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Posts Tagged ‘liquor’

Over-REACHing

In News Reports, Politics, Society on January 31, 2015 at 7:45 am

If the G’s REACH people had rung me to ask about the Liquor Control legislation, I would have answered this way:

  1. No, I do not support the restrictions.
  2. No, the restrictions, if imposed, would not affect my lifestyle.
  3. Then comes the third question: Whether I consider public drunkenness a serious problem that has to be countered. I would have said yes…Because on PRINCIPLE, I would have to agree. But then I would have stopped to ask: You mean public drunkenness here? Now? Is it a serious problem? This country with the lowest alcohol consumption in the world? Seriously?

So we finally get to hear some statistics about public drunkenness – at the second reading of the Bill. Just about the last chance for anyone, or rather only MPs, to reflect on them and ask questions.

Last year, there were 47 cases of rioting linked to the consumption of liquor. There were also 115 cases of serious hurt, which were related to drinking. These cases included stabbing, cutting using dangerous weapons, and inflicting severe bodily pain. Nine in 10 occurred after 10.30pm.

Please let me hiccup a few times.

Hic! The rrreview over liquor consumption was started in 2012, and brought into focus after the Little India riot the next year. And all this while, public consultation was going on without the benefit of some numbers to ascertain the seriousness of the problem? What kind of rrrreeeeview is this? Hic!

Hic! We don’t know if these rioters and slashers were all drinking takeway beer after 10.30pm or had emerged sloshed from a licensed premises or got booted out by bouncers onto the public space. But, hey, hic!, So what rrrrright? All the crimes were committed after 10.30pm. Therefore it makes sense to make sure all “public’’ drrrrinking – whether or not it becomes public “drrrrunkenness’’ – stops at 10.30pm….

I have been trying to find the overall statistics on rioting and can only refer to an ST report, released on Thursday, the day before Parliament approved the Liquor Control Bill, saying that rioting involving youths had gone up from 283 arrested the year before to 322 last year. Please note that these riots involved only youths who may or may not be old enough to drink.

So what’s the BIG, national statistic?

I know what some people will think: Why am I nit-picking? Isn’t enough that people are hurt after some people had one too many? Didn’t you hear all those MPs going on and on about the pee, the vomit and the noise? You are in no position to speak because you don’t live in those places where there is public drunkenness.

Really? If it were me, I would be calling the cops all the time and insist that they do their job instead of asking for an omnibus law that affects everyone. My question would be: “Why aren’t the cops doing anything???!’’ Not: “We need yet another law.’’

So I hear this from a lawyer-MP who said that “of course’’ the law is a curb on personal liberties. But the “right to drink where and when you want is not a fundamental liberty’’ if it affects the public interest.

Because it IS a curb on personal liberties, this requires us to be rather more circumspect in imposing the law. This is not like a quarantine order to confine people in their homes to stop the spread of infectious disease. In fact, while others in developed countries might balk against such orders, we’ve shown ourselves pragmatic enough to deny ourselves freedom as was the case during Sars. That was a BIG problem that should be solved. The citizens here agreed.

Then you have the G saying this: “When does the Bill stop being blunt and over-reaching, and when does it start being comprehensive and effective? We can have a lot of rhetorical flourishes and pose interesting questions, but at the end of the day, we need to make a decision, and that decision applies not just to general principles, but also to specific steps that need to be taken on the ground.”

I really think that was not a nice thing to say. Rhetorical flourishes and interesting questions? When it comes to fundamental rights, the questions are merely “interesting’’? Or is the word “academic’’? I suppose the subtext is that this is merely the concern of liberal loonies who put Western ideals of fundamental freedoms above the heartlanders’ law and order concerns.

By the way, hic,,..I am not a liberal loonie, I am a member of the hic! HIC!.. intelligentsia – a term which is practically un-used in Singapore. And it is normal everywhere that the much despised intelligentsia would raise such uncomfortable questions especially if it touches on the extent of State power

As for that REACH survey. So the G denys that it governs by polls, never mind its feedback arm had the poll done. I guess it had to be done to counteract the ST online poll which had more people against the restrictions. The REACH poll, which is “scientific’’, mind you, showed otherwise. In fact, you have the usual suspects saying that the online views are just those of a vocal minority while the REACH poll is a REAL reflection of public sentiment.

I am really quite sick and tired of such dismissals of contrarian views. The G should give us the FACTS, not the views. And give us the FACTS early, not at the last minute.

Isn’t the key question this: Is the state of public drunkenness such that it is beyond the ability of the police to cope? Are there not enough specific laws in place to handle this?

I have said it before and I’ll say it again: I cannot help but recall how the Little India Commission of Inquiry had repeatedly asked for statistics on public drunkenness in the area and whether the Miscellaneous Offences Act was being enforced against those public drunks who became a nuisance. These statistics were given out then: 60 arrests in 2013 and 27 in 2012. Then nothing heard.

If rioting cases fuelled by drinking had gone up over the years, I certainly didn’t know this despite being an avid follower of local developments in the media. The only time liquor became a problem was the Little India riot, which left the police black-and-blue in the face.

MPs of affected resident say it is about giving back the residents their “space’’. I don’t suppose affected residents think that getting back their “space’’ also means restricting their own and that of other people? Why aren’t they asking where the law is during those times? All those cameras everywhere and it can’t be used to direct officers to clear drunken loiterers or put them behind bars under the Miscellaneous Offences Act?

Then comes this cop-out from the G: Let’s not worry because the law is really about nabbing the really very bad drunks. The police won’t bother to strip search you (even though they can) or break up your beach barbeque (but please get a permit) or arrest you because you were drinking a can of beer at 11pm (but please bin it when told to) In other words, light touch. Or another decorative piece in the law that will be utilised with utmost discretion by the executive. Which sort of begs the question of why the law is there in the first place.

Also there is this crazy point about how the definition of workers’ dormitories as “public places’’ is really just a “technical’’ thing to conform to another piece of legislation. Pttfff…Dismissed.

Sheesh. Shouldn’t we be more careful about protecting ourselves against over-reach by the G? Or should we laugh it away in a drunken fit? Maybe we should say: For more than 20 years, we’ve always had no problems with the G abusing any process. We assume that everything is done according to our expectations. Now this (fill in the blanks) has happened. But never mind, we can always unwind the process. Let’s drink to that!

But now that the Bill is LAW, I can only suggest this for licensed premises to consider: Please start your happy hour earlier.

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Over-protecting the people

In News Reports, Politics, Society on January 21, 2015 at 3:12 am

The proposed alcohol curbs don’t affect me; I’m usually in bed by 10.30pm. And I drink on licensed premises anyway. My days of drinking on the beach staring at the stars are long over. As for take-away alcohol, nothing prevents anyone from buying it earlier and stocking up at home as the Home Affairs ministry put it: “members of the public can continue to consume liquor at home during the restricted hours’’. Sheesh. You would have thought such a statement was un-necessary. Surely, no one thinks the State can start imposing on what we can do or cannot do in the confines of our home? Then again, foreign worker dorms have been designated as “public spaces’’…

Never mind all that.

My problem with the restrictions on boozing that are making its way in Parliament is simply this: Are they even necessary? So, they have come in the aftermath of the Little India riot because alcohol was a “contributory’’ factor. We had thought that too many liquor licences had been given out to retailers over there – so a cap on such licences looks reasonable. But we were then told that other areas, such as Chinatown, had even more such licences. Restricting the number of licences would have been good enough surely? Just make sure there is no such ready – and cheap – supply. Instead, the whole population have now been told that they can’t buy takeaway liquor after 10.30pm and can’t drink in public areas during “restricted hours’’.

The penalties for infringements: a fine of up to S$1,000 for a first-time offender, while jail of up to three months and a fine not exceeding S$2,000 can be imposed on repeat offenders.

The promise from the G is that it will be “flexible’’.  Just dispose of that beer can if you are caught with it in public; nothing will happen to you.  If there is one thing I do not like about some of our laws – it is the amount of discretion it gives to the executive arm to enforce…

So the G has come up with two ways to convince people that the legislation is okay.

  1. It has the support of the people, or at least most of the 1,200 people it consulted. I sure hope they do not comprise mainly the residents of Little India and Geylang.
  2. The proposed rules are less draconian than those in other countries, including the developed countries. (Except that most of the laws do not blanket a whole country. And I don’t know the historical circumstances which led to their rules in the first place.)

People have been asking for more convincing evidence that the legislation is needed. It is not a question of people wanting to drink till they are light-headed or stoned out of their minds, but that new laws that affect the public must be grounded in something more solid than a poll of 1,200 people.

I recall the Little India Commission of Inquiry which kept asking if police enforced the Miscellaneous Offences Act. Particularly this section: Any person who is found drunk and incapable of taking care of himself, in any public road or in any public place or place of public amusement or resort, or in the immediate vicinity of any court or of any public office or police station or place of worship, shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $1,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one month and, in the case of a second or subsequent conviction, to a fine not exceeding $2,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 months.

So there is a law already in place dealing with drunkenness. Thing is, has it been enforced? How many people have we thrown into the brink to sleep it off? Deputy Superintendent (DSP) Ho See Ying, the Commanding Officer of Rochor Neighbourhood Centre, told the COI that there were 60 arrests made last year and 27 arrests in 2012. That is only for the area. Do you think the figure is too big or quite small? Surely, the Home Affairs ministry can give the full statistics island-wide? We have yet to hear the numbers. Have the cops used this scalpel? Why wield a sledgehammer when you already have a specific weapon dealing with drunken behaviour?

I can’t help but think that some people wanted things all neat and tidy. So bits and pieces of legislation scattered in the books relating to alcohol have all been grouped under this Liquor Control Bill. I sure hope the people’s representatives would do a better job of asking about the need for this Bill during the second reading.

I also happen to agree with NGOs on another part of the Bill which designates the foreign worker dorms as a “public space’’. That is, the liquor restrictions would apply. Surely, the dorm operators know how to come up with their own rules? Do we need the law to enter into such private spaces? Or are we saying that foreign workers have no right to privacy at all?

Then there is the other law covering foreign workers in their dormitories. MSM seemed to have focused on how they are intended to make the workers’ living conditions better with a Commissioner empowered to look after their needs. Yup. Wonderful. Great. But there is also this part which I read in TODAY: The Commissioner will also have the power to order operators to restrict the entry and exit of dorm residents if there is a serious health threat or risk, or if there is a risk that incidents outside and within Singapore — including civil unrest, hostilities, war, and elections — could generate ill-will or hostilities among or between residents.

My goodness! Isn’t this rather too broad and sweeping? If there is a hotly contested election in say, Bangladesh, the Bangladeshi workers will be confined to their dorms? Or if ethnic groups in China start fighting each other, we’re afraid that the Chinese workers will start an altercation with locals here? Bear in mind that the foreign workers do indeed come from countries which aren’t as politically stable and sedate as Singapore…I guess the response from the State will be that it will be “flexible’’ and not resort to such measures willy-nilly. That is, can we please place more trust in executive “discretion’’.

I read about the MPs going on about why the smaller dorms aren’t covered by the law which is only effective against those with 1,000 beds or more. I wish they didn’t put cart before horse. Shouldn’t the Bill itself be scrutinized properly before we even start asking for an extension? Or do we treat foreign workers as a different species altogether because we want to put Singaporeans first?

Again, I view both pieces of legislation as “convenient’’ for the State rather than necessary for the people. So what if Parliament has to be convened time and again for the G to ask for specific temporary powers to maintain law and order, such as the Public Order Bill? Too messy and time-consuming? But that’s democracy isn’t it?

The Government is there to protect the people but I think sometimes, we also need to ask if getting too much “protection’’ is a good thing for us, the people.