After a four hour debate in Parliament, the Public Order (Additional Temporary Measures) Bill was passed on Tuesday.
Alright so, the result is hardly a surprise but I strongly oppose the passing of the additional measures, especially due to the following reasons:
1. While I acknowledge the government’s intentions to ensure that a similar riot does not occur, we have to bear in mind that the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) is currently on-going. However the government might have, in the absence of actual data and recommendations, assumed the causes and went on to establish preventive measures. Such an action also might weaken the status and standing of the CoI whose role is to work independently, with the objective of identifying the factors leading to the riot, which may also include any possible failures of law enforcement agencies as well as the government. (Yes this is all debateable)
2. The Bill grants the police and auxiliary police officers extensive discretionary powers to arrest anyone who they deem offensive or suspicious without a warrant. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, I do expect them to do so reasonably. On the other hand, the lack of external oversight opens doors to abuse of authority. Being witness to several instances of racial profiling and rough treatment towards migrant workers in Little India whenever I am in the area, I feel rather uncomfortable with such a power being granted to the police and auxiliary police officers. On a related note but not limited to the Bill, should any police officers be granted the authority to search the premise or personal belongings of individuals without warrants, especially in the absence of violence?
3. Clause 19(3) of the Bill states that the government cannot be held liable for actions in respect of the act. This seems to suggest that victims of wrongful arrests or rough handling cannot seek redress by undertaking legal actions against the government or law enforcement agencies.
In addition, I find the Bill problematic because it assumes that all members of the law enforcement agencies hold unquestionable ability to be reasonable in actions and accurate in their assessment and decisions on who makes a suspicious individual.
I disagree with such harsh measures undertaken in response to the riot at Little India on 8 December. It is a rare incident that had occurred due to factors that are currently in the process of being identified by the CoI. In my opinion, it may be an emotional response to the sight of a fellow migrant worker being crushed under the bus. It may also be the perceived lack of emergency response. Whatever it is, the reasons are currently not fully known. So while I agree that the security in the area can be heightened to give the residents in the area a peace of mind, I am apprehensive that extensive discretionary powers should be granted to the police and auxiliary police officers.
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