Singapore has very strict regulations in relation to how and when you can display the flag. For example, this year, regulations were issued to state that Singaporeans could only display their flags from 25 April to 30 September. Looking at the list of what you can and cannot do, it is no wonder that some might be discouraged from ever putting up a flag, just not to run afoul of the regulations!
The laws surrounding how and when you can display the Singapore flag have always been seemingly at odds with the whole point behind why someone would display a flag in the first place. The flag signifies Singapore and Singaporeans would display it as a sign of their pride in their country. To be told how and when you can display your flag (barring incidences of disrespect which is a separate issue) goes against the grain of spontaneous pride and patriotic expression.
Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, Edwin Tong has taken to his Facebook page on Wednesday (30 Sep) to assure the general public that “no one has ever been fined” for continue displaying the national flag after 30 September, adding that the Government is not planning to do so. This was perhaps in direct response to concerns among the public that they could be prosecuted for accidentally breaching the rules.
“There’s been some concern raised after certain media reported that those who continue to fly the flags after Sep 30 will be fined. Let me assure you: as far as I know, no one has ever been fined for this, nor do we plan to do so,”
This begs the question – what is the point of having something in law when a minister is publicly stating that it will never be used? Doesn’t this mean that the law is superfluous in the first place?
Is the Government keeping the law in its back pocket in case it ever needs it? And if so, why?
This is certainly not the only example of Singapore having potentially unnecessary laws. The Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) is an example of this.
While the Government has only used the correction direction of POFMA till date, it has yet to issue takedown direction under the act and most important, it has also yet to charge anyone under section 7 which carries a penalty of a fine of not exceeding $50,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 5 years or to both for the case of an individual. One could say that penalty is not practice as with that in relation of the National Flag but the choice of whether to charge someone with the offence still remains in the hand of the Attorney General’s Chambers.
Furthermore, there are so many laws in place which can be used to counter the threat of online falsehoods. Yet, the Government pushes ahead with POFMA which many have criticised as a potential move to silent critics with Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon even calling it a “blunt tool“.
Are the regulations in relation to the flag a means to control the public as opposed to protecting the flag just like how POFMA could be a way to silence critics rather than protect the public from falsehoods?