21 Jan 2006

Comments by Wong Kan Seng , DPM & Minister for Home Affairs - The Incident of White Elephant T-shirt, 21 January 06

The Incident of White Elephant T-shirt

I think there are 2 issues here, and they are: selling of T-shirts with white elephant design for fund raising, and wearing the T-shirts en masse at the opening of the Buangkok Station.

On the sale of T-shirts, it was not known to Police initially that the proceeds would be for fund-raising. Later Police came to know that the organizer intended to make the sale of the T-shirts a fund raising event, so he was advised to apply for a permit under the law. The Police granted the permit promptly. Here I would give full marks to our Police for being flexible and helpful. I also think that the students who designed and sold the T-shirts were quite creative and entrepreneurial. They have a sense of humour too.

But the Police also advised the organizer that wearing of the T-shirts in large groups may be misconstrued by some as an offence. And that, to me was perhaps overly cautious and unnecessary. Police will learn from this and bear this episode in mind in future.

When I read about it, I thought that the Police was being overly cautious. They should have just let things be. My thoughts were : "what is the harm?" In fact, I met a friend who was wearing a shirt full of white elephant design at a function on 14 Jan, I asked him if he would be going to Buangkok Station with that shirt for its opening!

I feel that this episode need not have happened, and I am sorry to see that it happened. It was a dampener to the spirits of those who turned up at the Buangkok Station for the opening.

But I also understand that the Police take their job seriously, and I commend them for that. They have a tough job to do all the time, in balancing the interest of maintaining law, order and public interest, and at the same time, giving people more space to pursue their interest in public. In this instance of the white elephant, they may have over-reacted. But in other instances, they were also criticized for not doing enough to check overly exuberant behaviour.

For example, after the Christmas Eve revelry at Orchard Road just about 3 weeks’ ago, some members of the public were unhappy with the indiscriminate use of foam, because some took advantage of this Christmas mood and molested people. Police will deal firmly with the offenders for committing criminal acts. There were calls for Police to do something about the foam sprays, and the idea of banning the foam sprays was also raised. The Police could have reacted to the vocal expressions of unhappiness following the Christmas Eve party, and clamped down during the New Year's Eve party. Instead, they adopted a softer approach, by appealing to the common sense and cooperation of the public. At the same time, the Police also warned that if the foam spray was used to commit a criminal act, such as molest, and the offenders will be arrested.

I have always advised my Home Team officers to expect changes in our Society and review our laws to remain relevant to the social and political landscape of the day. Their challenge is, on the one hand, to find a balance between safeguarding law, order and public interest, and on the other hand, to liberalise the rules for individuals and groups so that our people feel they that they can exercise self-discipline as they seek to express themselves through organized activities on the ground.

In so doing, we should bear in mind that the ultimate interest must be that of Singapore's and not just specific groups of individuals.

Last Updated on 15 Jun 2015
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