Updated: 02/19/2014 20:10

Proposed Public Order Bill to bring about more focused powers but lesser than POPA



Proposed Public Order Bill to bring about more focused powers but lesser than POPA

Parliament has passed a new temporary bill aimed at allowing authorities to continue to take calibrated measures to maintain public order in Little India, in the aftermath of the December 8th riot. 

Giving details of the Public Order (Additional Temporary Measures) Bill, Second Home Affairs Minister S Iswaran says the new bill provides for a "focused set of powers" which are "far more limited" than the extensive powers under existing laws. 

Current restrictions in Little India, in the wake of the December 8 riot, come under a provision, under the Public Order (Preservation) Act. 

But Mr Iswaran says this law was conceived to deal with far graver situations. 

It comes with broad and extensive police powers - many of which, says Mr S Iswaran, are excessive and unneccesary for the purpose of maintaining public order in Little India. 

The new bill will be limited in geography, duration and scope. 

A section of Little India will be termed a "Special Zone". 

There will be some restrictions there. 

Police can search or interview anyone who enters the zone. 

But he added the power to search a property and detain a person without warrant is also "not unfettered". 

Mr Iswaran responded to the concerns raised by 16 MPs who took part in the debate on the bill. 

He says the bill is not a "knee-jerk" or "hurried" response by the Government. 

Addressing the house, Mr Iswaran says the peace and order in Little India ever since the riot occurred on the December the 8th last year, did not "come about by chance". 

"This is not a case of mindless efficiency, this is a case of targeted and neccessary response to clear and present need on the ground." 

MR Iswaran says the COI will take some time to finish its work. 

It has been given six months and thereafter, whatever the recommendations, they have to be deliberated upon and appropriate measures be put in place. 

So he says there is considerable time still ahead. 

"Who would be answerable to Singaporeans and to the residents in Little India if another incident were to occur?"

Mr Iswaran says it's incumbent on the Government and the agencies to take reasonable steps and measures to ensure that such an incident does not recur. 

He also questioned the logic offered by several Members which he described as quite elusive. 

"If you are prepared to accord the authorities the powers under the PO(P)A, then why are you reluctant to accord the powers which are significantly reduced compared to PO(P)A as reflected in the Bill. If you are concerned about the exercised 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 the Public Order (Preservation) Act. And if you are concerned that somehow this Bill will tarnish the image of Little India, then what do you think the proclamation of a state of danger in Little India every week would do." 

Several MPs have also raised questions on whether enough evidence has been established to highlight alcohol as one of the factors which resulted in a series of alcohol-related measures being included in the bill. 

Mr Iswaran had this response. 

"In this instance, it was the assessment that alcohol could be a contributing factor. Now, this is not to say it's THE primary cause. It may have created the impression, that this bill is alcohol centric, but should not be the case because this bill also serves other public order imperatives, this includes dealing with non-alcohol related threats such as prohibited items and disorderly conduct." 

Mr Iswaran also responded to criticisms that the bill could be considered "discriminatory". 

"These concerns are wholly unfounded. The bill is focused on Little India, because that's where the riot occurred. Moreover the provisions in the bill are targeted at behaviour that threatens public order. The measures apply equally to all persons, the vast majority of foreign workers all law abiding. The measures taken to maintain law and order in Little India will in fact serve their interest as much as interest of any others in the area." 

The new law will be in place for 12 months until authorities decide on longer-term measures - taking into account the findings and recommendations of the Committee of Inquiry on the Little India Riot, as well as the review of the liquor licensing regime. 

-By Lee Gim Siong

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