Laws made worse for Singaporeans – Part One

by Teo Soh Lung

Singapore was a British colony more than half a century ago. Britain has given us and the rest of the Commonwealth a legal system which to a large extent is commendable. However, Britain has also given us some harsh laws intended to control the population. These regrettably are made worse by our own government after we became independent in 1966.

Let me discuss the death penalty and the Misuse of Drugs Act first.

In colonial times, the death penalty was applicable only for violent crimes such as murder. Incidentally, England, Scotland and Wales abolished capital punishment in 1965 when the Murder (Abolition of the Death Penalty) Act was passed.

In 1973, the death penalty was introduced in Singapore for non-violent crimes, namely trafficking of morphine (more than 30 grammes) and diamorphine (more than 15 grammes) as well as unauthorised manufacture of these drugs.

Since then, trafficking of 6 more drugs - opium, cocaine, cannabis, cannabis mixture, cannabis resin, methamphetamine and unauthorised manufacture, import and export of these drugs and mixtures carry the death penalty.

The list of Class A drugs which can carry the death penalty has been amended at least 25 times, sometimes twice in one year.

In addition, prescribed punishments such as length of prison terms and the number of strokes of the cane for offences have also increased.

Has the increase use of the death penalty, longer prison terms and more caning solved Singapore's drug problems? With more than 40 years of records, the government should be able to let us know if our harsh laws has eradicated or deterred drug crimes.

CONSTITUTION OF THE REPUBLIC OF SINGAPORE

While parliament made at least 25 amendments to the List of Class A drugs in the First Schedule of the Misuse of Drugs Act (1973) from 1974, it was also busy amending our Constitution.

As at 16 December 2017, our Constitution has been amended 41 times.

Article 5 of our Constitution declares:

“This Constitution is the supreme law of the Republic of Singapore and any law enacted by the Legislature after the commencement of this Constitution which is inconsistent with this Constitution shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void.”

Is our Constitution "supreme" when 41 amendments were made in the past 54 years? How many of our rights have been taken away with the passing of each of these amendments?

CITIZENSHIP BY BIRTH

In 1986, Article 135 of our Constitution was amended. A new clause was inserted to empower the government to deprive a citizen by birth of his citizenship if he is absent from Singapore for a continuous period of 10 years. Unlike the case of deprivation of citizenship of a naturalised citizen or a citizen by registration, under this new clause, the citizenship will be revoked even though as a result of such deprivation, he would not be a citizen of any country.

This amendment was targeted at Tan Wah Piow, the alleged leader of the alleged 1987 Marxist Conspiracy. Tan Wah Piow was  summarily deprived of his citizenship while 22 people were arrested under the Internal Security Act and imprisoned without trial.

The amendment to Art 135 was timed to ensure that Tan Wah Piow would not be able to return to Singapore to clear his name when the arrests took place. Indeed, his lawyer was among the 22 arrested.

It is interesting to contrast the Constitution of Singapore (1963) with the Constitution of the United States (1787). As of today, there are 27 amendments made to the 230-year-old Constitution of the United States. The first ten amendments were ratified by the states in 1789 and are collectively known as the Bill of Rights. These amendments protect the fundamental rights of the people.

In Singapore, many of the amendments that were made to the Constitution and other laws are intended to deprive the people of their fundamental rights. The deprivation of citizenship of Tan Wah Piow, a citizen by birth is one example.