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The slippery slope, the greasy pole

Reading Today's report on what Law Minister K Shanmugam said, regarding the (mandatory) death penalty, makes one rather sad. The minister, it seems, has chosen to put out a soundbite and ignored all the nuances, issues and questions which have been raised (and left unanswered to this day by the government).

First, the minister has conflated or confused the two issues - the death penalty and the mandatory death penalty.

He seems to have lumped the two together - and conveniently chose a soundbite to whitewash what are serious and important questions:

"If Yong escapes the death penalty, drug barons will think the signal is that young and vulnerable traffickers will be spared and can be used as drug mules... Then you'll get 10 more. There'll be an unstoppable stream of such people coming through as long as we say we won't enforce our laws."

I think the ministers' words can best be summed up as scare-mongering - for he has ignored several things:

1. No one is asking for the authorities not to enforce the law.

2. No one is calling for the abolition of the death penalty (except some anti-death groups.)

3. He has ignored what campaigners for a moratorium are asking for - to give judges discretion in sentencing. AND THIS INCLUDE JUDGES HAVING THE POWER TO SENTENCE AN ACCUSED TO DEATH. The call by campaigners is not for abolition but simply for certain provisions in the law to be reviewed - judges' discretionary power in sentencing, the "presumption" clauses in the Misuse of Drugs Act, the accused's access to lawyers at the point of arrest, etc.

4. The minister's remarks are typical PAP rhetoric - rhetoric of going to extremes to paint a doomsday scenario if the status quo is changed. This has happened several times in the past, as in these following examples, where ministers use extreme examples to back up their positions on certain issues. It's a tactic used to ignore important issues.

HO PENG KEE - on why the authorities rejected the Workers' Party's application for a permit to hold a cycling event at East Coast Park:

“It is an open area where there is potential for breach of peace, public disorder, and unruly behaviour.... You may be well behaving, but there may be other people whom you come across when you cycle who may stop you, may want to debate with you and that may attract a crowd, therefore will result in problems the police want to avoid.”

Well, the WP of course did not get to cycle - but the PAP did, as TOC reported here. And no one stopped them or wanted to debate with them and there were no "problems" which "the police want to avoid."

VIVIAN BALAKRISHNAN - on liberalising bar-top dancing:

"If you want to dance on a bar top, some of us will fall off that bar top. Some people will die as a result of liberalising bar-top dancing. Not just because they've fallen off the bar top, but because it's usually a young girl with a short skirt who's dancing on it, who may attract some insults from some other men. The boyfriend starts fighting. Some people will die. Blood will be shed for liberalising the policy."

Bar-top dancing was allowed in 2003.

No one has died from it.

LEE KUAN YEW - defending ministers' salary hike:

"You know, the cure for all this talk is really a good dose of incompetent government. You get that alternative and you'll never put Singapore together again: Humpty Dumpty cannot be put together again... and your asset values will disappear, your apartment will be worth a fraction of what it is, your jobs will be in peril, your security will be at risk and our women will become maids in other people's countries, foreign workers."

These are just 3 examples.

The Law Minister seem to have been inflicted with the same "slippery slope" syndrome.

He has ignored the fact that reviewing or even doing away with the mandatory provision in the death penalty DOES NOT MEAN THAT YOUR CUSTOM POLICE STOP DOING WHAT THEY'VE BEEN DOING.

It does not mean that we relax policing at entry points, or that we reduce the budget for the police, or that we turn a blind eye to traffickers.

In fact, if the mandatory provision is removed, we should beef up the police force, and improve detection at entry points.

It is deeply disappointing to me that as Law Minister - and one who knows the law like the back of his hand - the minister would choose to ignore these issues.

The manner in which he seems to dismiss the concerns - of ordinary S'poreans, the legal fraternity including the Law Society, and MPs such as Sylvia Lim - is a matter of great concern. Especially when we're talking about putting to death vulnerable young men and girls.

And finally... the constitutionality of the mandatory death penalty is being deliberated by the Court of Appeal. It is being challenged in the Yong Vui Kong appeal to the courts.

How is it that the minister found it fit to comment on it while the courts are deliberating on it?

Andrew Loh

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Read some of these bloggers' response to the minister's remarks. They are very intelligently argued. Unfortunately, the mainstream media is totally silent on the issue - preferring to parrot what the minister has said.

MAGNEZIUM:

"Finally, notice the implicit admission in the Minister's comments: the people we hang are always the mules. We never get the barons. If you really wanted to reduce drug trafficking and its social ills, you'd go for the barons, not the mules. Even if the mandatory death penalty had deterrent effects, these are going to be merely minimal if the penalty is only awarded to mules."

GROUNDNOTES:

"Shanmugan’s arguments just do not stand up to logical scrutiny but, as usual, the mainstream press does not point this out. Who dares tell the Emperor he’s not wearing any clothes? But just to show I’m not completely unconstructive, let me suggest how Shanmugan should have played it."

THE INK HORN

"Simply because morons like Mr Shanmugam think that if people begin using, the fault surely has to fall on people like Yong. The mules. The supply lines. The exploited. We never think to fault the source because they’re too elusive, and we never think to fault ourselves because it’s always easier to be irresponsible and point fingers."

POLITICAL DUO-BLE

"Ultimately, if the Singaporean authorities and media are sincere about a genuine comparison, they should stop focusing on criticising others. They could start with being more open about Singapore’s drug and crime statistics. These information have unfortunately been sorely lacking in the public domain for serious scholarly and general debate."

BENJAMIN CHEAH

"The repeal of the mandatory death penalty does not mean the abolishment or acquittal or all drug mules. It simply means that judges will have to decide whether they should hand down the death penalty for every single drug offender they try, instead of sending them all to the gallows. It does not mean that the offender will be automatically acquitted and released on the streets."

MATHIA LEE

"Since when did we start trading justice for mere its deterrent effect? If we begin to accept unjustly disproportionate punishments in order protect even innocent lives, would we not have apply the same principle to all abhorant crimes and impose the mandatory death penalty for all these crimes? Rapes, break-ins, corruption, snatch theft, errant construction companies flouting safety rules — are these any more acceptable than drug trafficking and why do we not impose a mandatory death penalty?"

CALLAN THAM

"I would like the minister to explain, logically, how removing the mandatory death penalty will suddenly result in a deluge of easily available drugs that will harm thousands of people."