Thursday 25 August 2022

Singapore moves to repeal Section 377A

Section 377A: Constitution will be amended to protect Parliament's right to define marriage, says Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam
Government spells out plans to safeguard family as it repeals Section 377A
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 23 Aug 2022

As it repeals Section 377A, the Government will also make it clear in the Constitution that it is Parliament's prerogative to define marriage as being between a man and a woman and to make other pro-family policies on that basis, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said on Monday (Aug 22).

This is different from enshrining the definition of marriage in the highest law of the land, which some religious groups and conservative Singaporeans have pushed for. But Mr Shanmugam said the move will stave off legal challenges on the definition of marriage.

His comments, in an interview with The Straits Times and Lianhe Zaobao, come a day after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced at the National Day Rally that Section 377A of the Penal Code, which criminalises sex between men, would be repealed.

In tandem, the Government would move to safeguard marriage, PM Lee said. As the law stands, he added, marriage as it is now defined can be challenged on constitutional grounds in the courts, just like Section 377A has been challenged.

Religious and conservative groups, some of whom see the colonial-era law as a moral marker, have welcomed this guarantee, and suggested that marriage will be defined in the Constitution.

To this, Mr Shanmugam said: "I want to be clear because I think there's some confusion. The definition of marriage is not going to be in the Constitution. That's not the intention."

Instead, the Government plans to explicitly state in the Constitution that Parliament can define the institution of marriage in the way it has been defined in the Women's Charter, and can make other pro-family policies on the basis of that definition. This will make it difficult to challenge the definition of marriage and the policies that rely on it, he added.

"This will not change... under the watch of the current Prime Minister, and it will not happen under my watch - if the PAP were to win the next General Election.

"Likewise, we will not change the laws and policies that rely on this definition of marriage, and that relates to public housing, adoption, what we teach our children in schools, advertising standards, film classification, and so on. Basically, the overall tone of society will not change - our laws and policies will remain the same," he said.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education said its policies on the issue would not change, and the Ministry of Communications and Information also said its approach to regulating media content would remain.

In the interview, Mr Shanmugam said that if the proposed amendments to the Constitution are not made, the prevailing definition of marriage risks being challenged on the basis of being discriminatory under Article 12 of the Constitution, which guarantees equal protection under the law.

"It can be challenged, it can be asked...why should marriage only be between a man and a woman? Why shouldn't it be possible for two men, or two women, to be married?, he said.

"Such arguments about marriage have been made elsewhere successfully."

If this happens, "everything could go in one sweep", including many of the other laws and policies built on the current definition of marriage, such as those on public housing, education and media policies, he added.

The danger of this happening became clear when the Court of Appeal said in a February judgment that Section 377A could be discriminatory under Article 12 of the Constitution which guarantees equal protection under the law.

Mr Shanmugam, who with Attorney-General Lucien Wong advised the Cabinet on the issue, said: "If Parliament doesn't act, either because of fear or because of a lack of will, and therefore doesn't deal with the law which may be in breach of the Constitution, then...(it) is not doing its job. Then, you make it difficult for the Courts to exercise restraint."

Keeping quiet and letting the Courts deal with it would have been more politically expedient, he noted, since emotions run high on both sides.

But if Section 377A or even the definition of marriage were struck down like that, it would risk damaging the fundamental fabric of society, he added. Such political issues should not be decided by the judiciary, but by the legislature.

In fact, the intended amendment to the Constitution leaves open the possibility for Parliament to change the definition of marriage through a simple majority.

While constitutional amendments require a two-thirds majority in Parliament to pass, changes to other pieces of legislation, including the Penal Code which Section 377A is a part of and the Women's Charter, requires a simple majority.

Mr Shanmugam said: "This government's position is very clear and you've also heard what Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong has said.

"We are committed to strengthening the current structure of marriage, strengthening the family structure and the policies that surround that structure of family. We think that's what is fundamental for Singapore. And in fact, we are amending the Constitution to strengthen their position."

He added that any political party or group that wants to push for same-sex marriage will be able to do so. "They will have to put that in their manifesto, fight elections, get a majority and then change the definition of marriage," he said.

Asked when the repeal of Section 377A would happen, he said "the changes itself, in terms of legal drafting and so on, will not take much time".

He added: "I am not in a position to give you an answer on that right now. But I do not expect that it will be very long."

* Singapore Parliament debates repealing S377A

Tuesday 23 August 2022

National Day Rally 2022

Singapore must be ready for sudden shifts in region: PM Lee Hsien Loong
By Hariz Baharudin, Assistant News Editor, The Straits Times, 21 Aug 2022

Singapore's neighbourhood has enjoyed peace for so long it is hard to imagine things being different. But anyone who thinks that war cannot break out in the region needs to get real, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Touching on the state of global security in his English National Day Rally speech, PM Lee on Sunday (Aug 21) called on Singaporeans to be mentally ready for disruptions to the region's stability.

Singapore's external environment has become very troubled amid worsening United States-China ties and Russia's invasion of Ukraine, said PM Lee.

Speaking at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) Headquarters at Ang Mo Kio, PM Lee said that the relationship between the US and China, which sets the tone for global affairs, is worsening.

The two powers are divided over many issues, he warned. This includes their rival ideologies and systems of government, China's growing influence in the world, as well as many specific problems, including trade disputes, cyber espionage, the South China Sea and Hong Kong.

Most recently and worryingly, there have been sharply escalating tensions over Taiwan, added PM Lee.

Yet the two superpowers need to work together on many pressing global issues, including climate change, pandemics, and nuclear proliferation, said PM Lee.

"Their tense relationship is making this almost impossible," he said. "And this is bad news for the world."

US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping recently held a video call and made plans to meet in November, their first in-person meeting since Mr Biden took office last January. But neither side expects relations to improve any time soon, said PM Lee.

"Furthermore, we must all hope that there are no miscalculations or mishaps, which can make things much worse very quickly," he added.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine also has profound implications for the world and for Singapore, said PM Lee.

The invasion violates the United Nations (UN) Charter and fundamental principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, which are particularly important to Singapore given that its existence and security relies on countries upholding these principles, he said.

This is why Singapore cannot legitimise Russia's wrongful actions, he added. In March, Singapore strongly condemned Russia's actions, and imposed sanctions on focusing on the exports of military and technological goods, as well as financial measures.

"Russia claims that what it calls a 'special military operation' in Ukraine is justified by 'historical errors and crazy decisions'. If we accept this logic, what happens if one day others use this same argument against us?" asked PM Lee.

The war has also created deep hostility between Russia and other states, especially the US and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato), a military alliance of 30 countries in Europe and North America.

With nuclear powers on both sides and relations having completely broken down, it is hard to imagine any satisfactory end to the conflict, said PM Lee.

The war in Ukraine also affects security in the Asia-Pacific as it has complicated already-strained US-China relations, as well as relations between China and America's partners in Asia, like Australia and Japan.

Singaporeans should expect more geopolitical contestation in the Asia-Pacific, said PM Lee.

"Our region has enjoyed peace for so long that it is hard for us to imagine things being different. But look at how things have gone wrong in Europe, how suddenly and quickly," said PM Lee.

"And can you be sure that things cannot go wrong like that in our region too? So we must get real, and we must get ourselves prepared psychologically.”

On how Singapore can respond to these external dangers, PM Lee said that it must stand firm on fundamental principles of international law and work with other countries to uphold a rules-based order.

This can be done by speaking up at the UN. Conversely, taking cover and keeping quiet will hurt Singapore in the long-term, he said.

There is also a need to take national service seriously, and keep the Singapore Armed Forces and Home Team strong and credible. "If we do not defend ourselves, no one is going to defend us on our behalf," stressed PM Lee.

But the bottomline is that Singaporeans must stay together as one united people and never allow themselves to be divided, whether by race, religion, income, social differences or place of birth, he said.

This is especially pertinent in the face of foreign actors looking to exploit Singapore's vulnerabilities and influence its people for their own interests.

"If we are taken in and we are divided, we will stand no chance. But united, we can deal with any problems that come our way," he said.

PM Lee had similarly highlighted the importance of Singapore’s resilience and unity in the face of an increasingly uncertain and complex world in his earlier Malay and Chinese speeches.

A united Singapore, a high-quality leadership and high trust between people and their leaders are essential for the nation to respond creatively and resiliently to challenges it faces, year after year, he said.

“We may have the best laid schemes, but without these three fundamentals, they will come to nothing.”

8 highlights from NDR 2022: Masks optional in most indoor settings, Section 377A to be repealed
By Goh Yan Han, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 21 Aug 2022

An easing of indoor mask-wearing restrictions and a repeal of a long-contested law criminalising gay sex are among the key announcements in Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's National Day Rally speech on Sunday (Aug 21).

Here are eight highlights from his speech:

1. Masks off in most indoor settings

Singaporeans will soon be able to take their masks off in most indoor settings, returning to almost pre-Covid-19 normality.

PM Lee said that with the country's situation stabilising, the Government will reduce mask requirements further to prevent fatigue from setting in.

Masks will be required only on public transport, where people are in prolonged close contact in a crowded space, and in healthcare settings such as clinics, hospitals, residential and nursing homes, where there are vulnerable persons, said PM Lee.

He said schools in particular should not require students to wear masks in class. Children need to see the facial expressions of their teachers and of one another, as this is crucial for their learning and development.

More details will come from the multi-ministry task force handling the pandemic.

2. Section 377A to be repealed

Section 377A of the Penal Code, which criminalises sex between men, will be repealed, said PM Lee.

Sentiments have shifted over the years as more Singaporeans accept that sex in private between consenting men should not be a criminal offence, he said.

But most Singaporeans do not want the repeal to trigger a drastic shift in societal norms across the board, including how marriage is defined and what is taught to children in schools, he noted.

In consultations held by the Government on this topic, the main worry among those with reservations is what they feel Section 377A stands for, and that repealing it may encourage more aggressive and divisive activism on all sides.

Even as Singapore repeals Section 377A, it will uphold and safeguard the institution of marriage, said PM Lee. Only marriage between a man and a woman is recognised in Singapore, he said, adding that many national policies such as public housing and adoption rules rely on this definition.

The Government does not intend to change these policies or the definition of marriage.

He added that currently, the definition of marriage could be challenged in the courts, like Section 377A has been. If such a challenge succeeds, it could cause same-sex marriage to become recognised.

Hence, to protect the definition of marriage from being challenged in the courts, the Government will amend the Constitution.

This will help Singapore repeal Section 377A in a controlled, carefully considered way, said PM Lee.

3. Be prepared for external dangers

The external environment has become very troubled, as United States-China relations - which set the tone for global affairs - are worsening, said PM Lee.

Both powers are divided over many issues, from trade to the South China Sea to Taiwan. But they also need to work together on pressing global problems like climate change, pandemics and nuclear proliferation.

Their tense relationship is making this almost impossible, which is bad news for the world, he said.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has violated the fundamental principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, which are particularly important to Singapore.

The war has also created deep hostility between Russia and other states, and affected security in the Asia-Pacific by complicating already strained US-China relations, and between China and America's partners in Asia like Australia and Japan, said PM Lee.

Pointing to how things have gone wrong in Europe, he asked: "Can you be sure things cannot go wrong like that in our region too? So we must get real and we must get ourselves prepared psychologically."

To do so, Singapore must stand firm on fundamental principles of international law, take national service seriously and keep the Singapore Armed Forces and Home Team strong and credible, and stay as one united people, he said.

4. Brace for economic challenges

Cost of living is at the top of everyone's minds, acknowledged PM Lee. While most sectors are recovering from the pandemic, the war in Ukraine has clouded the country's outlook.

Inflation was already becoming a problem pre-war and the war made things worse by pushing up energy prices worldwide and causing shortages and price spikes in grain globally.

The Government is doing everything necessary to support Singaporeans, in particular the middle- and lower-income families, and will do more if the situation worsens, said PM Lee.

But the basic reality is that international economic conditions have fundamentally changed. The era of globalisation is over. China's growth and exports are slowing and countries are relooking their own supply chains to prioritise resilience and self-sufficiency.

Singapore has little influence over the global inflation picture, said PM Lee.

To become better off, the country has to press on with economic upgrading and restructuring, redouble transformation efforts and encourage workers to upskill.

5. New homes to be built in Paya Lebar

An estimated 150,000 new homes - public and private housing - can be built where the Paya Lebar Air Base is located, said PM Lee. This is roughly the number of homes in Punggol and Sengkang today.

The relocation of the airbase will start in the 2030s. The airbase and its surrounding industrial areas will yield a space five times the size of Toa Payoh.

The new town will have amenities and recreational areas as well as commercial and industrial developments to bring jobs closer to homes.

Once the airbase moves out, some building height restrictions around it in towns like Hougang, Marine Parade and Punggol can be lifted, said PM Lee.

This means the town can be redeveloped to make better use of the space there.

6. Developing Terminal 5 and Tuas Port

After a two-year pause brought on by the pandemic, work on Terminal 5 at Changi Airport will restart, said PM Lee. The new terminal will serve about 50 million passengers a year, more than T1 and T3 put together.

The design of the terminal will draw on lessons learnt from the pandemic and allow spaces to be converted for testing or the segregation of high-risk passengers.

Autonomous vehicles could be deployed to support baggage and cargo transport. T5 will also be greener and more energy-efficient, said PM Lee.

Next to it, the Government will develop the Changi East Urban District, a new business and lifestyle destination.

The mega Tuas Port began operations last December, with two berths opened. Three more will start operations by December this year.

When fully operational, the port will have 66 berths spanning 26km and be capable of handling the largest container ships.

Because Singapore had planned ahead, its port was able to handle extra volumes during the pandemic while ports in other countries experienced closures, severe congestions and long delays, said PM Lee.

Phase 1 of Tuas Port has just been completed, with three more phases to come before it is fully completed in about 20 years from now. It will be the world's largest fully automated port.

Then, it will handle 65 million twenty-foot equivalent units - a cargo capacity measurement - which is almost double today's volumes, he added.

7. Need to attract top talent from around the world

The ministries of manpower and trade and industry and economic agencies will soon be announcing new initiatives to attract and retain top talent from around the world, said PM Lee.

Singapore has attracted the interest of many talented individuals and international companies, thanks to its trusted brand of quality, reliability and efficiency and its track record in tackling Covid-19.

The country must seize the opportunity to secure its place in the post-Covid-19 world, he said.

It needs to do more, especially in sectors with good potential, to get people to come here, said PM Lee.

If Singapore can get the people it wants to come, it will help the country shine brightly as a hub of innovation, entrepreneurship and growth.

It will also make Singapore's own talent want to stay here, to participate in building a dynamic and outstanding nation, he said.

8. Getting three fundamentals right

PM Lee said that to tackle the challenges facing Singapore, the country must get three fundamentals right: a united people, a high-quality leadership team and high trust between the people and their leaders.

"We may have the best laid schemes, but without these three fundamentals, they will come to nothing."

He singled out good leadership as non-negotiable. Pointing to countries with unstable governments and where policies never make it through political gridlock, he said: "Often, it is not just the leaders who disappoint, but the whole system that has failed."

The result is the loss of faith not just in individual politicians or parties but in the whole political system and political class.

He said Singapore's very survival depends on having the right leaders, and leadership succession is therefore of paramount importance.

With the younger ministers having chosen Finance Minister Lawrence Wong to be their leader, PM Lee said that he was happy that his succession plans, which had been put on hold when Covid-19 hit, are back on track.

"I am also glad that from everything I see, Singaporeans are supportive of Lawrence and his leadership of the team."

Wednesday 10 August 2022

Singapore National Day 2022

NDP 2022: A night of celebration at Singapore's first full parade since Covid-19 pandemic
By Clement Yong, The Straits Times, 9 Aug 2022

About 25,000 people gathered at the Marina Bay floating platform to mark Singapore's 57th birthday on Tuesday (Aug 9), in a show that recognised the hardships inflicted by the Covid-19 pandemic and celebrated a return to relative normalcy.

A human sea of red and white sat elbow to elbow, joining in the Kallang Wave and soaking in the rat-a-tat of rifle salutes at the first ticketed National Day Parade in three years.

About the only thing that signalled how the pandemic is not over was some spectators wearing face masks. Parade organisers had "strongly encouraged" this but it was not mandatory.

This year's parade was a world of difference from 2020 and 2021, when Covid-19 restrictions reduced the NDP to symbolic affairs watched live by only small, safe-distanced audiences.

Last year's show even had to be postponed by two weeks following a resurgence of cases in the community.

Amid the noise of Tuesday's celebrations, a moment of hushed silence was, for many, the most poignant of the night.

At the start of the second act of the show directed by theatre veteran Adrian Pang, a single source of light emerged from the pitch-black stage.

There, standing alone, was singer-songwriter Aisyah Aziz. In a velvety voice, she sang a song of compassion: "Have you ever felt like nobody was there? Have you ever felt forgotten in the middle of nowhere? Have you ever felt like you could disappear?... You can reach, reach out your hand."

The song, You Will Be Found, from American musical Dear Evan Hansen, launched a section of the show about the price exacted by the pandemic.

The theme of this year's NDP, Stronger Together Majulah, was chosen for the need to stick together during these tough times. It is embodied in the logo of two figures holding hands to build a caring and inclusive society.

The celebrations at the floating platform kicked off at about 5.30pm, with hosts Joakim Gomez, Sonia Chew, Siti Khalijah and Rishi Budhrani urging the crowd to wave their lights and flags and do the Kallang Roar.

Among those soaking in the atmosphere was housewife Normala Ahmad, 60. "I miss gathering and celebrating like this," she said. "Let's hope there are no more pandemics."

Teacher Ravindran Rajasekeran, 37, who was also watching at the platform, said: "During the pandemic, a lot of normal things we took for granted were restricted. It's good to see the parade back to normal."

At 6.30pm, 10 parachutists from the Red Lions descended in a spiral from the sky to cheers of delight.

The final parachutist landed heavily and was stretchered off.

In a Facebook post later, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said Third Warrant Officer Jeffrey Heng's condition was "currently stable, alert and conscious" and he was receiving medical attention.

This information was also conveyed to the spectators, who cheered in relief.

Immediately after came the land, sea and air Total Defence display.

The audience was informed on the big screen that "threatening personnel" were encroaching on Singapore's waters. This sparked a high-speed water chase, helicopters performing climbing manoeuvres close to the crowd, troopers raiding a "hijacked" public bus, and tanks firing into the distance.

Gripping and loud, this segment involved at least 50 vehicles from the air force, army, navy, the police and the Singapore Civil Defence Force.

Last performed five years ago, a display combining such varied elements is unlikely to be seen again for a while.

This is the last parade to be held at the Marina Bay floating platform as it will be replaced by a permanent structure called NS Square, which will be ready by the end of 2026.

Next year's NDP will be held at the Padang.

In between the defence display, about 2,000 participants marched on stage for the parade, inspected by President Halimah Yacob.

This year is the 55th anniversary of national service, and the parade paid tribute to past and present national servicemen.

The event's master of ceremonies asked those in the audience who had served or were serving NS to stand to receive a salute. There was hesitance and abashed smiles among some men.

But there were those, like Mr Irwan Ramli, who immediately stood up, solemn and straight.

Mr Irwan, 42, who works in logistics operations, served in the Singapore Civil Defence Force. He said of his stint: "We saved lives and learnt a lot of new things every day."

His wife, logistics executive Norlie Ramli, 42, added: "I'm very proud of him for giving back to the country."

Celebrations returned to a high with former Singapore Idol Taufik Batisah's rendition of the theme song Stronger Together, culminating in the national anthem and pledge.

The celebrations struck a chord with Madam Chia Foong Lin, 67, a retiree, who said: "I hope there will be peace and harmony, both at home and in the region, for a long time."

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's 2022 National Day Message