SINGAPORE: Providing round the clock consular assistance to Singaporeans is one of the key challenges the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) is facing.
As Singaporeans travel more and to more far flung places, MPs Dr Lim Wee Kiak, Mr Ong Teng Koon and Mr Alex Yam had asked how MFA is addressing the increasing demand for consular assistance, especially during times of emergencies.
Speaking in parliament, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Sam Tan, encouraged Singaporeans who travel overseas to eRegister with the Ministry and added it has looked to social media to provide timely information on consular matters.
The Ministry is also planning to launch its own smartphone application in the next few months.
Besides providing an easy platform to eRegister, the smartphone application will also assist Singaporeans to locate the nearest Singapore Overseas Mission based on their current location, access consular information and services on-the-go.
Mr Tan also said that while Singapore authorities will do all it can to help citizens in distress overseas, there are "clear limits" to what can be done.
He said expectations of consular services have also risen over time and sometimes, they can be unrealistic.
Many times, Mr Tan said the unreasonable requests stem from a misconception on the kind of consular assistance MFA provides.
He cited an instance where a Singaporean complained about racial discrimination just because he had received a smaller piece of KFC chicken compared to what the locals had.
Mr Tan said: "He wanted MFA to investigate this incident and seek justice in that foreign country for the unfair treatment he claimed to have received. To assist such request will require conduct of delicate chicken diplomacy with another foreign country. And it would have been very difficult because the evidence - the subject of the complaint - had been consumed and we can't follow up."
And while the MFA will continue to provide consular services to Singaporeans to the best of its ability, ultimately, the decision to travel is the responsibility of travellers and they should "do all they can to secure their personal safety".
"Singaporeans when abroad should be prepared to put up with inconveniences, unavoidable frustrations and the occasional delays, especially when dealing with unfamiliar foreign customs, cultures, rules and regulations. At the same time, they must follow the rules and laws of the countries that they are in," he said.
He added: "Every country has its rules and laws that have to be respected by other countries as sovereign rights. We cannot interfere in the laws of other countries in the same way that we will never allow a foreign government to interfere with the application of our own laws".
Nevertheless, Mr Tan said the ministry takes the safety and security of Singaporeans abroad very seriously.
He urged Singaporeans who travel overseas to e-register with the ministry so that it can render help in an emergency.
MFA admits that it is greatly stretched in terms of resources but will continue to improve the quality of consular services.