Friday 31 August 2012

Old Home Affairs HQ Phoenix Park designated as historic site

Phoenix Park, which encloses the colonial era-building, also preserved
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 30 Aug 2012

A KEY colonial-era building which once housed the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) was yesterday announced as the 91st historic site in Singapore by the National Heritage Board (NHB).

In addition, Phoenix Park, the 5.6ha area that encloses the historic edifice, was designated historic site 92. The site is located off Tanglin Road.

The building was the office of the Commissioner-General for South-east Asia, a nerve centre for British spies and the headquarters of Far East Command which once controlled 70,000 troops during the colonial era.

The central building, which is encircled by other blocks, housed the MHA and the Internal Security Department (ISD) between 1977 and 2001.

That year, MHA moved to the New Phoenix Park complex in Irrawaddy Road in the Novena area. ISD moved there the next year.

Speaking at the event yesterday, Senior Minister of State for Home and Foreign Affairs Masagos Zulkifli said that Phoenix Park, which was completed by the British in 1949, was where MHA formulated and implemented critical security policies for more than 25 years.

"It was at this very building where our tough anti-drug laws were formulated to fight the drug scourge," he said.

It was also at Phoenix Park that former Home Affairs minister Wong Kan Seng, bringing together the various security agencies, created the concept of the Home Team in 1995, he added.

Mr Tan Boon Huat who, as deputy secretary of MHA between 1996 and 2002, helped implement the Home Team plan, said the early "angst" when the different services were first brought together is seldom remembered today.

"The police were always part of Home Affairs, but Civil Defence originally came from the ambulance and fire services, which were linked to the Ministry of Health, and the Ministry of Social Affairs respectively," he said.

He added that the Central Narcotics Bureau, the immigration department and the national registry, which today are part of MHA, were all separate bodies then.

"At the time, there was a lot of 'Am I being eaten up by the police?'," he said.

One of his predecessors, Mr Lim Siam Kim, who was deputy secretary of MHA between 1981 and 1990, remembers clearly the morning of the Hotel New World collapse in 1986.

He was in a meeting with then Minister for Home Affairs S. Jayakumar, Minister of State (Home Affairs and National Development) Lee Boon Yang and the Commissioner of Police when the phone began ringing incessantly.

"We were told of the seriousness of the Hotel New World collapse and we stopped the meeting there and then.

"Those of us involved proceeded to the scene to do the rescue operation," said Mr Lim. "It all happened in this building."

NHB director of education and outreach Thangamma Karthigesu said the two markers unveiled yesterday had a new layout that increased their visual prominence and included photos from the past.

All earlier markers will be overhauled with the new design in the next two years, she added.

Two more colonial-era MHA sites - the former Upper Barracks in Pearl's Hill Terrace and Lower Barracks in Eu Tong Sen Street - will have historical markers by November, said Ms Thangamma.

Ministry Of Home Affairs And National Heritage Board Marks Phoenix Park As Historic Site
Phoenix Park leaves its Mark in Singapore History: Part 1 & Part 2

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