Lina Chiam

NCMP Lina Chiam’s speech in parliament against the passing of the alcohol laws

lina chiam

Earlier today, the Liquor Control (Suppy and Consumption) Bill was passed in Parliament after a lengthy debate involving 25 speakers.

Non-Constituency Member of Parliament, Lina Chiam from Singapore People’s Party was the only Member of Parliament who voted against the Bill. Members from People’s Action Party, Workers’ Party and Nominated MPs all voted in favour of the bill.

Here is her full speech that she delivered in Parliament today.


 

Madam Speaker.

The ill-effects of the consumption, and the over-consumption, of alcohol are well known to all members of this house. Like the Minister of Home Affairs, I too want to see the eradication of public drunkenness and alcoholism.

I am agreeable to the gist and intentions of this bill but have reservations in regard to the implementation of it.

However, in attempting to do so, we must aim to tackle the root of the problem and not resort to a legislative overkill.

It concerns me that this bill is not only properly drafted as it leads to many ambiguous areas in the law and there also seems to be a lack of quality public consultation by the Ministry of Home Affairs prior to the drafting of this bill.

Ambiguity in the Law

In response to queries about enforcement, a spokesman for the Ministry of Home Affairs said that the police will be able to “take a more calibrated approach…based on the circumstances of the situation.” This gives too much discretion to policemen and auxiliary policemen which would lead us to uncertainty in the law.

Clause 22 of this Bill outlines the powers of the Police and auxiliary police officers to inspect individuals.

Specifically, Clauses 22(1)(b) and (c) empowers officers to conduct strip searches on individuals that they reasonably suspect to be in breach of the clauses set out in this bill, which include not only consumption of alcohol but also mere possession of it.

I take issue with this as I believe that Police Officers and  auxiliary police officers should not have the power of conducting strip search, as it infringes on the modesty of individuals. Also, why is there a need for a strip search when a pat search would suffice? And I would also like seek a clarification from the Minister on what would constitute ‘reasonable suspicion.’

I believe these abovementioned clauses have not been well lthought out and I’m not convinced about  the extraordinary powers bestowed upon not only police officers but even auxiliary police officers when a smaller power would serve the same purpose.

This clause also states that the officers may seize the alcoholic drinks even they were not being consumed, this does seem rather odd and unfair. Hypothetically, let us say a layman buys a bottle of beer at a convenience store after a long day at work at 10.29pm, does this mean he would be in breach of a law if he did not finish the entire bottle of beer within the next minute?

Liquor Control Zones

The Minister may designate an area as a Liquor Control Zone where there is a significant risk of public disorder associated with excessive consumption of liquor. To date, Little India and Geylang have already been demarcated as Liquor Control Zones.

In 2013 There were 49 public order offences – such as serious hurt, rioting and affray – in Geylang, making it the least safe place in that regard when compared with other areas of congregation, such as Clarke Quay, Boat Quay, Chinatown and Joo Chiat. Little India was second on the list with 25 public order offences. However, correlation is not causation. Yes, both Little India and Geylang might have the highest number of public order offences and areas where people congregate and consume alcohol, but there is still a lack of data to show that these public order offences were caused by alcohol.

Businesses in these Liquor Control Zones will also be heavily affected. A key stakeholder, Mr Chandra, the Chairman of the Little India Shopkeepers and Heritage Association raised objections.

“If this policy is going to be in place every day, then it is going to be terrible for the stakeholders. Little India is also a place for a lot of tourists who want to be entertained. There are a lot of backpackers and hostels and they love to stay around Little India and they too spend their evening having their drinks. So if the ban is imposed daily, then I am sure it will make a lot of difference for businesses in Little India, which will also affect the tourism industry.”

I would like to ask the Minister how will the Government help these businesses who will be affected by the proposed restrictions.

The number of public order offences in Little India for the whole year of 2013 was 25 and this number has decreased after increased policing in 2014.

Testifying before the COI for the Little India Riots, former Commissioner of Police, Mr Ng Joo Hee said in a passionate plea that “a deployment of 300 pairs of boots on the ground should bring noticeable police visibility to both locations.”

He also added that “My planners tell me that police presence is defined as a police patrol passing a point once every 15 to 20 minutes… This is a useful benchmark, but one which we cannot come close to achieving in either Little India or Geylang on present levels of resourcing.”

If increase policing can solve the problems this bill aims to tackle, why don’t we focus our efforts on increasing the strength of the police force instead of passing overreaching legislation?

In this view, I believe that the proposed Liquor Control Zone is nothing less than a legislative overkill. We do not need to use a sledgehammer to kill a fly. Just like how we do not ban drinking because a minority of drivers drive under the influence of alcohol, imposing a liquor control zone in a place where only a miniscule number of people cause disorder is disproportional.

Also, under these laws, foreign-worker dormitories will be designated as public areas for the purposes of enforcing laws on drunken behaviour. These draconian laws may potentially deprive the workers’ of the source of solace and trample on their dignity. I’ll understand if the dormitories have their own rules and regulations, but to turn it into a law that comes with fines and jail terms, that is very harsh. Most of us have homes to go back to drink, but the dormitories are the foreign workers’ homes yet they are subjected to the proposed rules, where there might be checks and penalties which are higher than their monthly wages.

As most, if not all, of these Foreign Workers only have one day off per week, I would like to seek an amendment for the cut-off time for consuming alcohol at public places be extended to 11.30pm, instead of 10.30pm, on weekends. Drinkers at hawker centres and coffee shops will also welcome this change.

In comparison to other Jurisdictions

While we may draw parallels with other countries which have similar controlled liquor zone but do we face the same problems plaguing the cities to warrant such a heavy handed approach to curb drinking issues?

According to the World Health Organization’s report, Singapore has one of the Worlds lowest rates of alcohol consumption at 2 litres per capita. In comparison, Australia, United States and the United Kingdom’s alcohol consumption rates are 12, 9.2 & 11.6 litres respectively.

While United Kingdom and Singapore both have controlled liquor zones, but what is notable is that United Kingdom’s Alcohol Consumption Rate is more than 5 times that of Singapore’s.

Our Partial Restriction may be comparable to that of cities like Texas, Sydney and Prague. Just like in Singapore, most of these abovementioned cities also passed laws to restrict the consumption and supply of alcohol to combat public drunkenness and public disorder associated with the consumption of liquor. For example, the New South Wales Government passed the new laws as “part of the NSW Government’s crackdown on drug and alcohol-fuelled violence.

All these cities have comparable degrees of alcohol restrictions comparable to the restrictions in this bill and yet their alcohol consumption rates are almost 5 times that of Singapore’s’.

Also, why do we not make a comparison with how alcohol is prohibited in neighbouring secular country like Thailand and Malaysia where social, political and cultural influences are similar? What happened to the ‘Asian Values’ Mr Lee used to talk of? Or do we practise selective comparison to make the Bill appear attractive?

Its there a growing trend of crimes in Singapore linking with alcohol that the Ministry of Home Affairs warrants such strict restrictions?

Non-Existent Public Consultation

During the first reading of this bill on 19 January, the Ministry for Home Affairs claimed that after conducting two public consultation exercises, discussing with 180 stakeholders and reviewing more than 300 pieces of written feedback, there was strong support for the proposed restrictions.

Before we examine the Public Consultation itself, the number of people consulted for a bill that would have such far-reaching effects deeply perturbs me.

If we were to assume that everyone who had been part of the consultation process is unique, it would mean that only about 1,000 were involved in the consultation process. Out of which, only a mere 180 were stakeholders like grassroots representatives and business owners.

It is very strange that the people whom would be most affected by the bill weren’t consulted. I understand that many of them may be transient workers, but transient workers count too. I believe they definitely need to be represented in the consultative process.

It is indeed very strange that for a bill which would affect millions, less than a thousand were consulted. This is a minuscule sample size that should not be construed to represent the views of the general populace.

For a Government that has recently went on record to say that it would be more in touch with the ground, this would go down as a major dark stain in its attempts to reform the relationship between the people and the Government.

Flawed Consultation Method

Upon closer examination of the process, I was surprised to discover that those giving feedback were not given an option to reject restriction during Phase 2.

They only had the choice to decide on varying forms of restriction, but were not given the choice to reject all forms of restriction, even if that was what they believed in. This is a fundamentally flawed methodology of choice.

Support of the Majority?

Setting aside the miniscule sample size and the fundamentally flawed methodology, MHA also proclaimed that more than 83% of respondents supported the proposed laws.

However, within 24 hours of the first reading, only less than 23% of 9,000 polled in a Straits Times survey supported the proposed laws. In other words, more than 77% of respondents were not supportive of the bill.

I must concede that neither the ST Poll nor the MHA’s Public Consultation have sample sizes big enough and methods to reflect the will of the people, but this discrepancy in results only begets the questions – Do these proposed laws truly have “broad support” like what the MHA claims? Do these restrictions truly reflect the will of the people?

More data and effective public consultation is definitely needed before this house arrives at a decision to pass such a bill.

Madam Speaker,

I am not agreeable to the proposed laws of this important bill together with its regulations and restrictions that do not entirely reflect the will of the people of Singapore. I feel that this bill was hastily drawn with such a short notice for the house to debate properly.

I propose this bill be committed to a select committee for further scrutiny before the bill is passed.

Thank you.