January 18, 2009
Imagine one day when FIFA realizes that a referee can’t possibly spot every single foul on the football pitch. Then imagine that, instead of thinking of proper solutions, FIFA gives the referee the power to send off any player he thinks is capable of committing a foul, whether he actually has or not. Ridiculous? Not if you’re from the Home Team.
In the second part of his Straits Times interview (17 Jan 09), Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng announced that new regulations to “curb acts of civil disobedience” were in the works. Why the need for new regulations? According to Wong,
“[Some Singaporeans and foreigners] are emboldened to adopt and persist in the tactics of civil disobedience because current laws are not adequate in dealing with them. They make a show of breaking the law; the police watch and do nothing and can only follow up with investigation after the show is over when they pack up and leave.” [ST, 17 Jan 09, p.A29]
But what kind of new regulations then? “Pre-emptive” ones no less.
“Our security forces need the powers to deal with such potential security situations pre-emptively on the ground and not let them occur and then deal with the consequences and perpetrators later. That would be too late.” [ST, 17 Jan 09, p. A29; my italics]
Ok, so the PAP state now wants powers to detain even before an offense is committed. But what kind?
“When Australia hosted the 2007 APEC meetings, they enacted specific legislation giving their security forces added powers to deal with possible threats within prescribed security zones. Certain Australian states also have given their police “move-on” powers which help them deal with law and order incidents in a way which minimizes disruptions, by asking people to leave a particular location”.[ST, 17 Jan 09, p. A29]
But why the need for Singapore police to have these so-called “move-on” powers? Gee, let me think, could it be because of the incident in November 2007 during the signing of the ASEAN Charter at the Shangri-la Hotel when Chee Siok Chin questioned the police’s decision to remove only her while allowing other people to walk around the hotel? Faced with this question, the police had no adequate answers. [see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tfnyayx_7u8&feature=related%5D
But what are these so-called “potential security situations”? They must be life-threatening. Well, according to Wong, they include the “Falungong followers, Myanmar dissidents and some opposition activists”. [ST, 17 Jan 09, A8].
Excuse me but I ordered the smoked salmon, not the big fat dripping wet red herring! How are Falungong followers, Myanmar dissidents and opposition activists going to threaten ordinary Singaporeans? Did the Myanmar students incite hatred against heartlanders in Toa Payoh or Marine Parade? Did the Tak Boleh Tahan protest threaten the lives of uncles and aunties in coffeeshops all over Singapore? It’s amazing how such minor protests can be exaggerated into a national security threat! Better still, Wong goes on to observe that
“The existing operating model is to take action against people who disrupt the event via a prosecution after the event is over. This model is not tenable in today’s security climate with the threat of suicide bombers and anarchist fanatics”. [ST, 17 Jan 09, A29]
The inanity of it all is summed by the Straits Time’s reporting. On p. A29, the headline screamed “Police need greater powers to protect”. Protect who? From what? Perhaps in addition to their motto “To educate, inform and entertain”, Straits Times should also include “to distract”.
Dear Mr Wong, the single greatest security threat to Singapore came from the escape of Mas Selamat, not Myanmar dissidents or opposition activists. Thanks to the Home Team, I now have a greater chance of being blown up by “suicide bombers and anarchist fanatics” because of Mas Selamat’s escape than by a group of peace-loving candle-holding Myanmar students walking down Orchard Road. Demonstrators protesting at international events like APEC, the World Bank or IMF meetings are not security threats. They are, at most, idealistic people who create temporary inconvenience. Mas Selamat; now he is a security threat. Terrorists work in stealth and don’t gather in public places to wave banners and shout slogans – you don’t need new civil disobedience laws to tackle them. You need better intelligence and competent guards. Yum yum, tasty red herring, Mr Wong.
The real security threats are these incidents: Mas Selamat’s escape and the passport lapse at Changi Airport. Unless some clear thinking is offered in Parliament, we’re going to have a host of silly civil disobedience laws passed under red herring arguments.
Ok, so we now agree all this talk about “pre-emptive” powers to counter so-call “security threats” is fishy. But why this sudden call for them? The interview offered a few hints. According to Wong
“Just as in any other country, hosting a major international event attended by many presidents, prime ministers and ministers is a labour intensive security exercise for Singapore. A sizeable front-line and contingency force need to be deployed. Each major event can involve up to 10,000 Home Team officers.” [ST, 17 Jan 09, A29]
What’s more, said Wong, many overseas protesters come to Singapore to protest at such international events. “And as a result of their actions, a large amount of police resources were consumed dealing with them while the IMF-World Bank meetings were taking place”. [ST, 17 Jan 09, A29]
And there we have it. These new regulations are not for law and order issues. They are for logistical and human resource problems. The Singapore Police Force is stretched. It just had a major recruitment drive to fill up police, customs and immigration as well as prisons vacancies.
These new regulations have been mooted to make the jobs of police officers easier. Let’s have regulations that prevent messy protests instead of having to clean them up. Arresting would-be protesters even before they take to the streets would be so much easier than deploying hundreds of officers to cordon them off, ensuring public safety and traffic flow. Limited police officers? Lock up the suspects before the crime is committed. This way there is no crime to address. Just like the imaginary football referee who now gets to send off any player who even looks capable of committing a foul, the police can lock up anyone suspected of planning civil disobedience.
This is worrisome. Instead of focusing on the problem as a human resource one, the Home Team has reached out for greater powers to solve their manpower woes. Instead of asking why so many police officers are leaving the force or if they are maximizing existing personnel or revising their recruitment policies, they want new laws to make their jobs easier.
And do you think these new regulations, when proposed in Parliament, will be passed? With 82 PAP MPs, what do you think?
January 16, 2009
Sometimes I wished I was a PAP minister. Getting paid millions for pulling rabbits out of my arse seems to be a pretty good deal. The Straits Times Insight section did an in-depth interview with Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng today (16 Jan 09). Watching him try to defend the Home Team from criticisms over a series of bungles in 2008 that included Mas Selamat’s escape, the attempted escape of two detainees awaiting bail and the immigration lapse in Changi Airport that allowed a man to travel to Vietnam with his son’s passport, was like watching a third rate magician in a cheap cape perform parlor tricks at a children’s party.
The Great Magical Maestro Wong was in great form today. For his first trick, he made accountability and responsibility disappear.
The Great Magical Maestro Wong told the reporter that the cases of the court detainees and passport lapse were very different. He was quoted as saying that the detainees were just awaiting bail and would have walked out of their cells if someone posted their bail; only they chose to make a break for it. No big deal. As for the passport lapse, well, it was the troublemaking son who called the media to publicise the incident! No one would have known about it if not for that little son of a breach.
For his second trick the Great Magical Maestro Wong created a new word with a wave of his wand to describe the passport lapse – “misclearance”. Try it, it’s a fun word. The planes that hit the World Trade Centre Towers were on a “misflight”; Mas Selamat’s escape was a “misdetainment”; the Singapore Flyer did a “misrotation”. Hey boss, remember that million dollar account I was supposed to handle? Well, there’s been a ”miswhoops”.
Anyway, The Great Magical Maestro Wong’s point was that by comparing all these incidents to Mas Selamat’s escape was grossly unfair to the Home Team. They are all very different. Accountability; now you see it, now you don’t.
And in a final sleight of hand, The Great Magical Maestro Wong managed to make Mdm Voot Choon Yin re-appear in Singapore. Mdm Voot, a 73 year old Singaporean suffering from mild dementia, had visited Malaysia and lost her passport and bag. However, thanks to the dark arts of the Home Team at the Causeway she still managed to pass through the Singapore and Malaysian customs without identification. This trick was reported in the Straits Times the same day the interview with Wong was published. The magic just doesn’t stop.
But of course, The Great Magical Maestro Wong had already performed his greatest trick last year. Confronted with Mas Selamat’s breakout, the most dangerous terrorist in Singapore, The Great Magical Maestro Wong managed to hang on to his job. I don’t think Houdini’s the world’s greatest escape artist anymore. And it ain’t Mas Selamat either.