Channel NewsAsia
Updated: 02/18/2014 20:46 | By Channel NewsAsia

Robust debate on Bill to maintain public order in Little India

Robust debate on Bill to maintain public order in Little India

Robust debate on Bill to maintain public order in Little India

SINGAPORE: There was a robust debate on the Public Order (Additional Temporary Measures) Bill in Parliament on Tuesday.

Most Members of Parliament supported the Bill, but some questioned the need for the new law -- especially since the Committee of Inquiry into the Little India riot has yet to release its recommendations.

The first to speak against the Bill was Nominated MP Associate Professor Eugene Tan, who maintained that current laws can adequately deal with the situation in Little India.

Like many of the MPs who spoke against the bill, he questioned if it was a premature move.

Assoc Prof Tan said: "Madam (Speaker), we have been assured that the riot was a one-off spontaneous mayhem. Are we therefore using the proverbial sledgehammer to crack a nut here?

"Could the minister state categorically what are the clear and present dangers posed by the migrant workers to necessitate this sharpened, proposed legislation?"

MPs from the opposition Workers' Party also opposed the Bill.

MP for Aljunied GRC Sylvia Lim said: "The hasty introduction of this Bill in the aftermath of the 8 December riot, is to me, a knee-jerk reaction.

"Though the government's desire to act is understandable, this Bill will instead stigmatise Little India as a Special Zone, requiring special legislation from Parliament.

"This bill is unnecessary at this time, especially when the Committee of Inquiry, COI, set out to investigate the causes of the riot, is set to release its set of recommendations by June.

"There are already sufficient powers under our laws and administrative regimes to manage the situation until the COI findings can be acted upon."

Several MPs also spoke about the risk of racial profiling -- South Asians and migrant workers being targeted -- leading to strained relations between migrant workers and Singaporeans.

They asked if officers on the ground will be trained so that they are sensitive to the cultures of these migrant workers.

As for the MPs who supported the Bill, some want to see initiatives under the new law be applied to other areas in Singapore where foreign workers congregate.

Dr Lam Pin Min, MP for Sengkang West SMC, said: "I would like to urge the government to take the bold step and go further and seriously consider banning the consumption of alcohol in public places, not just in Little India, but island-wide.

"There have been numerous recorded events of riots associated with drinking in public in many countries, many resulting in massive damage to properties and loss of innocent lives.

"Countries that prohibit drinking in public places include Australia, Canada, Finland, Hungary, Norway, Poland, Russia, Spain and the United States. These are precious lessons we can learn from and we should not wait for another incident to happen before looking at such a measure."

MP for Moulmein-Kallang GRC Denise Phua spoke for her residents. She said the new Bill addresses the fears and concerns of the majority of residents in Little India.

Ms Phua said: "This is not a Bill that is borne out of a single incident. Its historical context should not be missed. The COI will only be completed in June this year.

"And thereafter, I believe we need to give time for the recommendations to be considered and also for the recommendations from the larger review of the alcohol sale and public consumption -- these need to be completed.

"After this, we still need to have public consultation to consider the recommendations, to propose a larger plan for the country. It's likely to take more than six months, later than June. During this period, I would ask for a stronger touch still to be applied."

MPs who supported the bill said implementation was important, ensuring authorities use their powers judiciously and not target specific groups of people unnecessarily.  - CNA/al

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