Stop Trafficking SG, a group made up of six non-governmental organisations, had responded to a letter by the Interagency Taskforce on Trafficking in Persons, stating that the letter from the Taskforce “is inappropriately timed as the matter is now in Parliament and that process ought to take over first.”
The matter in question is the Prevention of Human Trafficking Bill. Stop Trafficking SG had been lobbying for more clauses to be included in the Bill, including shielding victims from prosecution for immigration infractions and giving them the right to continue working while their cases are pending. Their focus was to provide more victim protection rather than giving more powers for legal enforcement.
The group had earlier sent a note to Members of Parliament (MPs) to disseminate relevant information for the debate in parliament on the Bill and had requested to meet Members of Parliament. Stop Trafficking SG had earlier submitted a 11-page critique of the bill to MP Christopher de Souza, who was to present the proposed new law in Parliament.
They felt that it was inappropriate for the Taskforce to respond to their sent note as it would seem to be pre-empting the Parliamentary debate.
Stop Trafficking SG emphasised that civil society groups, as well as private citizens should have channels to engage directly with MPs on any bill and do not think “it is appropriate for the civil service to respond on behalf of Members of Parliament as it detracts from this part of the democratic process.”
The Taskforce is jointly led by the Home Affairs and Manpower ministries, and is made up of representatives from the Singapore Police Force (SPF), Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA), Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), Ministry of Health (MOH), Ministry of Law (MinLaw), Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC).
“Prior to its introduction in Parliament on 7 October 2014, the Taskforce and Mr de Souza held extensive public consultation via six focus group dialogue sessions and the REACH portal,” the Taskforce had indicated in the letter.
It had also stated that the enforcement agencies have always benchmarked practices to international standards.
They pointed out that the 294 labour cases cited in the report by Stop Trafficking SG had referred to enquiries and feedback from civil society organisations relating to an array of issues including short payment of salary, not paying proper overtime rates and poor standards of accommodation. Through investigations, only a minority were found to be suspected trafficking cases.
The Taskforce further noted that trafficking is a serious offence and the agencies have to investigate carefully to substantiate the action, means and purpose elements of the offence, as aligned with international standards. “We cannot adopt loose definitions as there are severe penalties involved,” said the Taskforce.
The full response from Stop Trafficking SG
The Prevention of Human Trafficking Bill is slated for debate in Parliament in November. As NGOs that organised the StopTraffickingSG Campaign, we sent our note to MPs to disseminate relevant information for Parliamentary debate on the Bill. In our note, we had also requested to meet Members of Parliament.
Instead our request was met by a response from the Inter-Agency Task Force on Trafficking in Persons. We do not think this was appropriate because by responding to our note that had been addressed to MPs, the Taskforce seems to be pre-empting the Parliamentary debate before it has even started. Moreover, civil society groups, as well as private citizens, ought to have channels to engage directly with members of parliament on any bill, given the supreme legislative authority of Parliament in a democratic system and the accountability of parliamentarians to their electorate. We do not think it is appropriate for the civil service to respond on behalf of members of parliament as it detracts from this part of the democratic process.
The response, furthermore, is inappropriately timed as the matter is now in parliament and that process ought to take over first. Be that as it may, we appreciate the concerns raised by the Task Force in its letter and StopTraffickingSG looks forward to continuing to engage with the Inter-Agency Task Force to tackle trafficking in persons in Singapore.