Parliamentary Speeches

Second Reading of the Law Enforcement and Other Matters Bill – Wrap-Up Speech by Mrs Josephine Teo, Minister for Communications and Information & Second Minister for Home Affairs

Published: 02 April 2024


1. Mr Speaker, I thank the Members for their support of the Bill. 

2. They raised many relevant questions which I will try my best to respond to.  


Strengthening Our Levers Against Scams

3. First, those on new SIM card-related offences.

4. Mr Louis Ng asked why MHA is introducing new offences, instead of relying on existing laws. 

5. The limitation of the current law is that for irresponsible subscribers and middlemen who deal in local SIM cards, we would need to prove that they had intended to abet an offence. But proving intent is incredibly difficult, and often impossible. 

(a) Take the example I mentioned in my opening speech, where a middleman purchased over 1,000 prepaid SIM cards that were fraudulently registered, and sent them to persons in Malaysia who used them for scams.

(b) When he was questioned, he claimed that he merely dealt with the SIM cards, and did not know that the receiving parties were scammers or that they would use the SIM cards to commit scams. It might indeed be that he did not know, because he did not care to know who bought the SIM cards from him and what they would do with it. 

(c) It is equally difficult to prove criminal conspiracy. 

6. The new laws address this gap. With the new offences, we will deem irresponsible subscribers and middlemen liable for an offence, without needing to prove criminal intent or knowledge, in certain scenarios. These include, among others:

(a) Registering for a SIM card and selling it for gain; 

(b) Possessing a large number of unregistered SIM cards for no legitimate reason; and

(c) Buying or selling SIM cards registered in another person’s particulars.   

7. There is no good reason for such acts, because there are legitimate ways to buy and sell SIM cards. But clearly, there’s value to avoid such options, and we should not accept them being passed off as legitimate economic activities, when in fact they are used to cause harms. 

8. As for errant retailers, there is no specific offence under today’s laws for fraudulent registration.

(a) While the Police may use other laws to prosecute such retailers, such as offences under the Penal Code or Computer Misuse Act, circumstances of each case may not allow us to proceed. 

(b) As a result, under today’s regime, most errant retailers simply lose their contract with the mobile service provider, effectively getting away scot-free with the profits they had made from the fraudulent registrations. 

9. Mr Yip Hon Weng and Mr Louis Chua raised concerns about people who exploit elderly persons to obtain SIM cards.

10. In the example given by Mr Yip, where an elderly person’s particulars are misused by family members or caregivers to register for SIM cards:

(a) The elderly person would not be liable for an offence, if we find that he had no reasonable grounds to believe that his particulars would be used to register for SIM cards. 

(b) The Police recognise that there are indeed situations where elderly might have been tricked into sharing their particulars. The Police will investigate such cases comprehensively, and consider any credible evidence that the elderly person was unaware about how his particulars would be used. 

(c) The Attorney-General's Chambers will also carefully consider each case on its own facts and circumstances, and will only pursue prosecution if there is public interest to do so. 

11. On the other hand, the individual who had misused the elderly person’s particulars could be liable for an offence of supplying or selling the SIM cards registered in another person’s particulars. 

(a) In addition, if the individual had pretended to be the elderly person and had used his particulars to sign up for a SIM card without his permission, the individual could also be liable for an offence of cheating by personation under section 416 of the Penal Code.

12. Mr Yip and Mr Chua asked if there are plans to educate the elderly population about the misuse of their particulars for SIM card registrations. Mr Ng shared his concern about the proliferation of laws which are too complicated to understand. 

13. Sir, we are one of the few jurisdictions that have been able to pass new laws to act against scammers.  It’s something thata lot of my colleagues in law enforcement wish they could do in their systems. It has been very difficult for them. It would indeed be better, and we agree with Mr Ng, if we could streamline these laws, but at this point in time, this is not a luxury we can afford, when scam tactics are still evolving so quickly, and Police resources are so stretched. This is a trade-off Parliament must consider, whether to prioritise the streamlining of laws or quickly putting in place levers to act against the scammers. If we asked victims, their answer would be very clear.  I believe we should similarly accept this trade-off for now.

14. In any case, to allow members of the public to familiarise themselves with the new offences, we intend for the offences to come into force approximately six months after the Bill is passed.

(a) During these six months, we will step up public education efforts to raise awareness of the new offences, red flags that the public ought to be wary about, and measures they can adopt to prevent the misuse of their SIM cards and particulars.

(b) We will also work with mobile service providers to educate retailers about the new offences, and emphasise the penalties that they will face should they be convicted of fraudulent registration.

15. For the offences of receiving, supplying or possessing SIM cards, Mr Desmond Choo asked how we decided on the threshold of 11 or more SIM cards.  Sir, there is no magic formula. 

(a) The Police have observed cases of scammers possessing as few as 15 to 20 local SIM cards to send tens of thousands of scam SMSes.

(b) Setting a low threshold is therefore important for deterrence from hoarding local SIM cards.

16. However, we have also tried to ensure that most law-abiding persons are not affected. 

(a) Based on a 2022 poll of all mobile service providers, only about 2,000 subscribers, or less than 0.1% of all subscribers, used their own particulars to register for more than 10 postpaid SIM cards with a single mobile service provider.

(b) A typical person is therefore very unlikely to be holding on to more than 10 SIM cards which are registered in his own name, and should not even be in possession of cards not registered in his own name.

(c) In other words, this amendment is not a concern for legitimate subscribers; even if they have more than 10 cards, as they will not be involved in crime.

17. Mr Choo suggested imposing minimum fines and imprisonment terms, as well as pegging fines for retailers to a proportion of their annual revenue.

(a) We assess that the proposed penalties are adequate for now. We do not intend to impose a minimum penalty, so as to give the Courts more flexibility to decide on the appropriate punishment based on the severity of the case.

(b) While fines might be a mere slap on the wrists for large retailers, the possibility of an imprisonment term of up to three years should act as a sufficiently strong deterrent.

18. Assoc Prof Razwana and Mr Chua asked about the legislative provisions to hold key officers and senior management liable for offences committed by entities.

(a) Under the new sections 40A and 40B in the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act (MOA), key officers and senior management who were involved in committing the offence can be held liable. 

(b) These include officers who were involved in making the executive decision to commit the offence, as well as those who failed to take reasonable steps to prevent an offence that they knew was going to be committed.

19. Members also gave suggestions on preventing the abuse of local SIM cards. 

20. Mr Louis Chua asked if mobile service providers might also be liable if their appointed retailers conduct fraudulent registrations. Under the new law, mobile service providers will be liable for an offence if they were directly involved in conducting or facilitating the fraudulent registrations. In addition, we can also take regulatory action against mobile service providers if we find that they fail to ensure their appointed retailers comply with IMDA’s requirements on SIM card registrations.

21. Mr Choo asked how we are working with online platforms, such as Telegram.

(a) The Police have been working with online platforms to take down accounts involved in scams and other crimes. 

(b) However, under today’s laws, it is not a crime to go online to buy and sell local SIM cards second-hand. This means that there are actually no legal grounds to request the platforms to take down accounts involved in such sales of SIM cards.

(c) Once the new offences come into force, and the second-hand sale of local SIM cards becomes illegal, we will consider issuing directions under the Online Criminal Harms Act to the platforms to require them to restrict access to accounts involved. 

22. Mr Choo suggested simplifying and standardising the process for a person to authorise another person to register for SIM cards on his behalf.

(a) To clarify, IMDA only allows persons to register for SIM cards using their own particulars. 

(b) To ensure this, retailers are required to check the identity of the subscriber during the registration process. Mobile service providers may be in breach of their regulatory obligations, should their appointed retailers fail to conduct such checks.

(c) If a person wishes to register SIM cards for his family members, he can do so using his own particulars. 

23. Mr Yip suggested creating an avenue to allow retailers to report suspicious activity conveniently and anonymously.

(a) Such avenues already exist. Retailers can file a Police report, which can be done online conveniently using Singpass. They can also submit information through the I-Witness online portal, which can be done anonymously.

24. Assoc Prof Razwana asked about training and other resources given to Home Team officers, including Anti-Scam Command officers, to recognise, investigate and prosecute scams.

(a) To clarify, the key difficulty we face today is with prosecuting scammers, and the people who help them, including SIM card mules. 

(b) Today’s amendments we will help our police officers successfully take to task the SIM card mules that they arrest. 

25. Assoc Prof Razwana also asked how we could work with the telcos to prevent scams. These have been shared earlier in my opening speech so I suggest not to belabour the point. 

26. Assoc Prof Razwana and Mr Yip asked if we will work with foreign law enforcement agencies to take down scammers operating overseas.

(a) The Police have been working with our overseas counterparts, such as the Royal Malaysia Police and INTERPOL, to exchange information and conduct joint operations. This has led to the successful take-down of 19 overseas scam syndicates in 2023. 

(b) The new SIM card offences will also give the Police more grounds to work with foreign law enforcement agencies to arrest and investigate overseas scammers.

27. In relation to the proposed amendment to section 14D of the MOA, Assoc Prof Razwana asked if the Ministry would consider encouraging entities to undertake simulated phishing exercises using the CSA’s recently published Playbook for the Conduct of Phishing Simulation Exercises. 

28. The short answer is yes. As I earlier noted, such exercises are useful tools for organisations to be better prepared against cybersecurity incidents. 

29. Assoc Prof Razwana also asked what strategies are in place to prevent people from being misled by genuine cybersecurity warnings and advice. 

30. To clarify, genuine cybersecurity warnings and advice do not fall within the scope of section 14D as they are not false or fabricated messages. 

31. If her concern is that bad actors could take advantage of the proposed exception to section 14D, let me assure her that we have designed the exception carefully. It is not enough for someone to simply claim that they have a legitimate purpose in sending the false message – there is an objective standard that must be met. 

32. Furthermore, malicious actors who seek to exploit this exception, for example, by masquerading as public authorities, will be caught under existing Penal Code offences like cheating by personation.


Amendments to Clarify Powers of Apprehension Under the MHCTA

33. I will now deal with the questions and suggestions on the handling of cases involving persons with mental health conditions. I hear all the members and your concerns, and it is important to reiterate that this Government is fully committed to advancing mental health. 

34. We recognise that persons with mental health conditions are part of our society, and we should do our best to help them. Our National Mental Health and Well-being Strategy outlines the whole-of-society approach that we are taking to addressing this important issue; there are many components of that.

35. Members were concerned about social stigma that mental health patients may face and appropriate care, which we fully understand and agree with. In fact, we are actively working towards destigmatising mental health conditions, so that people do not hesitate to seek help. Please be assured that the Police does not seek to put more burden on such persons or their families. As I explained at the start of the debate, Police will not get involved unless called to prevent harm from happening. And the idea that Section 7 of the MHCTA is being used for mental health management is entirely mistaken, as I’ve explained earlier, and reiterate again. I would also urge members to help clarify this mischaracterisation and put the minds of mental health patients themselves and their families at ease, as Dr Wan Rizal has helpfully sought to do through his engagements with the community. In reality, as pointed out so well by Dr Syed Harun, the vast majority of individuals with mental illness would not fulfil the threshold set out in this Bill for apprehension by Police. And rightly so. In fact, without being told, or having been told previously, the Police will have no idea who these patients are. In those circumstances that warrant Police intervention, Police are well aware and minded to calibrate their responses, and let medical professionals take over as soon as practicable. That is the overriding priority of the Police if they are called to a scene and they make the assessment that most likely this person will be best served by receiving medical attention. 

36. When an individual has been apprehended under the MHCTA, they will be brought to a medical practitioner for assessment. That is the whole design of Section 7 and the rules governing apprehension. As I have explained earlier too, this is not the same as arrest, where the person will be placed in a lock-up. The amendments we are discussing are in fact to better achieve the objective of letting medical professionals manage persons with mental health issues, as my responses to specific queries will also show.

37. Mr Ng and Mr Edward Chia asked about the Police’s procedures for responding to cases of attempted suicide. Such cases involve both persons who have, and persons who do not have mental health conditions. 

(a) When attending to such cases, the key objective of the Police is to ensure the safety of the person and others around him. 

(b) If there is risk of imminent harm and a stand-off ensues, such as a distressed person standing on a ledge in a high-rise building, the Police’s Crisis Negotiation Unit, comprising Police officers and psychologists, will be activated. They will try to dissuade him from committing suicide. 

38. After the Police have ensured the safety of the various parties, they may apprehend the person under the MHCTA if they assess that the person still poses a danger to himself, or others, and bring him to seek psychiatric treatment. If not, other relevant personnel may then be brought in to attend to the suicidal person and to provide the necessary support. This may include mental health professionals from the IMH Crisis Response Team. To reiterate, apprehension under MHCTA is not a criminal offence for which the person can be prosecuted.

39. Mr Ng and Mr Chia asked about treatment of individuals who have been apprehended.  These individuals will be assessed by the medical professionals at IMH to determine the likely medical causes for their behaviour. The medical practitioners may recommend further treatment in either inpatient or outpatient settings, or refer the individuals to social service providers to address their social needs where warranted, for example, where there is employment support and financial assistance.  

40. Mr Chia asked about collaboration between the Police and the Community Outreach Teams, also known as CREST teams, which are set up by the Agency for Integrated Care (AIC). Where appropriate, the Police will refer persons with mental health conditions to the CREST teams in the region or to AIC, which will refer the cases to other appropriate mental health service providers. Keeping in mind that some of these individuals may well prefer to maintain their privacy and not have whatever action that they’ve taken be made known so widely. I think Police is also mindful of that, and they will have to decide whether it is appropriate for them to make a referral. 

41. To Ms He’s question on whether the Crisis Response Team may be expanded, Police and IMH are already reviewing the suggestion. 

42. Mr Ng, Assoc Prof Razwana, Dr Syed Harun and Mr Chua asked whether Police officers should be accompanied by mental health professionals or community first responders when responding to cases involving persons with mental health conditions. Firstly, prior to attending to the scene, Police need not be in a position to assess that there is a mental health condition involved in the person being attended to. But in any case, even if Police had some sense that this is so, for this idea to work, we will need to have sufficient numbers of such professionals on 24x7 stand-by, and for them to be able to respond immediately with the Police to all cases at all parts of our island. Unfortunately, I think this will be very difficult to accomplish. The practical approach is for the Police, after dealing with the danger, to refer such persons to mental health professionals for treatment. Or as we discussed earlier, to other community support organisations. 

43. Mr Choo, Ms He, and Mr Ng asked how the Police assess whether the threat of physical harm is attributable to a mental disorder. The role of the Police is not to assess or diagnose mental health conditions or disorders. They are not best placed to do so. Their role is to deal with the threat of harm and protect public safety. This is why the current MHCTA states that a Police officer’s belief that a person is doing or about to do an act which is dangerous to himself is sufficient basis for the officer to suspect that the danger to that person is attributable to a mental disorder, and to apprehend the person.

44. The Police have access to reports of past incidents associated with the person, whether he had sought treatment at IMH then, and other relevant information including medical history from the family members, to aid their assessment. Police officers can also consult mental health professionals at IMH via a dedicated phone line. 

45. The Police regularly update their training, conducted by suitably qualified professionals, to ensure that it remains relevant. This point was reinforced by several members and we couldn’t agree more on the importance of training. For example, Police officers undergo a mental health awareness course designed by the Agency for Integrated Care which helps the officers identify and respond to persons observed with indications of mental health conditions. Apart from training, officers are also guided by a specific set of internal Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), which are regularly updated. 

46. To Mr Chua’s questions on amendment and implementation timelines, we will ensure that the amendments and the training provided to police officers will continue to enable them to intervene in a more timely manner while making decisions that underscore respect and empathy for persons with mental health conditions.

47. Mr Choo and Mr Yip alluded to the need for clarity on when the Police may make an apprehension. Ms He also asked about the time frame Police would now apply in the assessment for danger. The powers of apprehension under the MHCTA have been in place since 2008. The proposed amendments seek to allow the Police to intervene in a more timely manner, when the danger is there, even though it may not be immediately clear that the danger is imminent or when the person may turn violent. 

48. I would like to echo Dr Syed Harun’s point that risk assessment, even for psychiatrists, is not a perfect science. It is not practicable to be too prescriptive. Doing so could bind Police officers’ hands or prevent them from acting quickly when they should. Situations on the ground can be dynamic, and they need to be given the latitude to make quick decisions in difficult situations. The safety of the public and family members around such a person, and of the person himself, should be a priority. As Dr Syed Harun puts it, no meaningful medical treatment is possible without first ensuring the safety of the patient and the rescuer.

49. We agree with Mr Yip and Ms He that safeguards are nonetheless important. Let me state categorically that MHA and the Police do not condone officers abusing their powers or acting inappropriately. Police ground response force officers don body-worn cameras which ensure accountability and transparency. Their actions can be audited very easily because it’s recorded. 

50. If the officers have breached the law and committed criminal offences, the Police will refer the matter to the AGC for criminal prosecution. 

51. If the officers are guilty of misconduct but it is not a criminal offence, the Police will conduct internal investigations and take disciplinary action as necessary. In serious cases, the officers are dismissed.

52. To Mr Ng’s question on resourcing, we do not expect significant increase in the number of referrals as a result of the amendments because the threshold is still quite high, as pointed out previously by Dr Syed Harun. It’s not a case where suddenly you’re going to go out to make apprehensions. So there is no anticipated increase in resourcing needs. The Police intervene only when the person poses a danger to himself and others around him. The Police do not get involved in cases involving persons with mental health conditions but who do not pose any danger to himself or others.

53. Mr Ng and Mr Choo asked about the requirement for the public to assist a Police officer when he is making an apprehension. Such a provision is not new. The Criminal Procedure Code provides the same duty to assist a Police officer or any other person authorised to make an arrest. The intent is for the Police to be able to reasonably call on members of the public to assist them in preventing individuals with mental health conditions from causing further harm to themselves or others. 

54. To Ms He’s question on whether the amendments are in compliance with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), we can confirm that the MHCTA continues to be in compliance after the amendments.  


Other Clarifications

55. Sir, I will move on to other queries about the Bill.

56. Mr Yip asked how the amendment to the Police’s obligations for non-arrestable offences apply to neighbour disputes or noise complaints, and whether such cases will be dismissed. The amendment does not affect how Police respond to such incidents. This is because such incidents, in and of themselves, do not constitute criminal offences. 

57. We have explained the Government’s view that neighbour disputes and noise complaints should be resolved through a community-based approach, where community partners, Government social or municipal agencies, and grassroots leaders work together to resolve the issues. Communal issues between neighbours are not and should not be matters for the Police to intervene. The Police's resources should focus on the prevention, deterrence, and detection of crime. They will respond to neighbour disputes and noise complaints only where there are law and order concerns.  



58. My Speaker, I hope I have addressed Members’ queries. I thank them once again for their support of the Bill. 

59. Sir, I beg to move.