February 2015

Express your views regarding the new proposed islandwide Liquor Control Bill.

1st Place - Nicholas Tan

In the realm of public administration, it is commonly believed that governments occasionally react to social affairs in a reactionary manner. That is to say, public policy is sometimes formulated with an eye on plugging gaps in the socio-political system in order to offset some of the public pressure that it has to bear. Yet, public policies themselves can merely be symbolic – with the force of law behind it, but without any real desire to have judicious and high fidelity implementation. As such, I find the Liquor Control Bill likely to be a failure simply because the enforcement branches of the state are spread too thin and improperly deployed.

 

Before turning to the Liquor Control Bill, it would be useful to visit another bill for a clearer picture of where I hope to take this argument: the Road Traffic Act. Every motor vehicle operator is aware of their statutory responsibility to stop for pedestrians at pedestrian crossings. Similarly, pedestrians are themselves aware that jaywalking is an offence which is liable for penalty. Despite these codifications into law, the above two violations are time and again consistently reproduced each day. It would be not be incorrect to argue that these laws are mere expressions of what the state believes is ‘right’ for road users to follow, and not so much backed up with proper enforcement. They are symbolic – not actually meant to resolve these problems of public roads safety issues. This is unfortunate, and the Liquor Control Bill is likely to fall victim to such standards of poor enforcement.

 

Following concerns of public behaviour when inebriated, the government needed a symbolic response to match up to the demands of the people for proper lawful curtailments of unruly behaviour. Catalysts for this bill included rowdy behaviour at nightspots including Zouk, the stretch of pubs along Clarke Quay and, more recently, the allegedly alcohol-responsible riots at Little India. The first point to make is that the Liquor Control Bill is not itself reactionary, as many have claimed. It is the result of repeated incursions into the public peace, galvanized by a stigma attached to foreign workers who are seen as irresponsible drinkers who threaten the safety of the populace.  The second point, and which I focus on, is that this bill may simply be the governmental response to such public pressure. It may not actually be intended for actual enforcement either out of logistical or political reasons.

 

Under the Liquor Control Bill, police officers are the central street-level bureaucrats who are tasked with enforcement. But the Singapore Police Force has itself displayed its inadequate numbers, with extensive recruitment drives and a drive towards manpower-saving measures that reduce the need for foot patrols and even patrols of non-highway arterial roads by the Traffic Police. Assuming the Force’s argument is valid, there already is a shortage of police officers on the ground. And if this ‘ground’ in question is taken to construe all public areas, which this Liquor Control Bill is expected to govern, then we will be unlikely to see any true attempts at curtailing drinking in these restricted areas per se. Unless the state shows its resolve to eradicate problem public drinking, there is little chance this bill will have much impact on society as a whole, much less to ameliorate this problem by any significant measure.

 

In this light, it is highly likely that the bill is more as a show of force by the government, one that does not necessarily imply a serious stance on it or even the required resources committed to enforcing it. A corollary to this will be that the government’s sincerity in curbing this problem will be made visible, if indeed more resources can be committed to implementing this policy. The police force’s land divisions could be expanded, or more visible foot patrols could be the way ahead. As things stand currently, the noticeable absence of the police in the neighbourhoods, save for the occasional patrol car, does not augur well for this bill to be a success. It would be interesting for the Ministry of Home Affairs to evaluate the policy’s success in the near future. Hopefully, with this bill’s coming into law and actual implementation being started on, it might well become an impetus to expand the law enforcement establishment in order to ensure not just compliance of the said law itself, but many other laws passed that have been systematically or helplessly flouted – such as the exemplified Road Traffic Act.

2nd Place - Phay Yu Zhong

The government is acting as a parent caring for a “child” (who already looks sufficiently old enough to take care of themselves) by preparing to give the “child” milk after 10:30pm and this may be unnecessary. Although it is beneficial for individuals who cannot control their drinking, it may be seen upon as a discrimination against those who could by implying that they do not have autonomy which is the capacity of a rational individual to make informed and un-coerced decisions.

3rd Place - Wong Xin Hui

I will come out first and admit I drink outside often, usually at late hours before hitting the clubs in the wee hours of the morning. This, deemed as an unhealthy lifestyle to others, is a form of entertainment to me. I relish in Singapore’s night scene to mingle with people and put my school woes aside for a while. However, this new ban will restrict me in many ways. From 1st April, when I am not allowed to drink outside from 1030pm onwards, I do not know where I can head to, to get a couple of drinks within my budget and in a relatively comfortable environment. I understand the worries of the public regarding drinking out late, for example, drunk fights. However, we need to weigh the payoff of the bill. How can we attract foreigners to our night scene when such a limiting ban is placed? How can youngsters continue their frequent routine of drinking outside? To what extent will businesses be affected? Besides the fact of rising rental making businesses hard to survive, this ban will limit sales of alcohol, and might even cause some businesses to close down.  I really hope that the government pays more attention on issues that might arise such as the businesses affected and providing spaces for people like me to continue our lifestyle. The police will also have to be deployed almost every night just making sure that there is no one outside drinking. And if the wastage of resource is not enough, the presence of police may not deter all. Some people have mentioned before that they will just come back after the police have dispersed. I am apprehensive thinking of how the implementation of this ban will work out.  Am I against the bill? No, I am not completely against it. I appreciate that the government is trying to make our surroundings safer at night, but I feel not much thought has been given to the consequences of it. I hope more notices come out soon and for now, I’ll just cross my fingers and hope for the best.