21 Mar 2018

Public Order and Safety (Special Powers) Bill 2018 Wrap Up Speech by Mrs Josephine Teo, Minister, Prime Minister’s Office, Second Minister for Manpower and Second Minister for Home Affairs

1.            Mr Speaker, I thank the Members for speaking in support of the Bill. They raised many useful points which I shall try to address.

 

Inclusion of Large-Scale Public Disorder as a Serious Incident

 

2.            Several members asked about the definition of “serious incident”, specifically the inclusion of acts causing large-scale public disorder, and the illustration (d) in Clause 3 which describes such an incident.

 

        a.    Ms Thanaletchimi asked whether non-violent, passive protests are covered under the Act.

         b.    Ms Sylvia Lim,Mr Kok Heng Leun, Mr Ang Wei Neng and Mr Louis Ng asked why the same powers to deal with terrorism are also available for large-scale public disorder.

 

3.            Outside of the House, there were even assertions that POSSPA will be applied to “peaceful demonstrations”. The narrative goes something like this

 

    a.    First, the law allows POSSPA to be unlocked by the Minister for “peaceful protests”. Such protests can attract crowds of all sizes.     

    b.    There is no definition of what “large-scale public disorder” means, so the law could be applied to peaceful protests involving a small group of protesters.

    c.    Therefore, the law potentially allows the oppression of protesters, and will have a chilling effect on society. That’s how outside the House, we’ve come across such assertions.

 

4.            These assertions misrepresent what POSSPA is about. Let me explain why.

 

5.            There are three limbs under the meaning of “serious incident”:

 

         a.    A terrorist act;    

         b.    Serious violence affecting the public; or

         c.    Large-scale public disorder.

 

6.            The third limb, large-scale public disorder, is the subject of focus. 

 

         a.    It is not new, by the way.     

         b.    POPA already provided for it, since 1958.

 

7.            In any case, peaceful protests are not the target of POSSPA. Let me say that again, peaceful protests are not the target of POSSPA.

 

         a.    We will only invoke POSSPA if the situation deteriorates, and the threat of large-scale public disorder or violence becomes imminent.            

         b.    If a protest is really peaceful, there should be no concern whatsoever about falling within the third limb of “large-scale public disorder”.

 

8.            Illustration (d) in Clause 3 makes it clear what we mean by “large-scale public disorder”. I should just quote to members what it actually says, and it goes like this:

 

         a.    “A sit down demonstration for a cause attracts a large group of sympathisers who voluntarily join the sit-in. For over a week, the group grows and the demonstrators start to occupy the publicly accessible paths and other open spaces in the central business district. Their presence starts to impede the flow of vehicular and pedestrian traffic and interfere with normal trade or business activities in the area.”

 

9.            There are several parts to this.

 

         a.    The protest was protracted – over a week.

         b.    It involved a large and growing group.

         c.    They occupied public places in the CBD.

         d.    And the last sentence is worth repeating. The demonstration “starts to impede the flow of … traffic and interfere with normal trade or business activities in the area”.

 

10.         The illustration shows quite clearly that not every protest will meet the high threshold to be considered a serious incident. What is required?

 

         a.    There must be significant disruption to ordinary Singaporeans trying to go about their daily business.          

         b.    People – motorists, commuters, passers-by, shopkeepers, workers - are agitated.

         c.    The tension is rising.

         d.    If it is not diffused, things could quickly turn chaotic.

 

11.         Some observers think such a situation is not intolerable, well within acceptable threshold. Mr Kok Heng Leun suggests that such situations should not be treated as a serious incident. Is that the view of most Singaporeans?

 

12.         I do not think so. In fact, in such a situation, it is more likely that the Police will be asked:

 

         a.    “Why are you allowing this chaos to unfold?”          

         b.    “Are you not worried something worse will happen?”     

         c.    “Can’t you do something to prevent an escalation?”

 

13.         The Police will have to make a judgement call.

 

         a.    If they stick with existing policing powers, can they bring the situation under control? 

         b.    What if the chaos spins out of control and there’s loss of lives?     

         c.    If they assess the need to seek powers under POSSPA, do they have enough justification? 

         d.    What if they invoked POSSPA, and were in fact able to restore order, but were then accused of having over-reacted, that they mis-judged, that there was no need to have used POSSPA?

 

14.         There are no easy answers.

 

         a.    Police will have to judge; the Minister will have to judge, and decide.     

         b.    This alone is not a low threshold to cross.

 

15.         Since independence, POPA has only been used once.

 

         a.    This was after the Little India riot, and even then, it was tightly scoped, to control the consumption of alcohol, to calm the situation and prevent further violence.         

         b.    Police did not use any other power in POPA, even though they could.

 

16.         Ms Sylvia Lim, Mr Henry Kwek and Mr Kok Heng Leun asked why existing powers in other laws are not enough to deal with the large-scale public disorder scenarios described in illustrations (d) and (e).

 

17.         Let us take illustration (d), although most of it applies to illustration (e) as well. This is a large and protracted demonstration that is causing significant disruption to Singaporeans. The demonstration keeps growing, and things could get chaotic.

 

         a.    Police may assess that they need to take measures to reduce the risk of property damage, or prevent the crowd from further building up.          

         b.    To do this, the Police may need to order nearby premises to close, impose a cordon, and direct people to stay out of the area.

         c.    POSSPA powers are necessary to do this. No other laws have such provisions for such a situation.

 

18.         Another example which occurred in Singapore.

 

         a.    In the aftermath of the Little India Riot, we activated POPA, and used the POPA power to regulate conduct to stop the consumption of alcohol in public places in Little India.

         b.    Given the large crowds on weekends and public holidays, alcohol was assessed to be a significant risk factor for public disorder.

         c.    Police did not have the power to do this outside of POPA, until this Parliament passed new legislation under the Liquor Control Act to regulate the consumption of liquor in public places.

 

19.         Mr Louis Ng, Ms Sylvia Lim and Ms Thanaletchimi asked, how about the Communications Stop Order (‘CSO’)? Will it be used for the scenario set out in illustration (d)?

 

         a.    Let me be clear – the CSO is not meant for peaceful assemblies.

         b.    Ms Sylvia Lim said that law enforcement operations in large-scale public disorder would not tactically be sensitive to warrant a CSO. 

         c.    I agree. I have explained in my earlier speech that strict conditions must be met before the Commissioner of Police (‘CP’) can issue a CSO – it must be to protect safety of the public or law enforcement operations. This confirms Mr Chris De Souza’s understanding also.

 

20.         I have also explained in my earlier speech that not all the powers become automatically available once the Minister issues the Activation Order.

 

         a.    The CP must assess which of the powers are necessary to deal with the situation.     

         b.    So it is not the case that when there is large-scale public disorder, all the special powers in POSSPA will be used to deal with the incident.

 

21.         Mr Louis Ng asked if we could put a number to what is considered “large-scale”.  His question is understandable, but there is also no easy answer.

 

         a.    The size of the protest is one of many factors.

         b.    It depends also where the protest is conducted, how it is conducted and its consequences on Singapore, whether intended by its organisers or not.

 

22.         As Mr Gan Thiam Poh has pointed out, a “peaceful demonstration” can quickly degenerate into violence and threaten public safety.

 

23.         An example is the London Riots in 2011.

 

         a.    This started off as a peaceful demonstration against a Court ruling. But degenerated into rioting, looting, setting buildings and vehicles on fire.          

         b.    It spread to several cities over the course of the summer, including Birmingham, Leicester and Manchester.

         c.    In its trail, there were 5 dead and 205 injured, of which 189 were police officers.

         d.    Property damage was estimated at 200 million pounds, and the impact on the economy was significant.

 

24.         Another example, the Charlottesville rally in 2017.

 

         a.    This took place against the backdrop of the controversial removal of Confederate monuments in parts of the US, in response to the Charleston church shooting way back in 2015.     

            b.    It started with a protest against the removal of a Confederate monument from a public park. Protestors chanted racist slogans while carrying rifles and banners. The protestors clashed violently with counter-protestors.

         c.    The Virginia governor declared a state of emergency in order to have additional powers to safeguard public safety.

       d.    One of the protestors rammed a car into a group of counter-protestors, killing 1 and injuring 19.          

         e.    By the time the violence was over, there were 3 dead and at least 38 injured.

 

25.         The point is this: peaceful intent does not guarantee peaceful outcomes.

 

26.         Having explained what “large scale public disorder” means, I will explain what it is not.

 

27.         Where possible, we will indeed use existing laws to deal with such situations. For example, in Singapore, public assemblies are allowed in accordance with the law. This comes under the framework of the Public Order Act.

 

         a.    The Police regularly grants permits for public assemblies; last year alone, over 900.     

         b.    We have also set up the Speakers’ Corner for Singaporeans to organise events and demonstrations without having to apply for a permit, as long as certain conditions are met. Many events take place at the Speakers’ Corner.

 

28.         POSSPA cannot be used against demonstrations if these demonstrations do not cross the threshold of threatening “large scale public disorder”, or “serious violence”. For example, recent student demonstrations at Dublin Scioto high school in Columbus, Ohio. About 200 students sat outside the school in silence to protest gun violence, in the wake of the Florida school shooting in February this year. 

 

29.         There was no violence or large-scale public disorder in this example.  If such an event happens in Singapore, it can be dealt with under baseline policing powers.

 

         a.    The POA will be sufficient. In fact, this is what we have done in the past.          

         b.    An example is the 2013 illegal protests at Merlion Park. Around 100 foreigners gathered to protest the 2013 Malaysian elections on two different days. They held up signs and chanted slogans.

         c.    We issued a total of 74 conditional warnings under the POA.

         d.    POPA was not invoked then.

 

30.         So, our record is clear and consistent. We have never used POPA against political dissent.

 

31.         Mr Speaker, to reiterate:

 

         a.    POSSPA is not targeted at peaceful demonstrations or protests.

         b.    It is targeted at terrorist acts, serious violence affecting the public and large scale public disorder.          

         c.    As Mr Chris De Souza reminded us right at the beginning, “we do not want the Police to be unprepared, left inadequately protected, because they are bereft of what they need to quell a threat.”

 

32.         In a serious incident, Singaporeans expect Police to be able to act fast and to act decisively. That’s what POSSPA seeks to do.

 

Clarifications on specific clauses

 

33.      I will next address Members’ queries on specific clauses.

 

UAVs and AVs

 

34.      Mr Melvin Yong asked how Police would deal with unmanned aerial vehicles and autonomous vehicles, if they are unable to find the operator.

 

         a.    Clauses 28(2)(b)(ii) and 28(3)(b)(ii) empower police officers to act against UAVs and AVs directly even if the operator cannot be located. The priority is to stop the UAV or AV.

          b    AVs and UAVs are a relatively new area, which the Singapore Armed Forces and the Home Team are both working on. SAF is developing a “drone-catcher”. The Home Team is also working on technology to target drones.

 

Reasonable Steps by Corporations

 

35.      Mr Christopher De Souza asked what would constitute “reasonable steps” under the law, for companies or their officers to absolve themselves from liability for obligations under POSSPA.

 

         a.    It will be a question of fact in each case whether a corporation’s officer can be shown to have taken all reasonable steps to prevent or stop the commission of an offence by the corporation.

         b.    To illustrate, Clause 27 allows Police to direct premises owners to take certain actions like closing the premises. If the owner of a corporation can show that he actually gave instructions for the premises to be closed, but those instructions were inadvertently not followed, then he will not be liable.

 

Enhanced Powers to Stop and Question

 

36.         Mr Louis Ng has asked why enhanced powers to stop and question individuals are needed under POSSPA, and whether these were excessive.

 

         a.    In a serious incident where POSSPA is activated, Police need to be able to obtain information quickly in order to deal with the incident.

         b.    These enhanced powers make it clear that individuals have an onus to comply. 

         c.    For example, when Police are searching for an unknown terrorist suspect, to stop and question individuals to ask for information, they must be able to get the information quickly in order to trace the suspect.

         d.    Otherwise, Police will waste precious time.

 

Use of Force

 

37.         Mr Louis Ng asked for clarity on what constitutes “reasonable force”.

 

         a.    In a serious incident, Police officers and the public are faced with considerable danger, and will need to be legally empowered to use lethal weapons if indeed necessary.

         b.    POSSPA allows the use of such force as is “reasonably necessary” to effect arrests and enforce certain powers. This means that the officer can use such force as reasonable in the circumstances, and no more.

         c.    Operationally, and as a matter of policy, Police will use lethal weapons only if they have no other choice. The Police do not want to use lethal weapons unless all other options have been exhausted. There are clear internal Police procedures and rules to ensure that police officers act as such.

         d.    Therefore, Police officers are typically equipped with a range of force options, including unarmed tactics, and non-lethal options like batons and Tasers. Police officers are trained to apply the appropriate force options in accordance with the situation.

 

38.         The Police’s record speaks for itself. The Police have very rarely used lethal weapons.

 

39.         Take the Little India Riots again.

 

         a.    In fact, the Police came under criticism from some quarters, which suggested they should have used their firearms to deal with the rioters.

         b.    In that situation, the Police assessed the use of lethal weapons was not necessary and exercised restraint from using firearms.

 

40.         On the other hand, there are times when the use of lethal weapons is necessary and justified.

 

41.         Take the car that sped through concrete blocks at a police checkpoint at the Shangri-la Dialogue in 2015.

 

         a.    This was a high-profile event, with many foreign dignitaries in attendance.     

         b.    The risk that the car could be committing an act of terrorism was high. How would we know what’s in the car?

         c.    The Police had to use reasonable force, in this case, lethal weapons to deal with the threat.

 

Cooperation between Home Team and SAF

 

42.      Mr Ang Wei Neng has also asked how SAF and the Police would coordinate operations on the ground.

 

         a.    The Police have worked closely with the SAF to develop joint plans for terror attacks.

         b.    Both forces have also exercised closely together on many counter-terrorism exercises.

         c.    In October 2016, the Police and SAF conducted a major joint Home Team-SAF Counter-terrorism exercise.

        d.    This was followed by Exercise Northstar in Oct 2017, a multi-agency counter-terrorism coordination exercise involving private stakeholders.

 

Law Enforcement Officers and Civilian Assistants

 

43.      Mr Ang Wei Neng, Mr Kok Heng Leun, and Mr Louis Ng have also asked for clarifications on civilians assisting the Police under POSSPA. For example, whether they will be sufficiently trained, and how we can ensure their safety.

 

         a.    As I mentioned in my earlier speech, civilian assistants can only exercise selected powers under Police officers’ directions.

         b.    There are no powers to compel civilians to aid the Police; they can only do so voluntarily. Before requesting for civilians to aid the Police, the Police will consider the suitability of the task at hand. As Mr Kok correctly points out, in some cases it may be detrimental to deploy the civilians. That can happen. We agree.

         c.    The volunteers will therefore not be assigned to tasks that will put them in harm’s way or which they are quite incapable of performing.

         d.    The Police conducted an exercise in October 2016. The scenario involved multiple gunmen attack at a shopping mall. In this exercise, mall security officers assisted the Police by evacuating the public to safety, and no more than that.

         e.    It is an example of the kind of roles civilian assistants may be tasked with.

 

44.      Mr Ang Wei Neng has also asked about the class of public officers who may be prescribed as “law enforcement officers”.

 

         a.    As the threats continue to evolve over time, our operational needs will change.

         b.    This provision simply allows the Minister to prescribe specific groups of public officers with specialised skills, to assist the Police in responding to the serious incident. So for example, cyber-security specialists or whoever else.

 

Communications Stop Order

 

45.         Mr Speaker, there have been a number of queries raised by the Members on the Communications Stop Order, or CSO.

 

46.         I would first like to acknowledge the support that Mr Melvin Yong and Mr Desmond Choo have voiced for the Bill, in particular for the CSO. As former police officers, they understand the challenges and risks that Police officers face, and the need for the special powers in this Bill to deal with serious incidents.

 

47.         Mr Desmond Choo asked whether the CSO will only be activated for exceptional situations where operational secrecy and integrity are critical for saving lives and protecting property. Mr Ang Wei Neng suggested adopting a code of conduct for journalists and using CSO as a last resort. Mr Choo and Mr Henry Kwek asked whether the public will be notified when a CSO is in place. 

 

         a.    The short answer to Mr Choo’s questions is yes, as I have explained in my earlier speech.     

         b.    Mr Ang’s suggestion on a media code of conduct is a useful one, which we will consider. But the fact is, in a serious incident, we cannot rely solely on a code of conduct.

         c.    The objective of the CSO is to send a clear signal to the public to stop making and communicating films or pictures, stop communicating messages on law enforcement activities in the target area.

         d.    The Police will publicise the CSO through all its public communications platforms.

 

48.         Other Members raised some concerns on the CSO, which can be grouped into four categories:

 

         a.    One, Whether the CSO would stop people from sending information to the Police or sending updates on their situation to their loved ones;

         b.    Two, Whether the CSO would lead to less accountability for the actions of the Police;

         c.    Three, why should mere making of films be banned; and

         d.    Four, How the CSO will be enforced in practice.

 

49.         Firstly, whether the CSO is intended to stop members of the public caught up in the incident from sending updates to their loved ones. This was raised by Mr Henry Kwek and Mr Louis Ng.

 

         a.    I said in my earlier speech that the CSO is not aimed at civilians who may be caught in a hostage situation, and are trying to get information to their loved ones. The CSO is intended to stop irresponsible communication of ongoing security operations which may endanger lives, such as those of the hostages.

         b.    Therefore, when the Police looks into reports lodged on breaches of the CSO, it will consider the circumstances of the sender, if the breach could reasonably have been avoided, should have been avoided, if the actions posed safety risk to the public or to the law enforcement officers, or if the leaked film exposed sensitive tactical information of the law enforcement activity.

 

50.         Some Members, like Mr Melvin Yong, Ms Thanaletchimi, and Mr Gan Thiam Poh asked whether the CSO would stop people from communicating information to the Police, or discourage them from doing so.

 

         a.    The public plays an important role in providing information to assist the Police. The Police is more aware than anyone else about this. The objective of the CSO is to protect the integrity of specific security operations at a particular location, and for a limited time.

         b.    Outside of the scope of the CSO, there is no restriction on communications in general. This will be made clear. The public will be encouraged to submit information to the Police via the ‘999’ hotline, or through the iWitness and SGSecure platforms.

         c.    If members of the public who are acting in good faith to provide information to the authorities but inadvertently breach the CSO, we do not intend to take action against such persons. I hope this assurance addresses Ms Lim’s concerns.

 

51.         Secondly, members like Ms Thanaletchimi have also asked whether the CSO would lead to less accountability for the actions of the Police, and a lack of independent documentation. Ms Sylvia Lim said that without film or photo, the burden would fall on the complainant to prove the complaint. She also cited the example of Mr Tomlinson at the G-20 summit in 2009.

 

         a.    In the first instance, it is unlikely a CSO would have been issued in a public order incident like the one she described. It was not the kind of scenario in which we had envisioned the CSO to be issued.

         b.    But with or without footage, any person with a complaint of misconduct by Police officers can lodge a Police report and they regularly do.          

         c.    Without footage, Ms Lim is right that it may be harder for the Police to verify a complaint.  However, the Police’s investigations do not start and end with photo or video evidence. They can interview the parties involved and gather other evidence to establish the validity of the claim.

         d.    Police have always taken a serious view of all complaints made against our officers and will thoroughly investigate these complaints.

         e.    If the complaint is substantiated, the Police will not hesitate to take action against any errant officer.

 

52.         Mr Kok Heng Leun also asked whether the Police will use the powers under the CSO to delete videos and photos of abuse of powers by the Police.

 

         a.    It is a criminal offence to dispose of evidence.

         b.    Police officers cannot do that. 

 

53.         Mr Gan Thiam Poh suggested equipping every Police officer with a Body Worn Camera to mitigate the risk of unfair allegations when a CSO is in place. This is a helpful suggestion, and we will look into it.

 

54.         In fact, the Police have equipped a number of their frontline officers with Body Worn Cameras to facilitate investigations and the gathering of evidence.

 

         a.    The footage from these cameras are also helpful for any allegations of wrong-doing.

         b.    This is on top of the in-vehicle cameras that Police have.

         c.    These cameras will continue to operate when a CSO is in place.

 

 

55.         This leaves me with the third and fourth group of issues under the CSO, which I will address together.

 

         a.   Besides issues of accountability, Ms Lim expressed discomfort with extending the CSO to the making of relevant pictures and films. Ms Lim’s view is that mere making of the film does not cause harm, and should be allowed.

         b.    Mr Ang Wei Neng and Mr Louis Ng also asked how the CSO will be enforced by officers on the ground. For example, there could be many people using their phones at the same time for different reasons.

         c.    As I explained earlier, during a serious incident, the Police will not have the bandwidth to investigate every person who is recording a film or picture, to ascertain his true intent.  Ms Lim also acknowledged from her experience as a former police officer that this is a challenge. Police will exercise discretion and take into consideration the circumstances under which the recorder was in, and if the breach could not have been reasonably avoided.

         d.    This bill puts the onus on the individuals to not arouse suspicion of malicious intent, not because Police wants to make things difficult but because of exigency. 

         e.    By doing so, the Police has a straightforward enforcement aim: to make sure no one is recording. If it wasn’t spelt out this clearly, then you could have a situation of confusion, what exactly is the Police trying to enforce against.

         f.     Mr Kok Heng Leun asked a similar point, why the possession of materials likely to prejudice public order is a criminal offence. The same consideration applies here: in a serious incident, Police will not have the bandwidth to sort out those who have malicious intent and those who do not. And if I may add, this particular provision has been around since 1958 and the Police have never used it.

 

56.      Mr Speaker, there have been many questions on the CSO.

 

         a.    This is why MHA earlier spoke to the local media to hear their concerns and discuss how we can work closely to ensure that the CSO does not disrupt their ability to report the news, for documentation purposes.

         b.    The local media also raised concerns similar to Members and the general public, for example, how to ensure that those caught in the incident can report to the Police. We have taken this into account and in my earlier speech, I also talked about the importance of post-incident reporting and how we will allow the media to record incidents for subsequent reporting.

 

57.      Mr Kok Heng Leun asked if there was a public consultation for this Bill. This was an example. We studied international incidents, spoke to our law enforcement counterparts, and gleaned learning points on how to deal with these incidents. Then we consulted key stakeholders who would be directly affected by the exercise of specific powers. This was the same approach for the Public Order (Amendment) as well as the Infrastructure Protection Bills, just last year. So no change.

 

Safeguards for POSSPA powers

 

58.         I will now move on to the issue of safeguards for POSSPA powers. Mr Henry Kwek has asked whether there will be any limits to the duration the provisions will stay in effect.

 

         a.    Under POSSPA, the duration of each Activation Order is capped at one month, after which, the Minister must make a new Activation Order if he assesses that there is a basis for the new Order.     

         b.    We do not intend to use the POSSPA powers for longer than is absolutely necessary. After a serious incident has been resolved, one of our key priorities is to work with the affected communities to return to normalcy as soon as possible. Having an Activation Order longer than necessary does not help.

         c.    Mr Kok asked why the failure to publish would not invalidate an Order. Again, nothing sinister. All that Clause 8(iii) does is to ensure that the mere failure to publish the Activation Order does not invalidate the need for CP to issue a special authorisation and deploy the Police Officers. This does not diminish accountability of the Minister. It can happen that CP may need to act quickly and issue the special authorisations. He should not be prevented from doing so just because of a delay in publishing the Minister’s Activation Order, which is a technicality. This is what the provision seeks to protect. Nothing more.

 

Discretion and Judgement exercised by the Police and Minister

 

59.      Mr Melvin Yong asked whether a new Activation Order would be needed if subsequent incidents are unrelated to the first incident for which the Activation Order was made.

 

         a.    The Commissioner of Police will only be able to issue special authorisations for incidents that have a nexus to the incident that led to the Activation Order.

         b.    If there is a subsequent incident that does not have a nexus to the initial incident, the Minister must issue a fresh Activation Order for POSSPA powers to be used. For example, if large-scale public disorder occurs, that is unrelated to a terrorist act for which an Activation Order has been issued, Minister would need to issue a new Activation Order to be able to exercise POSSPA powers for the new incident.

         c.    However, Mr Yong makes a more important point about whose judgement it will be in deciding whether the two incident areas are related. It will have to be a professional assessment made by the Police, based on the information at hand. CP will have to decide before he issues the special authorisation.

 

60.      Mr Kok Heng Leun raised a similar line of inquiry in many parts of his speech.

 

         a.    I listened carefully, and I must say, for me it contrasted very much with Ms Sylvia Lim’s speech, which I believe to be well-informed by her professional experience as a Police Officer and her legal training. I reflected on Mr Kok’s points and I think his main discomfort has to do with the discretion given to the Minister and CP, whether we should trust them to act honourably at all times, or whether we should curtail their discretion and not leave it to chance.

         b.    Therefore, he asks whether we can impose conditions under which the powers are used, and whether these conditions can be written into the Act.

         c.    In my view, it is not unreasonable to consider such risks.

 

61.      In fact, Mr Kok cited the ISA in which we subject the decisions of the Minister to the concurrence by the President on the advice of a special advisory committee.

 

         a.    This shows clearly that the government, this government, is not averse to introducing such checks if there are good justifications to do so.          

         b.    And, on a day-to-day basis, Ministers and CP do not have as much latitude in their exercise of powers.

 

62.      However, the POSSPA bill is designed for serious incidents as per Clause 3, where we envision Police to be in a race against time.

         a.    Hypothetically, suppose terrorists have taken some Singaporeans hostage.  Can we afford to put the rescue operations on hold, while the parliament debates whether the Minister’s Activation Order or the CP’s CSO are justified?  And in a terror situation, things can change by the minute.

         b.    Supposing in the meantime, the terrorists start to harm the hostages and we decide we can no longer wait.  Police mount a rescue operation, but predictably, there was live coverage of the police operations online. The result: casualties.

         c.    Would it not weigh on our conscience that we have not given the hostages or the security personnel the best chance of survival, because the CSO was not authorised in time?

 

63.      Ultimately, it boils down to this. There is a risk of too much discretion, but there is also a risk of too much delay.  Members will have to weigh:

 

         a.    Which is the bigger risk in a serious incident?

         b.    Which has the graver consequence?

         c.    This tension was also highlighted by Mr Christopher de Souza, who concluded that “this Bill equips the Police with a level of power necessary to quell danger and neutralise an escalating target. The foundation of my argument is that we have a good police force”. Perhaps not everywhere in the world, but in Singapore, we can and we should trust that the Police will discharge their duties professionally.

         d.    Mr Desmond Choo echoed this point.

 

64.      I hope members can be persuaded that the threshold which must be met before the POSSPA powers can be activated, is high.

 

         a.    This means that the special powers will not be used for day-to-day policing.

         b.    It can only be used in exceptional circumstances with many conditions attached already, as some Members have pointed out.

 

65.      Once the threshold of a serious incident is crossed, we must give the Police sufficient latitude to act decisively, and respond to whatever that threat may be. Ms Sylvia Lim used two terms. She said muscle and flexibility, and I think that sums it up aptly. You need the muscle and you need the flexibility in a serious incident. You need both. After the incident has been dealt with, and the danger has passed, we can have a debate, including here in Parliament, about whether the Minister and the Police did the right thing, and hold them to account. We did that for the Little India Riot. We had an inquiry, the inquiry was fairly extended and the inquiry certainly did point out areas that the Members of the Panel thought the Government had fallen short of. But you do that after the incident has been dealt with.

 

Public Education on the Bill

 

66.      We therefore agree that it is important for the public to be aware of the obligations under the new Bill, when an Activation Order is in place. Ms Thanaletchimi, Mr Ang Wei Neng and Mr Desmond Choo have both asked how we intend to do so.

 

         a.   When an Activation Order is issued by the Minister, it will be publicised via press releases, and online and social media platforms. The areas which CP will authorise Police officers to exercise special powers in, will also be publicised via all platforms, where appropriate.    

      

         b.    MHA will also continue to inform the public on the key points of POSSPA, like what to do when a Communications Stop Order is in place. We will do so via our Home Team outreach channels, such as SGSecure.

 

67.      To increase awareness, Mr Desmond Choo and Mr Ang Wei Neng have suggested conducting exercises for the public on how the powers will be used, especially for the Communications Stop Order. This is a very helpful suggestion, and is something that the Police will consider.

 

Conclusion

 

68.      Mr Speaker, I hope I have addressed members’ concerns. The special powers under POSSPA are needed to deal with serious incidents, like terrorist attacks. The special powers, which come with safeguards, will be used judiciously.

 

69.      As the threats have changed, and technologies have changed, we must ensure that the Police are empowered to respond to these new threats.

 

70.      Sir, I beg to move.

 
Last Updated on 26 Jun 2018
Last Updated on 20 Nov 2018
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