Bill seeks to curb public drinking late at night

Bill seeks to curb public drinking late at night
Coffeeshop patrons drink beer in Geylang on a Sunday night on 18 January 2015. New alcohol sales restrictions are likely to be implemented in Geylang after a bill is passed in parliament.

Drinking in public places, including parks and common areas in Housing Board estates, will no longer be allowed after 10.30pm under a new Bill introduced in Parliament yesterday.

The proposed islandwide curbs will last through the night till 7am.

The Liquor Control (Supply and Consumption) Bill, introduced by Second Minister for Home Affairs S. Iswaran, will also stop retail shops from selling alcohol after 10.30pm.

There will be stricter rules for Little India and Geylang, which will be designated as Liquor Control Zones - places where there is higher risk of public disorder associated with excessive drinking.

The tougher measures will be similar to the temporary rules put in place in Little India following the Dec 8, 2013 riot there.

Drinking is currently banned in public places in Little India from 6am on Saturday to 6am on Monday, and from 6am on the eve of public holidays to 6am on the day after the holiday. The retail sale of alcohol is banned from 8pm till 6am on weekends, and on the eve of public holidays and public holidays.

In the Bill, those found guilty of drinking after 10.30pm in a public place will face a fine of up to $1,000. A repeat offender may be jailed for up to three months.

A shop which sells alcohol after permitted hours may get a fine not exceeding $10,000.

Flouting the rules in Liquor Control Zones will carry 11/2 times the penalty.

Consultations by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) showed broad support for regulations on the sale and public consumption of alcohol.

The Bill, however, has drawn a flurry of strong reactions. Liquor shops in Geylang and Little India expressed worry that their businesses would be badly hit.

Younger clubbers, meanwhile, said the rules could kill the nightlife scene at entertainment places such as Clarke Quay, where many gather on weekends to drink on pavements and open areas.

MP Hri Kumar Nair, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Home Affairs and Law, said that the laws may appear strict but they represent the "best compromise".

He said: "If you look at it as a whole, the overall benefits far outweigh the disadvantages."

Exceptions will be allowed on a case-by-case basis.

Those holding events in public places, whether it is a barbecue for friends at East Coast Park or bigger functions such as ZoukOut, the annual outdoor dance music festival, can apply for a permit allowing drinking after 10.30pm.

Explaining why it decided on 10.30pm as the cut-off point, the MHA said it is the time that community events, such as getai and grassroots programmes, end, to minimise noise and disturbance.

Most shops in residential areas will also be closed by then, it added.

In many cities, liquor rules are tougher than the ones proposed here.

New York, Oslo and Brisbane bar alcohol consumption in public at all times.

In Brisbane, Sydney and Britain, retail sale hours for takeaway alcohol generally end at 10pm.

National University of Singapore sociologist Paulin Straughan asked whether there had been enough incidents and complaints due to alcohol to warrant such laws.

She said: "If there is no problem, and something like this is slapped on us, of course, it will be interpreted as (being) very harsh."

limyihan@sph.com.sg

Additional reporting by Hoe Pei Shan


This article was first published on Jan 20, 2015.
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