Parliament 2014: Temporary Bill to meet specific policing needs

Second Minister for Home Affairs S. Iswaran addressed criticisms of the Public Order (Additional Temporary Measures) (POATM) Bill which Parliament passed yesterday. It means the Public Order (Preservation) Act (POPA) no longer needs to be invoked on a weekly basis to maintain public order in Little India.

•Why the need for a POATM Bill?

Many members have advocated that we adopt a proportionate and appropriate response to the situation in Little India. We agree fully and indeed that has been the key reason for this Bill.

So it's ironic that some members have taken issue with the powers in this Bill, which are limited and significantly reduced compared to those already available today under the POPA. The powers under POPA are extensive, some would say even draconian, and it is a law conceived to deal with a far graver set of circumstances, such as a state of emergency. It has powers to impose curfews and even use lethal force.

This is not a case of moving a Bill because we have insufficient powers, as Mr Chen Show Mao has suggested. It is a case where the powers are grossly disproportionate to the current situation in Little India, especially as the situation has stabilised and the focus is now on maintaining public order. Therefore the status quo of relying on the powers under the POPA is neither necessary nor desirable.

The logic offered by several members is quite elusive.

If you are prepared to accord the authorities the powers under POPA, then why are you reluctant to accord the powers which are significantly reduced compared to POPA as reflected in the Bill? If you are concerned about safeguards and the exercise of power that is enumerated in this Bill, then why are you not even more exercised by that concern in the context of the powers under POPA?

•Why not defer the Bill to after the Committee of Inquiry (COI) on the causes of the riot, which is due to release its recommendations in June?

The COI will take some time to finish its work. Whatever the recommendations, they have to be deliberated upon and then appropriate measures put in place. So there is considerable time still ahead.

And who will be answerable to Singaporeans and to the residents in Little India if another incident were to occur? It is incumbent on the Government and our agencies to take reasonable steps and measures to ensure that such an incident does not recur.

•Instead of a new Bill, why not amend existing laws?

We did consider this option but the intent and provisions in existing laws are worded generally to deal with broad law and order situations and in the end we felt it was preferable to propose a dedicated, temporary piece of legislation to meet the specific policing needs of Little India, and adapting provisions in other legislation where relevant.

•Are the police powers provided in this Bill unprecedented?

In drafting the Bill, the specific powers of search and seizure, for example, take reference from similar provisions in the Public Order Act governing special large- scale events like the National Day Parade.

I agree with members that in investing such powers in our officers, we must ensure that they exercise them with sensitivity, with prudence and with care. That is the training and the culture in the police force and in our other enforcement agencies.

•Why the focus on alcohol?

Some have asked: Are we jumping the gun? Where is the evidence or causality that directly links alcohol consumption to this incident?

Our police officers on the ground do not have the luxury of contemplating a variety of options when there's a clear and present danger and need on the ground.

They have to make a reasonable operational assessment of this situation and what could be the range of contributory factors, and these then have to be acted upon. And one of them, in this instance, was the assessment that alcohol could have been a contributory factor.

This Bill introduces, out of necessity, targeted and temporary powers to restrict the sale, supply and consumption of alcohol.

•Does the Bill target a particular community?

The provisions in the Bill are targeted at behaviour that threatens public order and not at specific individuals, communities or businesses. The measures apply equally to all persons and business operators within the special zone without exception whatever the ethnicity, whatever their nationality.

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