SINGAPORE: Ninety per cent of Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) officers were on duty and about 500 officers worked overtime last week to manage the high volume of traffic flow at the Woodlands and Tuas Checkpoints during the Christmas holidays, according to Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam.
Speaking to reporters after visiting Woodlands Checkpoint on Thursday (Dec 27), Mr Shanmugam said officers were "putting in a huge amount of effort" to cope with the end-of-the-year holiday traffic surge at the two land checkpoints.
"On a normal day about 400,000 crossings take place, but during this period it goes up by 10 per cent. While the rest of Singapore is on holiday ... a maximum of 10 per cent of our officers (are) allowed to go on leave, (with) 90 per cent manning. Last week alone, around 500 officers (were asked) to do overtime," he said.
"The starting point is we just don't have enough manpower. It's a problem not just for ICA but for industries all over Singapore and other branches of government. So we have to do the best we can with the available manpower," added Mr Shanmugam.
Last week, ICA said travellers on the Causeway experienced heavy traffic congestion between Dec 14 and 16 due to a bomb hoax, car breakdowns and rampant queue cutting.
Mr Shanmugam said that while most of Singapore slows down during this year-end period, there are areas both in the public and private sector where people have to work extra hard.
"ICA is one of those places, particularly for ICA because demand (at the checkpoints) is very high," he said.
COUNTERS CLOSED BECAUSE OFFICERS ARE REDEPLOYED
Noting how some commuters observed that some counters were closed during this period, Mr Shanmugam explained that the officers are sometimes redeployed within the Checkpoint to other areas to cope with increasing demand.
He said that if the arrival section had greater demand, officers from the departure will be moved over, and vice versa.
"We are shifting constantly to plug the gap. So you will see some counters closed because the officers have been redeployed," said Mr Shanmugam.
He also pointed out how ICA would sometimes use the old Woodlands Checkpoint, to cater to the high traffic flow.
"You might see counters closed there because it might be catering exclusively at certain times for lorries ... people may not understand how we work," he added.
“We try as far as possible to clear the backlog, the fact that counters are closed doesn’t mean that some officers are sitting around somewhere doing nothing. All are fully deployed and are working their guts out. It’s a very tough environment,” said Mr Shanmugam.
He also said that ICA has employed technology to alleviate the problem, but pointed out that the Woodlands Checkpoint has physical limitations.
"So if you look at the physical footprint of woodlands checkpoint … there is a a physical limit to how many counters there can be, how many vehicles can be cleared at any given time," he said.
"We have gone quite a bit on the use of technology. Even as demand has gone up significantly, it has helped us clear and help people travel through. But you know when’s there’s a huge surge, it does impose some limitations.”
He said the Government is thinking of "longer-term solutions" involving the physical footprint of Woodlands Checkpoint to resolve the issue, and that details will be announced in the future.
"Technology is the key enabler, we have to use technology, but you know it's not a complete solution. In the end you need a officer physically sitting there doing something," said Mr Shanmugam.