line of defence and I would expect the authorities to be very strict and have thorough checks there ... once you’re inside the country, more mischief is possible and there is much more risk.”

Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC MP Hri Kumar Nair added: “We need to get to the bottom of it and deal with the loopholes.”

He noted how the woman had given immigration officers the slip despite a lockdown of the car arrival zone being activated about two minutes after she drove into the checkpoint.

“Why wasn’t there a sufficiently quick reaction when it was realised that she had gone through without the proper checks?” he said, adding that questions also have to be asked about why the officers initially failed to stop her for checks.

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The lockdown lasted 30 minutes, after which the police issued an islandwide alert to officers to look out for the woman and her car.

Three days later, police officers encountered the woman while helping a taxi driver she was tailgating. The officers, who did not recognise the woman or her car, tried to speak to her but she drove off.

Sembawang GRC MP Vikram Nair said he was curious as to how the alert had been disseminated to police officers. “An alert must have gone out, but I don’t know whether every patrolling officer was aware of (it), whether it was a matter of course that they would (look out for the suspect),” he said.

Responding to TODAY’s queries about the procedures after the alarm had been raised at the checkpoints and why there had been a two-minute delay before the alarm was raised last Friday, an Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) spokesperson said investigations are in progress.

Reiterating that security at the checkpoints was of “utmost importance to ICA”, she said: “We will seek to further strengthen our security measures at the checkpoints to prevent a similar occurrence.”

The police also cited ongoing investigations and said it was premature to provide further details, in response to this newspaper’s queries on the procedures for islandwide alerts and why its officers did not recognise the woman or the car when they encountered her.

The woman entered the ministry on Monday afternoon without authorisation as she tailgated a car. She drove around its Sherwood Road compound before she was boxed in by vehicles driven by MFA security officers.

An MFA spokesperson said the ministry carried out an internal review immediately after the incident and has put in place additional security measures which the spokesperson did not elaborate on. It is working with the Ministry of Home Affairs to improve security at its premises.

Following the incident, Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Teo Chee Hean expressed his “deep dissatisfaction” to the Commissioners of Police and ICA, noting that it could have had more serious consequences. He directed them to report to him the corrective measures they will be taking and to recommend appropriate action against officers who did not discharge their duties properly.

Speaking to reporters last night after a visit to a foreign workers’ dormitory, Foreign Affairs Minister K Shanmugam declined to comment on the trespassing incident, stressing that it was under investigation.

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