Parliament’s new drinking law not steady on its feet

Drinking-related shenanigans have got to go, but this new law makes no sense to me. I am all for an end to the disamenities and crime caused by public drinking. After all, I live within 200m of a popular drinking area, and some people do get a little unruly on the weekends. I’ve even had some of my property damaged by drunks. Yet I believe that this new law is a terrible way to tackle the issue.

linked from singapore.coconuts.co

Purpose

According to Second Minister for Home Affairs S. Iswaran, this law was passed to “tamp down liquor-related disamenities and preserve public order, in response to feedback.”

Which disamenities? The rioting? The affray? The public drunkenness? The vomiting? The littering? We have laws for these already, and are apparently not enforcing them properly (since so many people seem to still be breaking them). There’s even an existing law against being drunk and incapable in public – why not use what we already have? What is this new law going to add to our police’s ability to keep the peace, and at what cost?

We now have lost the freedom to drink peacefully in public and in return we may not get what we want at all, simply because nobody is putting boots on the ground. People who are daring enough to break one law will have no qualms about breaking two. If the Ministry of Home Affairs can show that its officers are effectively policing existing laws, but that they need more laws to keep people on the straight and narrow, then we can take the Liquor Control (Supply and Consumption) law more seriously.

The privacy issue

Foreign worker dormitories are considered public places for this law. This is a disturbing invasion of the privacy of private spaces, when a law can be passed to make it count as public space.

MP Hri Kumar Nair is on the record asking about how this “could unnecessarily single out foreign workers.” This is a sentiment that worries me too.

Iswaran counterclaimed that “workers can continue to drink in their private quarters according to whatever rules they have in their dorms… And they can also continue to drink in the beer gardens in their dorms, until such time as it is allowed under the licence. So it will not unduly constrain foreign workers in the dorms.”

You mean that an argument of ‘Oh, they already have some curbs, some private rules, this doesn’t change their life much. Let’s just pass this law to invade their privacy since they already have very little of it’ is considered robust? You mean this isn’t a strong hint that we are, basically, trampling on foreign workers’ rights? It’s like passing a law that says that it is legal to chop off the missing limbs of amputees. No practical implications, but inhuman, foolish and potentially dangerous nonetheless.

Unenforced – a mockery of a law

CNA clarifies that “The new law is to encourage responsible drinking and considerate behaviour. As long as members of the public act in an appropriate behaviour and are not rowdy, the police will not step in and instead, focus on the more problematic areas.” Iswaran says as much himself.

Did he actually say that Parliament passed a new law but that the Government wouldn’t enforce it in its entirety? Then why pass it in its entirety? One application of the law for one group and another application of the law for another group is just going to be a big mess. Not to mention that it is unjust, inequitable, and shakes the foundations of why we have laws in the first place.

Iswaran also “emphasised that the intent is not to penalise the mere possession of alcohol.” Well, if the house doesn’t intend to penalise the mere possession of alcohol, then why pass a law that penalises the mere possession of alcohol? The loose logic baffles me.

Grey areas – impossible to police

The existence of grey areas is another sign that this law is going to be problematic. It will either result in people getting away with breaking the law, or result in abuse of the interpretation by the police. Perhaps both.

This letter to TODAY spells out some of these grey areas.

Changing behaviour – no statistics

Okay, so there are all these people getting drunk and then committing crimes. They drink past 10:30pm (most drinkers do). Nobody has presented any data on whether they were drinking in public or in private before the incidents happened. Other than the littering and noise, how many of the other crimes and offences were caused by persons drinking in public (vs private)? Isn’t it a classic case that people get liquored up INSIDE and then take their drunken grouses OUTSIDE (in public) to get settled? How much of this sort of behaviour can be attributed to actual public drinking after 10:30pm?

Without the data, how can we be sure that change will be seen? Iswaran makes a big deal about having a national ban because without islandwide curbs, he believes that the problem “will only push the problem to other areas

Never mind that this was not the case with the Little India riots. The drinking ban there did not simply move riots to other parts of Singapore.

If Iswaran is worried about the problem being pushed to other areas, doesn’t he realise that these “other areas” will include indoor areas as well? Won’t people get off the streets, get into the bars, and then come out and commit their crimes as they always do?

A bad trade

It seems we have traded a lot of freedoms for comparatively few concrete or guaranteed benefits. Moreover, we have traded in a lot of freedoms for marginal gains in our enforcement arsenal. Either that, or we are slowly making a mockery of our legal system by making laws that are not evenly enforced.

What are our MPs doing?

Other than Hri Kumar Nair’s objection to the invasion of foreign workers’ privacy (a point that was brushed off), few other MPs questioned the law in depth. Tin Pei Ling challenged the asymmetircal strip-search powers of police to no effect. Only NCMP Lina Chiam roundly opposed the law and also managed to squeak out a vague point about a lack of consultation.  Few others raised the pertinent questions listed above (or at least I haven’t read any published in the news).

Consultation isn’t the biggest problem here, even though it is a problem. The problem is why our elected representatives are not asking the right questions, or are not getting the right answers, and how a law that seems to be so flawed was passed so easily.

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