Foreign workers in Singapore
[UPDATED on Monday, 19 January 2015 at 9:45pm: Adding comments from Edwin Tong]
A new Bill introduced in Singapore's Parliament on Monday plans to ban public consumption and retail sale of alcoholic drinks from 10:30pm to 7am islandwide.
Once the Liquor Control (Supply and Consumption) Bill is passed, Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) will require parties holding events involving alcohol to apply for a permit to carry the drinks at their events — these include people holding parties at public barbecue pits, public void decks and countdown beach parties, for example.
Anyone found guilty of drinking after 10.30pm in a public place will face a fine of up to $1,000. A repeat offender can be fined up to $2,000 and will face a jail-term of up to three months.
Pubs, bars and restaurants serving alcoholic beverages will still be allowed to sell them after-hours, provided that their customers drink them within their premises, while consuming liquor at home will not be restricted.
Licensees or proprietors who sell alcohol beyond the trading hours stipulated in their licences may be liable to a fine of up to $10,000.
Public alcohol consumption banned in Geylang and Little India
In addition, two special zones will be demarcated — Geylang and Little India — where the consumption of alcohol in public will be banned during all hours during weekends and public holidays.
These have been marked as "Liquor Control Zones".
No time restrictions have been mentioned in the Bill for retail sales of alcohol in these two Zones yet, although current restrictions in Little India under the Public Order (Additional Temporary Measures) Act ban retail sales from 8pm to 6am on weekends, public holidays and the eves of public holidays.
As to why Geylang and Little India were picked as the two key liquor control zones, the two areas were during the Little India riot Committee of Inquiry proceedings last year flagged to have higher numbers of public order incidents.
Consultation for the new alcohol control Bill began in 2012, a year prior to the 8 December 2013 Little India riot, when polls on government feedback portal REACH showed support for additional control measures on alcohol consumption. The ministry then expanded into focus groups in late 2013 and in 2014, with more than 200 stakeholders that included pub and bar owners as well as members of the public.
Potential for police abuse? Doubtful, says GPC deputy chairman
Sharing his thoughts on the new Bill, member of parliament Edwin Tong, deputy chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Law and Home Affairs, told Yahoo Singapore that the current Bill will give police greater powers to curb larger-scale incidents that are caused by excessive consumption of alcohol.
"Beyond the usual offences that we have now, the Miscellaneous Offences Act and the Public Order Act, this gives that a bit more teeth, which I think is useful," he added.
At the same time, however, he stressed that he did not think police would be likely to exploit the powers given under the new Bill to arrest drinkers spotted in public.
"It's hard to speculate, but I don't see the police patrolling just to catch people drinking," he said on Monday evening. "I think there will be a period of adjustment where there will be a lot more public education... a lot more of the 'soft touch' approach initially, while people are getting used to the fact that there are these laws and so on."
Tong, whose constituency covers the Geylang area, to be demarcated as one of the two Liquor Control Zones, said shopkeepers in the area have expressed concern at their business being curtailed.
"To the honest shopkeeper making a living selling alcohol, you can't help but feel sorry for them," he said. "But you do need to balance that against the public need... (however) if there is a significant amount of loss of business because of timing, I would press for a review with the MHA, to look at it again."
If passed into law, this will be Singapore's first-ever public drinking legislation. MHA says such legislation already exists in various forms in numerous countries.