The Government has laid out four possible models — drawn from practices in various jurisdictions abroad — through which it could restrict public drinking in Singapore in future, ranging from as strict as a blanket ban, to a laissez faire approach where the police step in to seize alcohol only from those creating a nuisance.
Views on which of these models should be used by the authorities in regulating drinking in public are now being sought by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), after it received strong support for no-alcohol zones to be designated in public spaces.
Roughly four in five respondents in the first phase of its public consultation on measures to limit liquor sales and public drinking — concluded in December last year — were in favour of making congregation hot-spots and common areas within neighbourhoods, such as playgrounds, void decks and areas near MRT stations, off-limits to boozing.
About three-quarters also backed shortening alcohol sale hours — with the general view that there should be a midnight cutoff for residential areas and 2am for entertainment districts.
For the second phase of public consultations, which started yesterday, the MHA wants the public to chip in on how it should keep public drinking under control, listing the advantages and disadvantages of four approaches that have been taken overseas.
“There are various models adopted overseas and we would like to seek the public’s view to derive a model that best suits Singapore’s needs. This will help ensure that the measures implemented will be effective and sustainable in the long run,” it said in a press release yesterday.
On one end of the spectrum, the United Kingdom sets aside zones where the police can ask revellers who are creating a nuisance to surrender open containers of alcohol. But this is a reactive approach since the officers only intervene after there has been a disturbance, the MHA noted.
At the other extreme, Western Australia and several United States states and cities, such as Washington, Kansas and Maryland, take a stricter approach, prohibiting drinking in all public spaces all the time. The advantage of this approach, said the MHA, is that problems caused by drinkers will not be displaced to only outside a no-alcohol zone.
The other two approaches lying in the middle of this scale are restricting alcohol consumption in specific places, or during certain times.
The move to consider these curbs started on Oct 29 last year after several Members of Parliament (MPs) raised concerns. For instance, Senior Minister of State (Education and Law) Indranee Rajah had mooted the idea of a no-alcohol zone in Robertson Quay.
While the consultation began before the Little India riot in December last year, the area became the first to fall under alcohol curbs after the Public Order (Preservation) Act was invoked. Drinking in public is now banned in an area in Little India and the sale of alcohol is also prohibited after 8pm on weekends, public holidays and the eve of public holidays — these measures will be in effect until March 31 next year, under the Public Order (Additional Temporary Measures) Act.
MPs TODAY spoke to agreed that there should be some measures imposed to control public drinking, but were split on how to do so.
Mr Charles Chong (Joo Chiat SMC) said he would prefer a combination of the selective enforcement approach and a complete ban on drinking at certain places, such as void decks and playgrounds.
“We don’t want to legislate to such an extent that even if you have a barbecue or a picnic, you get the law coming down on you (for drinking). Areas where you’re not going to cause problems, such as beaches and parks, can be a bit more liberal,” he said.
However, Dr Lily Neo (Tanjong Pagar GRC) said she prefers a time restriction, perhaps with a later cut-off time on weekends so residents can unwind without having rowdy crowds cause disturbances every night.
Residents living in areas previously flagged as problematic did not find public drinking that much of a nuisance.
Creative director Alvin Tan, 39, who lives in Little India, said a blanket ban is “over the top” as “the folks in Little India are pretty laid-back and I’ve not seen them rowdy since the riot”.
Freelance writer Yap Mei Ling, 28, who lives in Joo Chiat, said public drinking was not a problem in her area and that the entertainment outlets bothered her more, while educator Paul Michael, 35, who lives in Robertson Quay, suggested the authorities go with selective enforcement so only those who pose a nuisance can be dealt with.