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Maintaining rigour of border checks

Publication Date : 30-01-2014

 

How a foreigner in a red car allegedly slipped past Singapore's Woodlands Checkpoint officers without the proper clearance, two weeks ago, is a matter that continues to perplex the public. It is believed the driver went past a drop-arm barrier by tailgating another car that had been allowed to proceed.

A second line of inspection also failed to spot the border intrusion and by the time the zone was locked down, the Malaysian-registered car had vanished. When arrested days later, the driver had no passport or identification documents in her possession.

On its own, this represents a very serious lapse on the part of the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) but subsequent events proved to be equally unnerving. Despite an islandwide police alert for the intruder and scanning of Land Transport Authority traffic video, the woman remained at large and, inexplicably, public assistance was not sought for information on her whereabouts.

An opportunity for apprehension arose only three days later when the woman drove on her own to the Police Cantonment Complex after having tailgated a taxi for an hour. Ignoring officers' questions, she drove off and later managed to enter the compound of the foreign affairs ministry before she was finally stopped.

These events make for sorry reading because of the embarrassing dent to the reputation of the important agencies that are in charge of protecting this country's borders and maintaining law and order.

The ongoing investigation will no doubt establish the facts of the matter. This should be done thoroughly and speedily. Corrective action that follows can help reassure the public that the ICA and the Singapore Police Force are determined to maintain the highest security standards and prepared to demonstrate full accountability for misjudgments.

In expressing his "deep dissatisfaction", Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, who is also home affairs minister, noted that "this case should have been prevented and dealt with more urgently and decisively as it could have resulted in more serious consequences than what occurred".

No one disputes the fact that the ICA faces considerable challenges. The authorities need to balance stringent checks with ease of movement at checkpoints given the volume of traffic handled.

The Woodlands Checkpoint is among the world's busiest with 50 million vehicles cleared in 2012 and 350,000 people using it daily. The 26 cases of attempted evasion there in the past three years might seem a mere fraction of the total number of visitors, but prevention and recovery procedures must be fail-safe as the protection of Singapore's border demands nothing less.

 

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