Connect with us

Opinion

The danger of granting more powers to the Minister of Home Affairs

The recent police investigation into a group of students and alumni submitting letters to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) illustrates the critical need for scrutinizing laws that grant extensive powers to government officials

Published

on

The recent police investigation into a group of students and alumni submitting letters to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) illustrates the critical need for public scrutiny over laws that grant extensive powers to government officials.

On 7 June, a group of about 30 individuals, comprising students and alumni from various educational institutions, delivered letters to the MHA on Irrawaddy Road without a police permit.

This action is now under investigation for potential breaches of the Public Order Act 2009.

The letters addressed concerns about a proposed bill to consolidate race-related offences from existing laws and introduce new measures to safeguard racial harmony.

The students and alumni argue that the bill could undermine free speech and stifle necessary dialogue on race-related issues.

They are particularly alarmed by the vague definitions within the bill, such as what constitutes “remarks made in good faith,” which they fear could be exploited to stifle legitimate discourse.

Moreover, the bill introduces enhanced penalties and allows the Minister to issue Restraining Orders (ROs) on the dissemination of content without established criminal conduct, which cannot be appealed in court.

And it is clear how the investigation against the students is a clear example of how expanded powers can be misused to stifle dissent and restrict civil liberties.

Legal Context: Assemblies and Processions Post-2009

In 2009, the then-Second Minister for Home Affairs, Mr K Shanmugam, read and passed the Public Order Bill, which significantly tightened the rules around public assemblies and processions and granted powers to prohibit filming in specific situations.

Under this law, even a single person’s assembly or procession, such as submitting a petition in person in the case of the students, can be deemed illegal without a police permit.

The Commissioner of Police was given the authority to refuse permits on various grounds, including potential property damage, hostility, road obstruction, or if the event is held in a prohibited area.

This legislative change faced opposition from the Workers’ Party, which had only one sitting Member of Parliament and one Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) at the time. Ms Sylvia Lim, the NCMP, argued that the bill would grant the state excessive control over citizen activities and erode the already limited powers Singaporeans have to pursue legitimate causes.

This concern aligns with the Workers’ Party’s philosophy of “power to the people.”

She said, “The change in the definition of ‘assembly’ and ‘procession’ is more disturbing. As the Explanatory Statement to the Bill says, these words are no longer restricted to gatherings of five persons or more. This means even one person alone can constitute an illegal assembly, thus giving the State complete control over an individual citizen’s freedoms.”

“First, to say that one person constitutes an assembly is certainly an abuse of the word. Secondly, is the Government making the change because there had been incidents involving fewer than five persons which had disrupted public life? Unless there is compelling evidence to prove to us that expanding the definition of assembly and procession is needed, this expansion does not deserve our support,” remarked Ms Lim.

Before the law was amended, a gathering of fewer than five was not illegal, even in a political context. Mr Shanmugam, who has been the Minister for Home Affairs since 2015, admitted this when he responded to a question from Nominated Member of Parliament Siew Kum Hong.

“Mr Siew asked what is the problem if four persons or fewer come together and carry out activities, which are not illegal per se. I gave a specific example in my responses to the MPs, which is during the ASEAN Summit in 2007, we had this farcical group – groups of four – who played a catch-and-mouse game with the Police while the Police were engaged in a very high-security operation of protecting and making sure the Summit was successful. As Singaporeans, do we really want to face up to this? Or do we want to give the Police the power to ask these people to move on? It is as simple as that. We have to live in a real world with people who do those things.”

Therefore, while illegal under the current law’s wording, the students’ peaceful action could have been done pre-2009 with proper planning to ensure it was within the law’s boundaries.

But that is not the case today, where actions such as an NGO worker like Jolovan Wham holding a placard in support of his friends for a photo or a single person peacefully walking along the road to Parliament, like artist Seelan Palay performing an art piece from Hong Lim Park to Parliament House, are considered offences under the Public Order Act.

The Flawed Defense of Public Order

The government often defends these restrictive measures by stating that public events can still be held if a police permit is granted.

However, obtaining such permits is nearly impossible in practice.

For instance, a permit request for a solo peaceful sit-in in the middle of the night (10 PM to 11 PM), which would not cause any disturbance, with no signs or speeches, was rejected.

The police stated that they had carefully assessed the application and viewed that the event carried a risk of causing public disorder and damage to property. They went on to suggest that the event could be held at Hong Lim Park instead, as there is no need for a police permit there.

Based on the police’s response in this instance, along with other similar applications, one could presume that the permit application process is simply a farce intended to block any form of public demonstration of views.

This issue of arbitrary illegality is precisely what the students are opposing against.

“By enhancing penalties and broadening the powers to restrict expressions under the guise of maintaining harmony, this bill could severely restrict educational campaigns and peaceful actions that raise awareness of critical social issues”, said the group in a statement.

This concern is valid when considering that, had the 2009 law not been amended, the actions by citizens on various issues, such as by the students and alumni, would not have warranted a police investigation.

This case exemplifies why laws that grant extensive powers to authorities must be critically examined and not accepted at face value. This is especially concerning when considering the increased power being given to the person who introduced the law that made one-person “assemblies” illegal in Singapore.

While the authorities have repeatedly warned against public assemblies, especially those related to recent global conflicts, citing the need to maintain public safety and social harmony, these justifications often mask the true intent: to control and limit public expression.

As Benjamin Franklin famously said, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

Share this post via:
Continue Reading
14 Comments
Subscribe
Notify of
14 Comments
Newest
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

In brief…
POLICE INVESTIGATED.GROUP OF PEOPLE THAT REFUSED TO GIVE THEM MORE POWER.

I would nominate this as the joke of the year!!!

There is only Cult Practice in SG for certain ppl to forever be overlords. Not just MHA, every ministry oso want to override ppl rights and say.

To keep up with the times, please remove any mention of democracy from SG national pledge.

Singapore, the metamorphosis of a democratic society into a communist regime but wearing suit and ties.
This is what we pay high salaries for? To have our privacy infringed and told how much water we are allowed to drink daily?
Think hard and vote wisely.

Just TAKE NOTICE this HUGE REVERSAL and CONTRADICTIONS of the INCONSISTENT and FRAUDULENT PAP.

One the One hand PM said Forward Singapore.

However his Home Team and his Home Monster IS ACTING the ENTIRE Opposite – Control, Crimp, Retard, Disable, Paralyse the whole lock stock and barrel of 6 Million people. This is forward?

He FAMOUSLY RECUSED himself from small insignificant events BASICALLY to COVER UP personal gains and profits.

Recall the EXCUSES of Mp Police shortfalls, the deaths of Uvalde, Benji. Both these examples SIGINIFICANTLY describe the abhorrent performance of his.

Last edited 2 days ago by The Trishaw

Seriously, … who’s gonna stop them !!!

If they crave more power, are able to ignore obvious conflicts of interest (CroniedAppointments), or wish to revise or revamp certain laws (PublicOrderAct) or even create new ones (POFMA), … all of which, puts them at the forefront, as the arbiter of interpretation and truth !!!

Seriously, … who’s gonna stop them !!!

I can only visualise our Law Minister keep himself busy by passing Laws in Parliament that infringes citizens’ rights. Does he even know who he works for? A system or living citizens? We must have the right of freedom of expression. It is an universal human right. Singapore is a signatory to the human rights declaration so our Law Minister must go read up if his passing of the many Laws contradicts the signing. The Police Force is for Law enforcement. Why should we be required to get a permit for a peaceful march? The police should only act if… Read more »

Shanmugam has being proposing and successfully enacting law that concentrate power to the executive branch of the government and elevating the SPF to be unquestionable in their action.
The rubber stamp PAP MPs are not debating these proposed law amendments in depth.

Islanders be aware.

Sometimes its hard to take these PAP clowns seriously..
So ridiculous laws altho i appreciate some laws are for the order and safety of our ctry & citizens…but …..seriously…

It appears only politicians, non elected politicians can make speeches with leeway inside Parliament.

But it seems only certain politicians CAN PROSECUTE other politicians for offences like lying. How about throwing of files, with accompanied anger – how then what is what is considered offences, crimes? PAP Politicians lying ARE NOT CRIMES?

In broad terms and contexts, PAP Politicians has told lies many times inside Parliament but escaped punishments WHEREAS seem NOT, when non PAP Politicians WERE ALWAYS taken to tasks AND CRIMINALLY charged. How is this impression formed.

Trending