Parliament 2014: New law not a knee-jerk reaction: Minister

Law Minister K. Shanmugam addressing members of the Little India Shopkeepers and Heritage Association on Tuesday.

THE public order law passed in Parliamenton Tuesday is an intermediate step to control the Little India situation until recommendations are made by the Committee of Inquiry (COI), Law Minister K.Shanmugam said.

He was addressing criticisms that the Public Order (Additional Temporary Measures) Act is a knee-jerk reaction providing the police with onerous powers.

Speaking to reporters after a closed-door meeting attended by about 45 Little India business owners, he said the reaction was a "complete misunderstanding" that led to "a lot of misconceptions" about the Act.

"The Government has a duty to act in the best interests of the people... (It) cannot keep quiet, and wait and do nothing until the COI. That would be utterly irresponsible," he said, noting that it could take months for the COI's findings to be revealed.

"Anyone who suggests we do that is not thinking through."

The COI will sit from today at Court 13 of the Subordinate Courts. The panel must submit its report to the Home Affairs Minister by June 13.

Mr Shanmugam, who is also Minister for Foreign Affairs, said further steps can still be taken and measures can be altered after the findings are submitted.

He said the current Act is more tightly scoped than the Public Order (Preservation) Act (POPA) which was invoked in the immediate aftermath of the riot.

It was brought in after the Government assessed that the POPA - "an existing legislation that gives far more powers to the police" - was inappropriate.

"The Government voluntarily put in place a temporary legislation with narrower powers," said Mr Shanmugam. "The easiest thing would have just been to proceed under POPA, but... to be responsible we should reduce the powers; we don't need all these extra powers."

He added that yesterday's meeting, organised to address concerns of Little India Shopkeepers and Heritage Association (Lisha) members, was "constructive".

While liquor businesses have been more badly hit by the restrictions than others, he noted that overall business has dipped given the smaller number of foreign workers and tourists in the area.

He promised to forward suggestions raised to the Home Affairs Ministry. They include proposals to extend the last bus timing - currently at 9pm - for workers returning to their dormitories and to set up safe zones for alcohol consumption in public areas.

Lisha chairman Rajakumar Chandra said several local firms are "in ICU (intensive care unit)" and "really need some medicine to get going".

He added that rentals remain high even though trade has dipped.

Meanwhile, the Indian High Commission has asked banks to set up money-remittance kiosks at dormitories following requests from foreign workers.

waltsim@sph.com.sg


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