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Bertha HarianBertha Harian

News Reports

Playing hardball – and cricket

So much law and order and security stuff in Parliament. We’re playing hardball over Indonesia’s naming of a frigate after two bombers whom Singapore executed. Then there’s the Little India Bill, which some MPs think is not  cricket.

The Indonesian act was Singapore’s “bête noire’’, said the erudite Defence Minister who vowed to bar the ship from docking in Singapore and sailing alongside Singapore’s ships in exercise. (Actually, it seems the Indons are only going to sail the frigate in the east of its own country…that is, far, far away)

So it is not enough for Indon Foreign Minister Marty to say that no ill will was intended. What about extending some goodwill then by re-naming the ship? That seems to be Singapore’s position although how the Indons will do this without thinking that they’ve lost face beats me…

“Waah. That tiny little country wants to act so tough! Wait till we blow more haze and suffocate them! Or we just piss in the ocean and drown them!’’

Guess that’s the fate of small countries, always to having to think hard about facing down a bigger one. The only way a small country can even think about speaking up is if it is strong – have money, plenty of resources that don’t depend on land area, good defence,  have right on our side if not might. Plus many, many friends.  

I’ve got to admit I’m terribly surprised that Singapore won’t let the incident “go’’. Maybe I shouldn’t be, given that there appears to be a calibrated campaign in MSM to educate the people on what happened during Konfrontasi, with key players asked to speak on the subject.

It’s been educational. I still can’t get over how 40-plus bombs were exploded here during that period and that we actually had 40-plus Indon “terrorists’’ whom we later released!

I can’t recall a recent time when we’ve make our voice so hard and clear. Usually, we’re on the receiving end of charges of “insensitivity’’.  Now, we’ve not just cancelled invitations to Indon military brass to the airshow, we are actually telling them to keep that ship out of sight too. And if the Indons won’t? Dr Ng didn’t want to go into the “litany’’ of measures.

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Actually, it sounds scary. Some spine stiffening on our part is in order. Of course, there will be people here saying that we’re escalating the situation and should let the matter rest. After all, plenty of Indonesians work and holiday here and we’re all part of Asean.  But on issues of national security and facing out to the rest of the world, I would be totally with the G leaders.  They would probably have more information and more understanding of the issue than us ordinary folk and we’ll just have to trust to their good sense to guide us.

Thinking it through, it will be an affront if the ship calls here with the names of its state-sponsored terrorists emblazoned on the side. In fact, it would be provocative. I didn’t factor that in when I thought the saga was over.

The ball is now in the Indon court. What will it say? Keep the name but keep the frigate away amid a lot of shouting about sovereign rights so as to keep on the right side of its nationalists?

Here’s  a thought: After the Indon elections are over and domestic politics is not so much in the picture, come and sprinkle some flowers at MacDonald House as a veteran diplomat suggested. Next year would be good – 50 years have passed since the bombing.   

I was also surprised that the Little India Bill attracted 16 speakers, apparently split down the PAP and non-PAP line.

I don’t like the Public Order and Preservation Act – that’s the one that was invoked right after the riots. It just too draconian a tool . It gives the police powers to stop processions and disperse crowds, impose curfews, remove belongings and impose reporting requirements on individuals. Now, that’s a huge curtailment of civil liberties which should only be imposed alongside martial law or a state of emergency!

I guess some people thought that since it has worked “well’’ so far, with weekly notifications through the gazette and stand-downs, why not just continue? Personally, I don’t like living under unclear conditions. And why such a blunderbuss approach to a specific incident confined geographically? Do we want to say that we trust the G and the police not to over-step the bounds, even though it is empowered to do so under POPA? And that since it hasn’t done so so far, so why change the rules?

I disagree. The POPA is way, way too draconian. In fact, civil society should have been up in arms when it was first imposed! Now though there’s plenty of noise about the smaller scoped Little India Bill.

Why Little India? Because that was where the worst riot in recent history happened. Isn’t this racial profiling? You can call it that but you can’t get away from the fact the place is where the riot, committed by South Asians, happened. Territory and race coincided. (My suit of armour is now on…)

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Should the Bill wait for the findings of the Commission of Inquiry? Errr, that will take six months and in the meantime, we just enact the POPA every week? No, no, no. For reasons above.

Or we don’t do anything at all? That’s a judgment the law enforcement people have to make – that nothing untoward will happen in the six months even with heightened police presence ecetera. Now, if something does happen, you can bet the police will be hauled over the coals for not having preventive measures.

I am for the Little India Bill – as a replacement for POPA. But I still have some questions about it.  

  1. Why one year?  Because the COI is taking six months and the G will have six months to put whatever recommendations in place? I don’t buy that. I think the Act should “expire’’ when Little India no longer poses as a tinderbox. And surely, the police will take its own measures to do something about their own policing without resorting to the Little India Act?
  2. Why this concentration on alcohol as the cause? The G said it was definitely a “contributory’’ factor. If so, it should take a good hard look at its own policies on dispensing liquor licences and allowing businesses to sell liquor WITHOUT a licence. That was one of the reasons for the Little India Bill, to take quick action against illegal liquor sellers. More questions should have been raised about this liquor largesse of the G in Parliament, or are the MPs waiting for the COI to do so?


The COI is going to have a lot to do and probably doesn’t want people pre-judging the issue, whether on the part of the G or the civil society groups. One question I hope it will explore is: How did it come to pass that a riot even happened, when there have been so many signs and comments that there was too much liquor going around and too many people on the weekends? Weren’t the police alert enough to see that trouble was waiting to happen and should have taken steps earlier?

Now, with the Little India Act, it’s like shutting the barn door after horse has bolted. But better the Little India Act, then POPA. Better strong law and order policing now, than later. But, the riot shouldn’t have happened. It is yet another indication that we’ve been taking our peace and stability for granted. Especially on the part of the Home Team. 

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An ex-journalist who can't get enough of the news after being in the business for 26 years

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