Singapore, 10 February 2014 – A group of prominent civil activists submitted a Briefing Paper to the Speaker of Parliament Monday, calling on Parliament to consider the Public Order Bill more carefully and, if possible, slow the passage of the Bill so that Parliament does not act hastily.
The Briefing Paper, which runs to 15 pages and addresses the social and public policy ramifications of the Bill, outlines what the drafters call “underlying issues of jurisprudence” which would set precedents for future law and order considerations.
The Bill not only allows the authorities to carry out strip searches on the basis of their suspicions but also to ban people from entering Little India for between 24 hours and 30 days. Some of these powers are granted to the auxiliary police and include citizens as well as foreigners.
An opposition politician was quoted as saying this is “worrying”, given auxiliary police companies do not have the same level of professionalism as the police force since their main consideration is to meet their KPIs (key performance indicators). Many of the auxiliary police are foreigners, the politician said. “Can we guarantee they will have the same level of cultural sensitivity and treat people with respect?”
Introducing the Bill in Parliament on 20 January, Home Affairs Minister, Mr Teo Chee Hean, said it is scoped more tightly than current legislation and is only valid for one year. Separately, Law Minister, M K Shanmugam, said current legislation is too strong and the new Bill is required due to the numbers of foreigners that Little India attracts.
The Briefing Paper counters ministers’ claims by arguing that there are already 14 existing public order statutes. No public order issues have arisen in the last 45 years so ministers should identify how they are insufficient to deal with potential future incidents.”
Dr Vincent Wijeysingha who coordinated the drafting of the paper, said, “The Bill proposes to give the Executive extensive powers, some of which are unprecedented in current legislation, and all of which are not subject to judicial oversight.”
Prominent blogger, Mr Andrew Loh, informed the media that the paper was the outcome of discussions with other civil society activists, lawyers, and politicians, who all “similarly felt uneasy about the wide powers given to the government under the Bill, particularly since the Committee of Inquiry has not submitted its report”.
It is likely that, barring a division vote in the House, which would require MPs to vote on the Bill, it will be passed when Parliament sits next Monday, ahead of the busy period following the Budget Statement on 21st February. The Speaker is obliged to summon a division if at least five MPs call for it. It is unknown at press time whether opposition Workers Party and Singapore People’s Party MPs intend to call for a division.
Read the Briefing Paper here.
Public Order -Additional Temporary Measures- Bill Briefing Paper 10February2014