20 December 2016

Living Up to the Force’s Mission

SPS Commr High Res edit

Deftly balanced by an understated firmness, he exudes an affable charm that is pronounced through his uncannily communicative eyes. Here I am, seated adjacent to Mr Soh Wai Wah, the former Home Team veteran who was previously the Chief of Staff in the Singapore Police Force (SPF) prior to his swan song as Commissioner of Prisons in the Singapore Prisons Service (SPS). As we spoke, I find myself transfixed by the depth of his thoughts and perspectives. Apart from his intellectual acuity, Mr Soh most definitely inspires with his mettle in life.

Unbeknownst, Mr Soh who has had an illustrious career with the SPF and the SPS did not start out with any lifelong ambition to be a Police officer. It was perhaps his sister’s dedication and commitment to her job as a Traffic Police officer that inspired and influenced him to take up the SPF Overseas Scholarship. However, as the years progressed, Mr Soh shared that he developed a growing sense of calling to the SPF, which eventually convinced him that he was destined to be a Police officer after all.

Home Team in Retrospect

Within the SPF, Mr Soh held various key leadership positions, including Chief of Staff, Director of Operations and Director of Planning & Organisation. To quote him, it was a privilege to be involved in many major projects and events that mattered to the safety and security of Singapore. Some of these events included, Hotel New World collapse, hijacking of SQ117, the aftermath of 9-11 attacks and SARS. He also set up the Speakers’ Corner and was heavily involved in organising and leading police operations to deal with public order threats in several high profile events in Singapore, such as the International Monetary Fund - World Bank meetings and various ASEAN events.

Beyond managing operations, Mr Soh also set up Singapore’s first Neighbourhood Police Centre when he was Commander of Clementi Division and the Public Transport Security Command, when he was Chief of Staff. “Even now, figuratively speaking, my fingerprints can still be found in various Standard Operating Procedures and Operations manuals,” Mr Soh chuckled.

With all that policing experience under his belt, Mr Soh commented that the nature of terrorist threats and crime has not changed but rather, altered largely in scale and proximity. Instead, he observed that the Singapore populace has changed dramatically and are more aware of the rule of law and the rights accorded by the law. This change has made policing a lot more challenging. Nevertheless, it did motivate and spur SPF to educate and nurture its officers with an emphasis on professionalism. This in turn also resulted in a decline of corruption allegations against Police officers.

“It is important that we continue to strive towards being corruption-free. In policing, the process is just as important as the goal,” Mr Soh articulated. 

Though he has left the Force, Mr Soh does not feel detached from it as he emphasised the symbiotic relationship between the SPF and SPS. “SPF and SPS are closely intertwined as part of the Criminal Justice System. While SPF feeds SPS with the inflow of prisoners, those who leave the prisons un-rehabilitated will feed into SPF's system as criminals again. Another understated fact is the important role SPF can play in supporting SPS in the rehabilitation outcome. “Ex-offenders can change and all of us can make a difference.”

When asked if there were any individuals who influenced him during his tenure in the Home Team, Mr Soh shared that he was most impacted by Mr Khoo Boon Hui, the Commissioner of Police from 1997 to 2010. Mr Soh shared that SPF had benefitted greatly from Mr Khoo’s mission-focused and unbiased leadership. “With the introduction of new standards and benchmarks in addressing issues professionally, politicking and factionalism within the organisation was successfully purged.”

Institutional shift and Learning Values

Having ended his journey with the Home Team, Mr Soh now helms the Singapore Polytechnic as its principal and Chief Executive Officer. “I feel privileged to be given the chance to serve and contribute to the moulding of Singapore’s future, and wish to raise the bar for the education landscape,” said Mr Soh.

Whilst he may be serving in a different capacity, Mr Soh declared that he would not miss out on the chance to encourage and enhance community integration, particularly given the diverse and unique composition of the institution – one that moulds and binds impressionable young adults of diverse races.

As the interview came to a close, Mr Soh reiterated that “it is never too late”. Be it to students or officers, it is never too late to learn or experience something new. At the age of 30, Mr Soh started piano lessons and has since been playing for the church.  “Time is never a limiting factor. You will be surprised with how much you can do if you prioritise, and remain focused and disciplined in your undertakings.”  

Lastly, Mr Soh also reminded SPF officers the importance of fellow colleagues. “It is of utmost importance that we achieve our missions. Yet missions come and go, even as each one is important. Whereas, it is our colleagues whom we still have with us after the mission has been accomplished. As much as we are fully committed to each mission, it is important that we enlarge our horizon to include the considerations for our colleagues too.”

Last Updated on 20 December 2016