Bill seeks to give police extra powers in Little India area

SINGAPORE — Those who knock back beers in public outside the permitted hours or whose behaviour could cause a riot may be banned from Little India for up to 30 days.

Police and auxiliary police officers will have the authority to ask those in the area or who are about to enter it to state their names and addresses and why they are there, to empty their bags and pockets and to strip search them. They may use force to remove someone from the zone.

The authorities will also be equipped with powers to suspend businesses if they break alcohol sale restrictions, and alcohol merchants who flout the rules can be fined up to S$5,000, with harsher penalties for repeat offenders.

The Public Order (Additional Temporary Measures) Bill seeking to provide for these temporary measures for one year in Little India was introduced in Parliament yesterday, as Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean and Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin addressed dozens of questions tabled by Members of Parliament (MPs) about the Dec 8 riot in Little India.

In his ministerial statement, Mr Teo said the proposed Bill — which will declare Little India as a special zone — is “scoped more tightly compared to the wide-ranging powers” that came into effect when the Public

(Preservation) Act was invoked in the aftermath of the riot to, among other things, regulate the sale and consumption of alcohol in the area on weekends, public holidays and the eves of public holidays. The proposed law provides only for the additional powers needed to deal with the issues within Little India, he said.

“The Bill proposes that the law will be valid for one year. This will provide sufficient time for my ministry to enact longer term legislation to take into account the findings and recommendations of the COI (Committee of Inquiry) and recommendations arising from public consultations on the review of the liquor licensing regime,” said Mr Teo, who is also the Home Affairs Minister.

Other provisions in the Bill include, for example, the power of search and seizure for higher-ranked officers on a random basis. Any person who does not comply, without reasonable excuse, could be fined up to S$2,500 and jailed up to three months — the same penalties for those who enter the special zone while being banned. Those prohibited from entering the zone may appeal against the ban to the Home Affairs Minister, whose decision is final.

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The ban, however, will not extend to those living or working in the area. No new liquor licences will be granted in Little India under the proposed law.

Parliament will debate the Bill at its Second Reading, but Tampines GRC MP Irene Ng has already expressed concern about the regulation of movement.

Ms Ng, who rose to speak after Mr Teo delivered his ministerial statement, questioned “whether it is important to also guard against aggressive measures attempting to restrict every aspect of life of our migrant workers, including their leisure, and to also guard against subjecting them to what they may consider as police intimidation and harassment”.

Mr Teo replied that the proposed law would apply equally to foreigners and Singaporeans and would be implemented fairly and firmly.

Shopkeepers in Little India whom TODAY spoke to were divided over the impact of the proposed law on their business. Some felt their earnings, which had taken a hit since the riot, would suffer even more with foreign workers deterred from visiting, while others said customers would feel safer.

“If the police come here and (stop people on the road), who will want to come here?” said a salesman at Moonshine Enterprises, which sells alcohol.

However, Ms Mistry Dipti, owner of Shashi Kitchen and Sargam Club, felt visitors would still be drawn to the tourist attraction.

Noting how the back alley of her restaurant is no longer strewn with litter after bright lights were installed, she said: “Things have improved here with the police around.”

Little India Shopkeepers and Heritage Association Vice-Chairman S R Gopal said his association was not consulted for the Bill, but nevertheless, he felt that it was necessary to safeguard against future problems.

Since the riot, considerable resources have been channelled to the area to beef up police presence, Mr Teo said.

More closed-circuit television cameras have been installed and the police have deployed 20 to 30 more officers and Special Operations Command troops on weekends, public holidays and the eves of public holidays. This is in addition to 81 auxiliary police officers and private security officers currently engaged on weekends.

Other issues discussed in Parliament included the basis for determining alcohol to be a contributory factor in the riot and the treatment of foreign workers here. Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin took issue with individuals who have concluded that the mistreatment of foreign workers was a cause of the riot and foreign media that echoed these points with “scant evidence for their assertions”. It is puzzling how some individuals could so quickly cite “widespread and systemic abuse of the foreign workforce” as a reason for the riot, he said in his ministerial statement, referring to surveys conducted by the Ministry of Manpower that most foreign workers are satisfied with their overall experience here.

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