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Three threats to Singapore’s racial and religious harmony

01 Mar 2019 2 min read

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Minister for Home Affairs and Law, Mr K Shanmugam, speaking at the Ministry of Home Affairs Committee of Supply debate has spoken about foreign interference in domestic politics and trends that may undermine Singapore’s religious harmony.

Foreign interference not only weakens countries’ resolve in a time of conflict or tension between states, it also undermine democracy and elections. Foreign interference can also divide a country and tear its social fabric, said Mr Shanmugam. He said Singapore is learning from the experiences of other countries and how they are combatting the issue. In the case of Singapore, the authorities will strive to detect early and keep up with new digital-age tactics. He added: “Apart from strengthening our laws, we must build up the ability of Singaporeans to discern, respond appropriately and resist foreign interference.”

Speaking about trends that may undermine Singapore’s religious harmony, Mr Shanmugam stressed the need for Singapore to keep religion and politics separate. Mr Shanmugam said: “Our politics, our approach, is secular in nature. We have managed to balance the right to religious freedom, with the need to ensure harmony, peace and security.” 

He listed three ‘worrisome trends’ threatening Singapore’s harmony – resurgence of identity politics worldwide which rejects diversity and co-existence with others; the Internet allowing hate speech and incitement to spread further and faster; and religiously motivated terrorist groups continuing to sow discord. He also reiterated that a strong Singaporean identity has to be built and prioritised, ahead of religion, as a marker of identity.

“Religious harmony is built and nurtured on the basis of trust among the communities. The Government will continue to provide platforms to facilitate dialogue and build this trust,” he said. 

In the meantime, a dedicated agency will be set up to further develop the Home Team’s science and technology capabilities, announced Second Minister for Home Affairs Mrs Josephine Teo.

Explaining the need for a new agency, Mrs Teo said forensics, biometrics and surveillance will increasingly become critical for Singapore and the ministry must start building up the internal know-how. “Ultimately, to combat fast-evolving security threats and to safeguard Singapore, the Home Team must possess deep in-house capabilities, expertise to build mission-critical capabilities in a responsive manner,” Mrs Teo said.

A bill will be tabled in Parliament to establish the dedicated agency by the end of the year as a statutory board under the MHA, added Mrs Teo and this will see an increase in MHA’s annual spending from $979 million in FY2019 to $1.9 billion in FY2025.