Friday, 24 January 2014

New legislation not targeted against Indians: Shanmugam

Minister holds dialogue with foreign workers
By Yeo Sam Jo, The Straits Times, 23 Jan 2014

THE Government has a duty to do what it can to prevent last month's Little India riot from happening again, said Minister for Law and Foreign Affairs K. Shanmugam last night.

Referring to the Public Order (Additional Temporary Measures) Bill proposed in Parliament on Monday to give law enforcement officers more powers in Little India for a year, Mr Shanmugam stressed that this was just a "temporary measure to try and nip things in the bud".

He also assured the public they had little to worry about.

"If you are coming in, taking in the air, going into the restaurants, enjoying the open air, walking about - none of these powers would impact on you."

He added that confining the new Bill to Little India was not discriminatory. "We are trying to restrict it, to keep it contained. The incident took place there. There is where you get a large concentration of foreign workers coming on weekends. We haven't yet seen a similar situation in other places.

"To classify this as discriminatory, I think, is ignoring the facts."

The minister was speaking to the press at the Terusan Lodge workers' dormitory in Jurong.

He was there to follow up on his earlier visit on Dec 17, in the wake of the Dec 8 riot. Also present were seven visiting journalists from India, who are in town for a six-day visit programme which ends today.

More than 400 workers showed up for the dialogue, which was in Tamil. Issues such as inadequate lighting and high costs within the dormitories were raised, and Mr Shanmugam assured the workers that action will be taken to improve their welfare.

He also noted that the mood of the workers was "much more positive" compared with before.

"They were concerned about themselves, as to... whether they would be sent back," he said, recalling his previous visit.

"I assured them that if they did nothing wrong, nothing would be done... Now they know that that assurance is true... so they feel a certain sense of confidence."

Police will not be given extra powers in Little India, says Shanmugam
By Sathakathullah KHM, Channel NewsAsia, 30 Jan 2014

Police will not be given extra powers as the government moves to enact a temporary law aimed at maintaining public order in Little India.

Law Minister K Shanmugam reiterated this point during a dialogue on MediaCorp's Vasantham channel on Thursday evening.

Following the December 8 riot, part of Little India was designated a proclaimed area for public order purposes.

Now a new law, introduced in Parliament, will allow police and other agencies to enforce the alcohol restrictions and regulate the movement of persons there.

Mr Shanmugam said the new provision is limited in scope, compared to the wide-ranging powers of the Public Order (Preservation) Act.

He was responding to questions during the dialogue on the need for extra measures in Little India after the riot.

Mr Shanmugam said: "The government already has more power than this. We do not need all that power at the moment.

"We can reduce that and pass a new temporary law lasting only for a year. The Public Order (Preservation) Act provides several powers. The police do not need all such powers. The new law reduces such powers."

Opinion divided over Little India Bill
Some worry extra steps could lead to stereotyping and hurt businesses in area
By Feng Zengkun, The Straits Times, 23 Jan 2014

A BILL tabled in Parliament on Monday to give the police extra, temporary powers in Little India to keep it safe after the Dec 8 riot has drawn divided opinions.

Some noted that the new temporary law was necessary to maintain security, especially since a high-level Committee of Inquiry convened to look into the causes of riot has not completed its work.

But others wondered whether such provisions are still necessary, given that measures such as a ban on drinking alcohol in public places on weekends seem to have established order in the area.

Others also worry that the law may unfairly penalise foreign workers who gather in the area on weekends, lead to stereotyping of the workers and further erode business there.

The proposed law - expected to last for up to a year until longer-term measures are enacted - allows the police to ban people from Little India for up to 30 days and quickly suspend the business licences of those suspected of flouting the law.

While police officers investigating "arrestable offences" can already conduct searches without warrants under the Criminal Procedure Code, the new law specifies that they can also do so in Little India under certain conditions.

It enables the police to search and enter premises in Little India if they suspect alcohol has been consumed, prohibited items kept or banned people harboured. They can also strip-search and interview people there for alcohol and prohibited items such as weapons and explosives.

"However harsh the enforcement powers and measures in the new Bill may seem at first glance, they are not new," said Singapore Management University (SMU) associate professor of law S. Chandra Mohan. This is because the Public Order (Preservation) Act (POPA) has already been invoked in the Little India area, which gives the Government very wide powers. "The POPA contains a lot more extensive enforcement powers and measures, such as the ability to impose a curfew in the area."

As Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean explained, the proposed law tabled in Parliament now restricts these wide powers by "scoping them more tightly".

But others have noted that even these restricted powers may not be necessary.

"The measures we have used since Dec 8 have maintained law and order relatively well by most accounts, and the Government has also said that, by and large, the foreign workers here are law-abiding," said Nominated MP Eugene Tan, who is also an SMU law academic.

Little India Shopkeepers and Heritage Association vice-chairman S Gohulabalan said shopkeepers in the area were "very fearful" that the proposed law would keep people away from the area, hurting businesses.

He said the search powers were more appropriate for gambling areas and vice dens. "Even innocent people will not be very comfortable about coming to Little India."

Tampines GRC MP Irene Ng added that since the proposed law is limited to Little India, "the new powers for interrogating, searching and banning people from Little India could be seen as being directed at... Indian foreign workers", only some of whom were involved in the riot.

"It is important to guard against this, and I am assured by DPM Teo's reply that (the law's) implementation would be fair."

But she added that the new law would also allow the police to enforce temporary precautionary measures, particularly the restrictions on alcohol sale, until the Committee of Inquiry into the riot makes its recommendations.

More recreation centres better than weekdays off: Bosses
By Amelia Tan, The Straits Times, 23 Jan 2014

GETTING foreign workers to take a day off on a weekday instead of Sunday will not go down well with them as Sunday is the only common day off for foreign workers, and they use the time to meet friends who work for other companies, said construction and marine industry bosses.

Instead, these employers said, the Manpower Ministry's plans for more recreation centres would work better in preventing large groups of foreign workers from gathering at popular areas such as Little India. Such congregations have become a concern after the Dec 8 riot in Little India.

Besides the addition of leisure facilities, Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin suggested in Parliament on Monday that companies look into spacing out days off for foreign workers. But employers told The Straits Times it would be hard to get firms to coordinate rest days because of different work schedules.

For example, some workers do not have fixed days off. Not all rest on Sundays, as some work on weekends to earn up to double their daily wages, said Mr Lim Tek Seng, director of SPG Marine. "Whether the workers get a day off depends on whether they ask for one, and if I have enough manpower for that day," he said.

Bosses said a better way to prevent overcrowding in popular areas was to have more leisure centres for the men instead. They can spend their rest days there rather than head to Little India to use amenities such as remittance services and supermarkets.

On Monday, Mr Tan revealed in Parliament the plans for more recreation centres to add to the four existing ones. But he did not say how many would be built or where they would be located.

Bosses and dormitory operators said the existing recreation centres serve the needs of most foreign workers as they are in Jurong, Woodlands and Kaki Bukit, where most dorms are. But new centres can be built farther east in places such as Changi, where a few dorms are located, they said.

"There should be recreation centres across the island so that workers do not need to travel far distances to go to one," said Dr Ho Nyok Yong, president of the Singapore Contractors Association, which runs six dorms and a recreation centre in Jurong West. He said it would be challenging to find plots of land big enough to host recreation centres, which usually come with cricket fields, as well as mini-shopping centres.

He suggested that smaller centres that provide essential amenities, such as remittance services, TV rooms and football fields, be built a stone's throw from dorms.

Foreign workers interviewed welcomed the plans for more leisure centres, which they said should screen TV shows from India and Bangladesh and provide wireless Internet access. Marine worker Supramaniam Rajesh, 32, who is from India, said: "We feel like we are home when we watch cable TV shows from our country and chat with our family members online."


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