Parliamentary Speeches

Second Reading of Public Order (Amendment) Bill 2017 – Speech by Mr K Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law

Published: 03 April 2017


1. Madam Speaker, I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time".


2. Madam Speaker, there are two major parts to this amendment Bill. The first is to protect the public from the growing threat of terrorist actions in events that take place in Singapore. The second is to re-emphasise and make clear what has always been our position, that permits may be refused for assemblies and processions where non-Singaporeans and non-Singaporean entities get involved towards political ends.




Nature of recent attacks


3. Now let me look at the first part in relation to specific terrorist threats. Members will be aware of the threat of terrorism around the world and in Singapore. The region has been hit several times and we have been targeted.


4. We increasingly see a modus operandi where terrorists target soft targets as one of the main modes of attack. These are large events with large crowds with limited protection, or public buildings which are less secure.


Examples of Overseas Attacks


5. You have seen that over the last two years, you had in November 2015, the attacks in Paris, where they attacked a cafe, football match and concert, and 90 people died. In June 2016, you had the attack in Nice, where more than 80 persons died. The truck was driven into the crowd. In December 2016, we had the Christmas Market vehicular attack in Berlin where 12 persons died. On New Year's Eve 2016, there was the shooting at the Istanbul nightclub where 39 persons dead. These attacks happened at nightclubs, cafes, football events and so on. 


Responses by Government


6. In terms of how the Government has responded, we have taken significant steps. I call that a kinetic response. We have put in more cameras and increased vigilance with technology. We have new capabilities like the Emergency Response Teams – they are trained to be at any place in Singapore within a certain number of minutes, they understand the local terrain very well, including the buildings. We have also conducted major exercises to see what the gaps are and continuously upgraded and sharpened our skills.  


7. In addition, we have also launched the SGSecure movement to bring in the entire population. The entire population has to come in and work with the government, in a partnership.


Costs Terrorists have Imposed


8. The fact is terrorists have imposed a cost on society. The Government, and the taxpayer, is paying the cost. At the same time, business owners and event organisers will have to bear a part of this cost. That is what the first part is about.  Why Government must regulate event security


9.     Why do we have to regulate security for events? When there is a risk of a potential terrorist attack, and the risk is potentially dangerous, then it is really in the public interest that the government ensures necessary security measures are taken. Otherwise, we are putting lives at risk. The practical issue then becomes one of balancing. What measures to be put in, where do we draw that line and how do we calibrate so that the measures are reasonable and practical.


Current Event Security Provisions


10. Today, as it stands now, before the amendment, section 21 of the Public Order Act (POA) allows the Minister for Home Affairs to designate special events. This is done to ensure the safety and security of the event and to avoid disruptions to the event. These are usually events of major national or international significance. 


11. To give some examples, the APEC 2009 meetings in Singapore, SEA Games Opening and Closing Ceremonies, and the National Day Parade.


12. The Police require a wide range of powers to ensure event security, to protect the public at events of such significance. Those powers include inspecting personal property, searching persons, prohibiting certain items from being taken into the special event area, security screening, refusing entry into special events and also issuing directions to event organisers.


Targeting of Soft Targets

13. But today's threats are not limited to these sorts of events. From my earlier illustrations, they attack concerts, festivals, and any kind of gatherings. At the same time, we cannot subject all these events to security measures or rules like at the National Day Parade. So it is a balance, we cannot leave it totally unprotected, nor can we impose the kind of security we do at the kind of events we talked about. When we strike the balance, we must remember and accept that when we put in security measures, they do deter attackers.  Benefits of having security measures

14. For example, in November 2015, the terrorists wanted to go into the stadium, but they were deterred because there were security checks, so they detonated outside and that caused much less loss of lives. After the attacks in Berlin and Nice, questions were also raised about why there were no higher security measures. In Singapore in February this year, there was a Guns N' Roses concert at the Changi Exhibition Centre, reportedly attended by 50,000 people. Concerns were raised as to why there were no added security measures as this is the kind of event that can be targeted.


Gaps in today's Event Security Landscape


15. So what are the gaps today, and how do we deal with them? What the Police do today is work with event organisers to put in place security measures voluntarily. Most organisers are co-operative. But I think the time has come for us to go beyond that, to give the Police powers to require such measures. When you have events with large crowds, or at higher-risk, there has to be adequate security, and there has to be legal power for the Police to direct that some security measures be put in, as considered adequate.    Proposed Event Security Framework

16. First, we will require organisers of events, where you expect a crowd beyond a certain size, that you are expecting this sort of crowd. Second, after the Police make the assessment, the Police will declare events which expect large crowds, or are assessed to be at higher-risk, as "special events".  The Commissioner of Police will decide this. 


17. The Police can then direct the event organisers to take special steps to put in place security measures. If the event organiser refuses to comply with Police's directions, then it would be non-compliance with the law. The Bill also provides for that. The intent of this framework which I have just explained – notify the police, allow the Police to give directions, and make non-compliance an offence – is to make sure the basic security measures are in place, and also allow the Police to direct further security measures, for example if there are credible or reasonable basis to believe there are specific or generalised threats. These are assessments the Police have to make.  18. Let me deal with the main provisions of this Bill.  


Special Notice of Intention


19. Members will note that in Clause 3 of the Bill, it requires event organisers to give Police notice of intention if they expect their crowd size to be above a prescribed size. There will be a period prescribed, and the notification has to take place in the context of the prescribed period.


20. Events that meet the crowd size thresholds will then be declared as Special Events. In making the declaration, Police will assess if the event is at potential risk of a terror attack or a public order incident. Crowd Size Thresholds


21. What types of events do we intend to prescribe once the Act comes into force? For public events, we expect more than 5,000 persons at any time. Public events refer to events where any member of the public can attend, either by purchasing tickets or by freely entering the event area. For private events, we expect more than 10,000 persons at any time. Private events are events where attendance is by invitation only. 22. There is a reason for making a distinction between private and public events. One assumes that for private events, the organisers know who they are inviting. Because it is by invitation only, there is no wider public invitation, and therefore potentially the event would tend to be lower-profile and not as widely publicised. I am just setting out the general principle, the specific cases will vary and the Commissioner will have to make that assessment.


Estimating Crowd Size


23. How does one estimate crowd size? Event organisers should make a best estimate of the crowd size, based on the facts available at the material time, for example, venue size, past events, similar events, and ticket sales and so on. The organiser makes the best estimate he or she can, and if the crowd size exceeds what they estimated, then of course it is not an offence.


How thresholds were determined


24. How did we come to these thresholds? They were based on risk assessment. We have to draw a line somewhere. We have to take into consideration the seating capacity of major event venues in Singapore and also the landscape of events that we have in Singapore. What is this likely to cover? The Singapore Indoor Stadium can hold around 7,000 to 8,000 people when used for concerts. The Star Performing Arts Centre can accommodate about 5,000 people. How many events would this apply to, based on past precedence? About 200 public events per year would meet the crowd size threshold. We have taken a measured approach. Remember these 200 public events today already put in place many of the security measures. What is being done is to give Police the directive power. What we have today is a system where the Police work with the organisers and the organisers voluntarily do this. The Bill will effectively give the Police the power to direct. We want to encourage people to organise events, we do not want to stifle the vibrancy of events being held in Singapore. We do not want to discourage people and at the same time we have to recognise the worldwide impact of terrorism is imposing costs on everyone.


Notification period


25. That was on the type of events and threshold of crowds. The period I talked about,  we intend to prescribe a notification period of at least 28 days before the event. This gives enough time for the Police to make an assessment and engage organisers on security requirements, and for organisers to put in place the security requirements. The Police have to make an assessment and go back to the organisers to say we need you to do these things, and the organisers need time to put in place those requirements.   


26. Sometimes it is not possible to give such short notice. Clause 3 will require the Commissioner to accept shorter notice, if he is reasonably satisfied that earlier notice could not have been given. If you do not notify the Police, that would be an offence. So there is a legal requirement to notify the Police, if you reasonably expect the crowd size to be beyond 5,000 for a public event. Not complying with the special notification requirement is an offence (punishable with up to $20,000 fine or, 12mths jail or both).


Declaration of Special Events by CP


27. There is also power to declare an event as a Special Event by the Commissioner of Police. Clause 8 of the Bill will repeal and re-enact Section 21 to allow the Commissioner of Police to declare special events. When will the Commissioner exercise this power? When it is necessary to preserve public order and the safety of individuals involved in the event as well as other persons and also where it is necessary to avoid disruptions to the event.  


28. In doing so, the Commissioner will consider various factors, such as size of the event, experience and expertise of the organisers, and other relevant factors like the threat assessment.


29. In practice, the Commissioner will exercise this power when an event is likely to attract a very large crowd, or he assesses it to be at higher risk of a terror attack or a public order incident.


Examples of Special Events declared by CP


30. Some of these events, based on past precedent, could include large scale sporting events like the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon, music concerts, and celebrations such as the Chinese New Year Eve Countdown or the year-end Marina Bay Singapore Countdown. These are iconic events that can be targets. High-profile events like the Shangri-La Dialogue or the National Day Rally will also be declared as Special Events.


Directions to Event Organisers


31. Once the Commissioner declares an event as a special event, he will issue directions to the event organisers to put in place the security measures.


32. He will use Section 30, which is an existing provision that applies to special events currently declared by the Minister. He will use the powers under Section 30. Clause 9 of the Bill will amend Section 30 to clarify examples of written directions the Commissioner can give.


Workflow in Practice


33. How will this work in practice? After an event has been declared a special event or enhanced security special event, Police will discuss the security plan with event organisers. Police will then issue directions to the event organisers to put in place the agreed security measures which could include, setting up of barricades, engaging security officers and having clear signage.


34. This is likely to apply to the majority of special events, which are events that attract large crowds. For events likely to be at higher risk of a terror attack or public order incident, the Police could direct additional measures, like armed auxiliary police officers, full body scans and bag checks, and measures against vehicle-borne threats. We have seen how vehicle-borne threats can cause chaos. 


35. If for some reason the event venue cannot be secured against security risks, the Police may require the venue to be changed. That has happened in the past.   36. The event may be cancelled or postponed if it is unsafe for it to continue. This could be due to an imminent threat, or severely inadequate security and crowd management arrangements.  37. Police may also require the organisers to inform participants, the public at large, of some aspects of how the event will be conducted, for example, to arrive earlier for security screening.


Non-compliance of Sec 30 direction


38. Not complying with a written direction under Section 30 without reasonable excuse is an offence.


39. The Commissioner may do what is necessary to give effect to the written directions. That could include, for example, if the event organisers are not putting in the security, the Police can put in the security. The Police can also recover the costs and expenses incurred in doing so, as a civil debt owed to the Government.


40. Stepping in to implement security measures is really an option of last-resort. But it is important to have this option in case you have organisers who just go ahead and ignore everything and have a large-scale event without adequate security. 


41. Clause 10 will make it an offence for anyone to wilfully obstruct any police officer or the Commissioner in the exercise of his powers (punishable with up to $20,000 fine or, 12mths jail or both).


No Gazette required for Special Events declared by CP


42. Supposing an event is declared a special event by the Commissioner, the powers that are exercisable in relation to participants and members of the public under sections 24 to 29 and section 32A will not apply.   


43. As the participants and members of the public at a special event will not be subject to these powers, the declaration of the special event by the Commissioner does not have to be Gazetted.


Enhanced Security Special Events declared by Minister


44. Clause 8 of the Bill will also enact a new Section 21A to allow the Minister for Home Affairs to declare some special events as enhanced security special events. Generally, these are events of major national or international significance, which have previously been declared as special events under the Public Order Act. The powers that are exercisable in relation to these events remain largely unchanged.  


45. We have to demarcate the events which the Minister will declare as special events from those declared by the Commissioner. The Minister will give directions to the Commissioner to refer certain events, or a class of similar events, to the Minister. 


46. The Minister will then decide whether or not to declare these events. Basically we are increasing the security requirements for events which attract a certain type of crowd – more than 5,000, or those which attract national or international prominence, giving powers for directions.  


47. Any declaration made by the Minister must be published in the Gazette, as the powers exercisable affect members of the public in and around the vicinity of the special event.


Public Consultations


48. MHA has consulted key stakeholders, such as the People's Association, Football Association of Singapore and event companies providing entertainment as well as sporting events, and event security and logistics providers.  


49. Based on the feedback received, MHA and Police will develop guidelines for event organisers, on the procedures to adopt to notify Police and also what security measures are required for a typical event, and what sort of additional security measures that could be imposed, depending on the threat assessment or nature of the event.


Private Security Industry as Important Partner


50. In doing this, obviously the Private Security Industry is an important partner to help us implement this new framework. We are working with tripartite partners to develop an Industry Transformation Map (ITM) for the Private Security Industry. We will focus on innovation and technology, and upgrading the jobs and skills of our officers. Hopefully, that will help the private security industry meet the demands in the years ahead. We are going to need security officers who need to be professional in handling this.




51. The second part of this Bill relates to the amendment to Section 7(2) to prevent foreigners from using Singapore to promote political causes.


Government's Long-Standing Position


52. As to the basic philosophy, there can be no doubt that it has been the Government's long-standing position that foreigners and foreign entities should not import foreign politics into Singapore, nor should they interfere in our domestic politics, especially those issues of a political or controversial nature. Police have previously rejected permit applications by non-Singaporeans to organise events, for example, the Bersih-related events at the Speakers' Corner.


Clarification of CP's Powers


53. Clause 4 of the Bill clarifies that the Commissioner of Police may refuse to grant a permit for a public assembly or procession, if he has reasonable grounds to believe that the proposed assembly or procession is directed towards a political end, and organised by, or involves the participation of non-Singapore entities or non-Singapore citizens. Those events, where a permit is applied for, will be assessed carefully case-by-case, by the Police.   


Definition of "Political End"


54. In determining whether the proposed assembly or procession is "directed towards a political end", the Commissioner would have to consider if such activities would cover matters, regardless of whether in Singapore or elsewhere, that promote the interests of political parties or group of persons organised for political objectives. Or influencing, or seeking to influence policies or decisions of any government, changes in the law, any election or referendum, public opinion on a matter of public controversy, or policies or decisions of persons performing public functions, or to promote or oppose political views or public conduct relating to activities that have become the subject of political debate.


No impact on Singaporeans


55. These amendments do not impact on Singaporeans. These are directed at foreigners and foreign entities. "Singapore entity" in the Bill includes entities, such as companies and non-governmental organisations, which are incorporated or registered in Singapore and controlled by a majority of Singapore citizens.  56. Singapore citizens and entities can continue to apply for, and be granted permits for assemblies and processions directed towards political ends, as long as none of the other grounds, which already exist in the Public Order Act, are there.




57. Madam Speaker, in conclusion, the proposed amendments will seek to enhance the security of events in Singapore against the clear and present threat of terrorism. 


58. This Bill also seeks to ensure that Singapore is not used as a platform by foreigners to further political causes, especially those that are controversial or divisive.  59. Madam Speaker, I beg to move.


Law and order
Managing Security Threats