Channel NewsAsia
Updated: 02/18/2014 23:26 | By Channel NewsAsia

Govt could not have waited for COI findings to act on Little India: Iswaran

Govt could not have waited for COI findings to act on Little India: Iswaran

Govt could not have waited for COI findings to act on Little India: Iswaran

SINGAPORE: Second Home Affairs Minister S Iswaran said authorities could not wait for the Committee of Inquiry into the Little India riot to release its recommendations before rolling out sustained measures to maintain public order in the area.

That is because there remains a "heightened security environment" in Little India.

Wrapping up the over three-hour debate in Parliament on Tuesday, Mr S Iswaran said the implementation of the new Public Order (Additional Temporary Measures) Bill is far from being hurried.

On questions over the timing of the new law, Mr Iswaran said there continues to be large gatherings in Little India over the weekends and public holidays, and residents remain concerned that an untoward incident may occur.

He added it would have been remiss of the government if it had reverted to business as usual and waited for the COI to complete its review before taking action.

Mr Iswaran said: "This is not the case of mindless efficiency. This is a case of targeted and necessary response to a clear and present need on the ground."

On MPs' concerns that the new law may unfairly target certain groups of people, Mr Iswaran said the Bill applies to all -- regardless of ethnicity or nationality.

He said: "I want to assure all Members that these concerns are wholly unfounded. The Bill is focused on Little India because that is where the riot occurred on 8 December 2013, with inevitable lingering security concerns.

"We need measures to ensure that public order and calm is maintained at that location and I would venture that in fact if this Bill was cast more widely -- reaching into other parts of Singapore as some Members have suggested -- it would have elicited a counter-criticism that it's far-reaching, where is the justification?"

As for concerns of police powers to strip search persons entering the special zone, Mr Iswaran said the police do not take this power lightly and that there are protocols in place. Authorities will calibrate the level of searches based on their assessment on the ground.

On the alcohol restrictions, Mr Iswaran stressed that the action does not mean alcohol was the reason for the riot.

He said authorities had assessed that it could have been a contributory factor.

He added: "Our police officers on the ground do not have the luxury of contemplating a variety of options when there is a clear and present danger and need on the ground.

"They have to make a reasonable and operational assessment on what could be the range of contributory factors and these then have to be acted upon."

The minister said any move to expand the alcohol restrictions to other parts of Singapore will have to be debated in Parliament.   - CNA/al

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