Ministry of Home Affairs Committee of Supply 2017 – Cuts by WP MPs and NCMPs

(Delivered in Parliament on 3 March 2017)

Auxiliary Police – Sylvia Lim

The need for additional resources for policing is clear.  The population of Singapore is now more than 5.6 million, compared to 4.4 million in 2006, a 1.2 million increase over 10 years.  More people means a higher population density, increased interaction and proximity, more potential for crime and more assets to protect.

Over the last few decades, the role of the auxiliary police has expanded exponentially.  From an initial brief of static guarding of key installations to accompanying cash-in-transit, the auxiliary police are now in roles that require them to interact with the public in a variety of scenarios, such as crowd control, management of prisoners, checkpoint security and policing liquor control zones.

The training of auxiliary police has been enhanced, but is it adequate to ensure that the APO is equipped to meet the challenging needs of handling complex and unpredictable situations?  Policing Singapore is complicated by the fact that our population consists of 1.7 million non-resident foreigners.

In answer to a parliamentary question I filed, the Minister has confirmed that Certis CISCO has obtained approval to recruit officers from Taiwan due to manpower shortages.  I wonder whether the shortage will lead to a compromise in recruitment standards.

Several Singaporeans have expressed to me their concern about foreign APOs walking around with firearms.  Related concerns have also crossed my mind, in particular in the wake of the Little India riots in 2013, when it was clear from the incident reports that quite a number of the APOs at the scene were not Singaporeans.

What security risk is posed by having foreign APOs carrying firearms?  What risk mitigation measures are in place?  What about psychological testing?  Is it time to consider arming APOs, especially fresh recruits from overseas, with non-lethal weapons such as stun guns?


Safeguards during Police Investigations – Sylvia Lim

Singaporeans want the police to be effective.  At the same time, the criminal justice system needs to balance State power with due process and ensure that investigations are conducted lawfully, with suspects accorded their Constitutional and legal rights.

One of the safeguards proposed by myself and others during previous COS debates was to video-record the process of the recording of statements from suspects.  As argued previously, such a procedure would also save the State from spending time to address frivolous challenges in court, and protect officers from false allegations.  The Ministry had indicated that it would do a pilot project in the first quarter of 2016.  Last October, I was disappointed to learn from a Parliamentary answer that the government had decided to put the initiative on hold, pending putting the legal framework in place.   Could the Minster elaborate on the rationale and when we can expect the pilot to commence?

Secondly, the right to counsel upon arrest has also been debated in the past.  Article 9 of the Constitution guarantees the right to consult a legal practitioner to a person under arrest, but case law has held that this right is subject to the exigencies of police investigations.  During the COS 10 years ago, in 2007, there was a pilot announced to give early access to counsel.  What was the outcome of that?

Finally, there is an issue about the length of time taken to complete investigations.   In some cases, the individual under investigation may suffer in his ability to earn a livelihood while the investigation continues e.g. when a person’s vocational licence to be a public bus or taxi driver is suspended or revoked during the pendency of investigations.  Sometimes cases hang for months with no visible investigative step being taken.  This leaves the accused person in indefinite limbo and unable to earn a living.  Could there be a monitoring mechanism to ensure that such cases are investigated with a certain haste?


Youths Facing Criminal Proceedings – Sylvia Lim

I wish to touch on young suspects and their rights in the criminal justice system, in particular those aged between 16 and 18 years.

Singapore has acceded to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (“CRC”). This is one of the few human rights treaties that Singapore has acceded to, showing the importance our country places on this set of international obligations.   Article 1 of the CRC defines “Children” as persons below the age of 18.   Under Article 4 of the CRC, Singapore is obliged to “undertake all appropriate legislative, administrative, and other measures for the implementation of the rights recognized in the present Convention”.

However, our Children and Young Persons Act (“CYPA”) defines a child to be a person below the age of 14 years, and a “young person” to be between the ages of 14 and 16.  This means that children between the ages of 16 – 18 are not covered by the protections under the CYPA.

For instance, children in Singapore between 16 – 18 are not protected by Section 35 of the CYPA, which prevents the media from publishing the particulars or identifying details of those under 16 years old involved in Court proceedings.  This gap in our law is not consistent with our CRC obligations, as Article 40 obliges State Parties to ensure that every child (up to the age of 18) has his or her privacy fully respected during criminal proceedings.

Children between 16 – 18 are also not protected by Section 29 of the CYPA, which protects those under 16 from being detained with adult offenders. This gap in our law is again not consistent with our obligations under the CRC, as Article 37 obliges State Parties to ensure that every child (up to the age of 18) who is detained be “separated from adults”.

Consider this: at 17 years old, many of our sons and daughters are still wearing school uniforms in Junior College, or attending polytechnic or ITE. Until they reach the age of 18, surely they could be given the full scope of protections Singapore has signed up to provide under the CRC? Otherwise, what is the point of signing this treaty?

Turning to the framework we do have, I note the Minister’s commitment to extend the Appropriate Adult Scheme to young suspects under the age of 16 in light of the suicide of 14 year old Benjamin Lim. I hope the Ministry will have a legislative framework to entrench the Appropriate Adult Scheme and extend it to those below 18 years.  Will the Ministry also consider permitting parents of such suspects to act as Appropriate Adults?


Training for Prison Inmates – Leon Perera

The role of the Singapore Prisons Service to be a place where “strayed lives can be steered back on course” is a crucial one that deserves the support of the whole of society.

In August last year, during the debate of the SkillsFuture Singapore Agency Bill, I asked the Minister for Education to consider how to push training and education content, via, say, an e-learning platform, to those serving prison sentences. I am raising this again and would like to highlight two statistics from the Singapore Prison Services:

In 2014 to 2015, despite only a 1% decline of total number of inmates, there was a 7% decline in number of inmates trained in 2014 and a 6% decline in 2015. There was also a 4% decline in the number of inmates engaged in work programmes in 2015.

Why are fewer inmates getting access to training programmes? Can we consider different ways of enabling training for prisoners? Can SkillsFuture support our prisons by providing more platforms of adult education and training content for our inmates?

Pushing training to prisoners will facilitate the rehabilitation process and help make them productive workers or even possibly entrepreneurs in future.

SkillsFuture can be used for e-learning or for training conducted within incarceration or detention premises. In the US, we hear examples of prisoners who obtain university degrees while serving their sentences. As the SPS says, “Serving time should never be a waste of time.”