What exactly is the role of Police in Singapore?

Just today, we got to know that the non-profit organisation, Helping People Help People (HPHP) had to cancel its event because the Police informed the organiser last minute that a Public Assembly Permit is needed.

The non-profit had planned the event, “A Mile In Their Shoes – “Leaders of Singapore” Fundraiser Special” to be held on 14 Dec and had invited politicians from the various political parties including the ruling People’s Action Party, to participate and collect cardboard across Singapore in areas like Ang Mo Kio, Toa Payoh, Chinatown, Jalan Besar and Bedok.

In their invitation to the politicians, HPHP said: “We feel that this is a sign of desperation among these elderlies (mostly in their 70s, 80s and even 90s) as cardboard collecting is not only a dangerous, backbreaking and unhygenic work, it also earns them very little. $0.04 cents for every kilogram.”

On its Facebook page, it wrote: “Participants will get to experience cardboard collecting first-hand and hopefully will share their experiences in parliament and help solve the growing impoverished elderly problem among our senior citizens.”

And to raise funds during the event, HPHP was planning to use the free fundraising platform Give.Asia. The money raised will then be distributed equally to some 150 elderly cardboard collectors.

According to the Police, “The event goes beyond simply helping cardboard collectors, and appears to be politicising a social cause,”

The police went on to state that the event would constitute a public assembly, and would therefore require a police permit under the Public Order Act.

The police said that the organiser was informed of the requirement for a permit and advised to submit the necessary applications on Thursday.

“Police have yet to receive any application for a permit to hold this event,” they said.

Following the Police’s notification that the event requires a permit, the organiser cancelled the event on Saturday.

Why the last minute notification?

HPHP had long publicised its intention to hold an event with political parties on the 21 November. With details of when and who are being invited, clearly stated on its Facebook page.

Note that the Police requires a minimum period of 14 working days for the application to be processed.

screenshot from licence1.business.gov.sg

Given the time needed for application, why did the licensing department of SPF decide to make a call to the organiser only less than two days before the actual event?

Were the Police only made aware of the event on Thursday? Are our Police not screening our social media with its resources? Didn’t PAP inform anyone in the government of the event after it was invited on 21 Nov?

Does the Police ever approve Public Assembly Permit?

Of course, some may argue that the organisers should have predicted this and make an application to the police for a Public Assembly Permit.

But get this right, I have tried to apply for a Public Assembly Permit myself. In fact, four times in 2018.

The last attempt that I made, was applying for a permit to sit alone at Raffles Place during the middle of the night, without any signs, without any other participants.

And guess what?

The Police assessed my application and took the view that the events applied for carry a risk of causing public disorder, as well as damage to property. They further recommended me to have my sit-in to be held at Hong Lim Park.

The whole application process will seem to any logical person as a sham.

Now look back at HPHP’s event and consider if the Police will approve it, with the same consideration that it had for my application.

The availability of the Public Assembly Permit application seems like a convenient excuse for the government and police whenever someone is arrested under the Public Order Act. The authorities would just say, “Assembly at this location would have required for a Public Assembly Permit.”

As if the permit would be approve if one applies.

Till date, it remains unknown if the Police ever approves any permits of this nature.

So to suggest that organisations like HPHP go and apply for a Public Assembly Permit when it is unclear if they needed one, is like signing your own death certificate to have the event not approved by the Police to be held.

Public safety or just simply harrassment

The way how the Police notifies organisers of the need to apply for permits, knowing that the application process takes a minimum period of 14 working days, appears to force organisers to cancel their events that is deemed as political in nature.

If one were to carry on with the event, he or she will risk being charged for holding an event without a permit despite being warned by the Police.

So why choose to inform organisers last minute when they could have been told much earlier so that they could make the necessary applications?

In my past attempts to apply for a permit, I had made my applications beyond the 14 days period but yet the Police still choose to revert back to my application just a day before the scheduled date of event, leaving me little option to consider what to do. Even an appeal to the Minister of Home Affairs would be hard, given that it is outside of office hours.

This comes back to my question in the title. What is the Police’s role here in Singapore?

To ensure public order and that events are properly screened so to ensure safety for the public? Or to simply act as watchdogs for the government, ensuring that the people stay in line and not to dabble on politically sensitive issues?

The email thread of my last application of Public Assembly Permit to the SPF

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