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Police actions contrary to government’s promises of more inclusive society

cantonment police complexBy Ghui

With the proliferation of the Internet, the increase in opposition representation in Parliament, the ground-breaking GE2011 results and the People Action Party government promising change and a more inclusive society, most Singaporeans are hopeful that would usher in a new era of politics in Singapore.

Most Singaporeans believe that the PAP have done a good job overall. That said, there are areas where there can most definitely be improvements.

Apart from basic concerns such as rising house prices and transportation issues - which the government has taken some measures, even if token, to rectify - many Singaporeans are increasingly feeling a disconnect with what they deem as the “ruling elite” in Singapore. The government's response was a pledge to be more inclusive.

However, this promise for inclusiveness is somehow contradictory to some of the actions that have been taken by the government. The MDA online regulation reforms and the banning of the film “To Singapore With Love” are but a few examples of these actions that seem at odds with the building of a more inclusive society.

The proceedings that have been taken against protesters of the controversial Return Our CPF protest on 27 September is the most recent example of actions that conflict with the sentiment of inclusion.

There have been reports of how protesters have been visited by the police at midnight and how interviews have stretched on for hours without refreshment while the police embark on apparent fishing exercises for information with which to incriminate participants of the protest.

han hui hui martyn see
Return Our CPF protest organiser Han Hui Hui was reportedly denied access to legal counsel and had her note book confiscated during police questioning.

Most disturbing are revelations of how interviewees have not been given the right to legal representation and how their personal belongings such as note books, containing notes taken by interviewees at interviews, have been confiscated.

The law and the process of law enforcement exist to ensure that there is order in society. However, for there to be effective order, all participants of society need to know what their rights are and what is part and parcel of the process.

How can a system function efficiently if the rules of engagement are a moving target? If the police are going to show up in the dead of the night and confiscate personal belongings without good reason, surely this possibility should be flagged to the public?

If it is not flagged in advance, then the police should not be permitted to act as they please. To confiscate items without permitting legal representation seems to run contrary to an inclusive society. How can one feel included if one does not even know his or her rights?

How can member society participate in all aspects of societal living if he does not know the rules of the game?

Perhaps our law enforcement services need to get up to date as to what the social contract is. They serve Singaporeans. They do not serve any party agenda. Singaporeans have called for a more inclusive society and the government has pledged this. The police should therefore facilitate this by behaving like a professional force from a democratic party.

The rights of Singaporeans in an “interview” situation need to be spelt out in black and white publicly. It is even more vexing that such clarity has to be put forward by members of civil society, not the authorities.

The problem is that most Singaporeans are exercising their democratic rights to have a voice while not knowing clearly what the boundaries are and indeed what the pitfalls could be. If the police are going to call people up for interviews then it is only fair that the people know how to prepare themselves. The element of catching people unaware late at night is surely unfair and would be described by many as harassment.

Society has to progress in tandem. Singaporeans are clearly ready for progress and it would seem that the government wants to be as well given that they have publicly promised inclusiveness. The government therefore needs to put some meat on the bones and the police need to catch up.

To be inclusive, Singaporeans need to engage. To engage, they need to know the rules of engagement. These have to be crystal clear so that we are on the same page.

Catching people by surprise is not just an unfair advantage, it can also be perceived as the government not meaning what it says and using the police force to employ harassment tactics in order to remain in power.

Society is entitled to freedom of information and the government should be committed to providing this. This is the only way Singaporeans can be included in the affairs of the state and fully engage in the future of the country. Understanding their rights, comprehending the potential consequences, having open discussions as to whether the level of their rights are acceptable are the hallmarks of an inclusive society.

Singapore is a democratic country and Singaporeans should not have to operate in a vacuum when exercising their rights.