SPEECH BY PRIME MINISTER LEE HSIEN LOONG AT THE OFFICIAL LAUNCH OF HTX (HOME TEAM SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY AGENCY) ON 2 DECEMBER 2019
Mr Chew Hock Yong, Chairman, Home Team Science and Technology Agency
Mr Chan Tsan, Chief Executive
Ladies and Gentlemen
A very good afternoon to all of you.
I am very happy to be here today for the official launch of HTX - the Home Team Science and Technology Agency.
Why the name HTX? HT stands for the Home Team – that is not so complicated. But X is a mystery and I’m told that X stands for your ambition to be a force multiplier using technology, so that the Home Team will be many times greater than the sum of its parts. This is a commendable ambition.
HTX is a very important step forward for the Home Team. For many years now, you have built up technological capabilities across different parts of the organisation. Two years ago, I visited Woodlands Checkpoint and saw some of these capabilities in action. SCDF was using robotics and deploying sophisticated techniques to detect hazardous materials. ICA was using facial recognition technology and scanners to improve the efficiency of immigration and customs clearance. These were all worthwhile projects, and a lot of effort had gone into planning and implementing them.
But we also realised that there was potential for the scientists and engineers supporting the different parts of the Home Team to come together, cross-fertilise ideas, and deepen the expertise.
So we discussed the concept of MHA building its own science and engineering organisation. MHA studied this carefully, and decided it was worth doing. Today, HTX is a reality.
HTX has an ambitious mandate. First, to conduct transformative applied research, in areas like biometrics, smart sensors and robotics. Second, to bring together capabilities, knowledge and resources from different Home Team Departments, so that you can function better and in a more integrated way as One Home Team. Third, to build partnerships and collaborations with external partners, including research institutions, universities and polytechnics, and start-ups which may have good ideas for the Home Team. So you have your work cut out for you, and I am glad to see that you have hit the ground running with the many projects which you have exhibited today.
In fact, what we are doing with HTX in MHA is part of a larger effort we are making across the government. Building up tech capabilities, bridging silos, breaking down silos, using resources more efficiently, and recruiting high calibre officers who can translate operational requirements into tech solutions. We have done this with MINDEF and the SAF, through DSTA and DSO. Other agencies are making use of up to date tech too. For example, MOM is using drones to inspect workplaces and ensure they are safe. HDB is developing advanced precast technologies to allow homes to be built much faster, while maintaining their quality. URA is using 3D modelling technology to draft our underground master plans.
This embrace of technology must be a Whole of Government effort. That is why we set up the Smart Nation and Digital Government Office and GovTech – to bring us all up to scratch, to infuse best practices into every agency, and to inculcate a tech-first mindset in all public officers. We must understand the technology intimately, have a good feel of its possibilities and limitations, and be able to make judgments which take full account of engineering possibilities and also operational requirements. And for some of our most vital and sensitive projects like those in the Home Team, we must be able to build the tech solutions ourselves – solutions which are on par with, if not better than, what our partners and our vendors can do.
To fulfil your mandate, HTX will have to overcome two major challenges.
First, you will need top engineering talent across the board. You are not starting from scratch because you already have talent in your ranks. But I know you have ambitious plans to expand by about half, to around 2,000 officers. As a statutory board, you will have more flexibility to hire, develop and reward your staff. But attracting top tier engineering talent is not easy.
The government has tried hard to do this in recent years.We have offered more engineering scholarships to home-grown talent. We are persuading Singaporeans working in the tech sector, including those overseas, to join us. We are attending to the hygiene factors: competitive pay, career progression, good working environment. But to attract top tier talent, they must feel there is something worthwhile that they can achieve. So we are structuring engineering jobs and responsibilities to enable engineers to do valuable work, and to make an impact in the public service.
That is something that HTX can offer them. Protecting lives and property, maintaining law and order and ultimately safeguarding Singapore through the application of science and technology – it is a noble cause, which I hope will inspire our STEM talent to join HTX.
Second, HTX must maintain the ops-tech interface with ground operations. Your work must serve real operational needs. You cannot be doing your own research in an ivory tower. So HTX officers must walk the ground and talk to your uniformed counterparts to understand operating conditions and needs.
I am glad that you will be forward-deploying many of your officers into the Home Team Departments, alongside uniformed officers. For example, your forensic analysts comb crime scenes to gather evidence, while HTX engineers will be stationed at major security deployments. This will provide you with frontline experience and feedback, to help you stay attuned to the operational tempo of the Home Team, and equip you to build solutions that meet their needs.
In the same vein, for HTX to succeed, the Home Team departments – the Police, ICA, SCDF, CNB, Prisons and others – must see tech as an integral part of their operations and as something that is central to their mission. Not an add-on, not something exotic, not something to be left to HTX or the techies to manage on their own. It is a command responsibility. Every officer must embrace technology, and welcome what HTX can do for them, even when using technology means disrupting existing routines and established ways of doing things.
We have made much progress in this effort over the last decade or so. For example,by developing digital forensics capabilities, trialling unmanned surface vessels to patrol our waters, and automating our immigration clearance processes at the border checkpoints. HTX will help take the Home Team to the next level.
One can argue that Singapore has been built on the back of engineers. You see this in our excellent public infrastructure. The public health system, public housing, the transportation networks. These helped us to modernise our economy and meet many national and social needs.
But it is not just the specific skills of engineers which have made a contribution to Singapore. It is also the discipline of engineering that makes engineers valuable in many not directly engineering roles. Your analytical rigour, your sense of curiosity, your practical approach. Solving problems, not just describing them or lamenting them.
So I have great hopes for what HTX will achieve for the Home Team. I have very high expectations. Beyond the Home Team, HTX can be a centre of excellence within government, sharing your experiences and solutions with other agencies that have similar needs, for instance in enforcement or regulatory work. I am glad that agencies like MOM, Customs and CPIB have already approached HTX to work together.
Finally, let me wish HTX all the very best. I look forward to seeing HTX make its mark – as a key member of the Home Team, as a leading science & technology agency for homeland security, and as a force multiplier for Singapore.
X marks the spot.
Congratulations once again to HTX and the Home Team on this milestone. May HTX long be as unconventional, and indeed as X-ceptional, as your acronym.