I delivered the following speech in Parliament on 29 January 2015
Madam Speaker, I echo the position presented by my Party’s colleague Mr Pritam Singh.
While I welcome additional measures to better manage unwanted and rowdy behaviour caused by drunkenness especially in residential areas, I am concerned if some parts of the Bill are too far-reaching.
The Bill makes it an offence to consume alcohol across Singapore during the prescribed no-public drinking period, which is currently planned to be between 1030 pm and 7am. The exception would be to drink at licensed premises or if consumption permission has been applied for and granted to an event organizer prior to the event.
Madam, I am of the view that there are public spaces where the consumption of liquor can be permitted without disturbing residents. An example would be in areas popular for barbeques and gatherings such as the Changi Beach, East Coast and West Coast Parks. I live near one of these parks and would often go there in the evenings. The people at the parks, even those who have been drinking, are generally well behaved. Many are the occasional social drinkers. They are also far away from any residence so there is also no disturbance caused to households.
I believe we can relax the Bill to allow the Minister to designate areas where drinking can be allowed at all times. If there are frequent undesired incidents related to drinking in these areas, the Minister can publish an order in the Gazette to restrict the drinking period or totally ban drinking in that area, just as the Minister will be able to do so for liquour licence holders under this Bill. In any case, under existing laws and also under section 14 of this Bill, we will have the powers to deal with drunkennesss in public places at all times and against behaviours that cause public nuisance, so we have the means to take action against drunkards and those behaving in unruly manners.
I believe this will lighten administrative load of having to approve consumption permission for events in areas where drinking is unlikely to cause problems. During weekends and on public holidays, it is common to find many of the barbeque pits in popular public spaces occupied. How responsive will the processing of permits be? Will we have enough security personnel to patrol these areas to enforce the no-drinking rule? Is it necessary to have the police patrol such public places to catch people drinking?
Already, we have heard during the Committee of Inquiry, or COI on Little India that our police force is understaffed and highly stretched. Paragraphs 196 to 198 of the COI report had called for more officers but this issue has barely been addressed. The then-Commissioner of Police Mr Ng Joo Hee closed his testimony before the COI with a plea for another 1,000 more officers to be added to the police’s ranks
Given this situation, how ready are we to enforce this no-drinking rule in all public places across Singapore? If enforcement of this Bill is weak, it will not reflect well on our law enforcement officers
Next, I like to seek some clarifications from the Minister on the Bill.
First, there is some public disquiet over what may seem to people as excessive powers to search individuals for any container of liquor and to search premises. I like to seek clarification that an individual who was consuming liquor in a licensed premises and who leaves the licensed premises with opened and unconsumed liquor in a container during the prescribed no-drinking period has not committed any offence under this Bill, i.e. the presence of liquor with the person in a public place but who is not at that point consuming the liquor, is not an offence, if the liquor was purchased in a licensed premises or during the allowed sales period.
Second, I seek confirmation that while a foreign employee dormitory is deemed to be a public place, it is only for the purpose of being drunk as defined by section 14(1) of this Bill, i.e. it is not an offence to drink in a foreign employee dormitory after 1030 pm unless the person becomes drunk.
Finally, I like to seek an update from the Minister that with this Bill and the designation of Little India as a Liquor Control Zone, what will happen to the measures that had been earlier imposed on Little India in the aftermath of the riot and subsequently with the temporary public order bill on Little India? There are a couple more months before the expiry of the Temporary Public Order Bill. Will the restrictions be immediately superseded when this Bill takes effect? What were the key lessons learnt on the ground from the imposition of the restrictions on Little India?
Madam Speaker, in conclusion, while I support the principle of this Bill, I like to urge the Minister to review the scope of the regulations to leave more flexibility for the sales and consumption of liquor in areas that are away from private residence. Thank you.