When the Ministry of Home Affairs tabled a bill to impose an island-wide ban on the consumption of alcohol in public places after 10.30pm, it cited a "consultation exercise" it conducted, where at least 83% of participants indicated support for the extended ban.
This was in stark contract to the public opinion polled by national broadsheet The Straits Times, which indicated very much the opposite - at least 70% were not in favour of the ban. The discrepancy was noted earlier in a commentary published by The Online Citizen.
In case you might be asking why, we refer to an earlier document on the government outreach platform, REACH, indicating the scope of the "consultation exercise", what it aims to achieve and the timeline.
The document outlined the scope of consultation for Phase 2. Phase 1 of the consultation was carried out between 29 October and 31 December 2013 via the REACH portal and focus group discussions. The exercise sought views on two measures - designating no-alcohol zones at public places, and shortening of sale hours of alcohol at retail outlets.
No other options seem to be available for participants to choose from - for instance, stepping up enforcement for existing bans, or increasing public education on public drinking.
Nevertheless, MHA reported that:
"The majority of the respondents supported the two measures. 83% of the respondents who commented on the proposal to designate no-alcohol zones in public places, and 76% of those who commented on the proposal to shorten retail sales hours of alcohol for off-premise consumption, expressed support for the respective measures."
Notwithstanding, MHA then proceeded to conduct Phase 2 from 16 June to 31 July 2014, which was to look at the "various options available to put the two measures into effect".
These options were considered for the restriction of public consumption of alcohol, which presumable were put up for participants to vote:
- Partial restriction with selective enforcement
- Partial restriction by places
- Partial restriction by time
- Wider restrictions (i.e. public consumption of alcohol will not be allowed, except at permitted places)
Again, there does not seem to be an option available for participants to say "no". However, when MHA recently published the results of this survey, it drew charts to indicate answers to two questions:
- "Do you support restricting consumption of liquor in public places?"
- "Do you support measures to restrict sales hours for take-away liquor?"
Perhaps we can take a closer look at the question posed in Phase 2 of the exercise, to get a sense of what participants were considering or voting on:
Again, there does not seem to be any indication as to how participants can object to stricter restrictions. It was either more or less restrictions, and ending retail sale of alcohol earlier or later. "Leave things as they are" or "scale back existing restrictions" does not seem to figure strongly in this "consultation exercise".
Which then draws similarities to another poll we might be less familiar with - the national referendum on the merger with Malaya.
In view of these questions vis-a-vis the options considered for the policy, do participants actually have a chance to vote against additional restrictions? Of the 12% to 24% of participants who have indicated disagreement for additional restrictions throughout Phases 1 and 2, exactly which option did they vote for? Was there even such an option?
Ministry of Home Affairs - Phase II of Public Consultation on Strengthening Measures on Liquor Sale and Consumption in Public Places on REACH