Singapore can learn from Hong Kong unrest: Shanmugam, Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

Singapore can learn from Hong Kong unrest: Shanmugam

This article is more than 12 months old

The Hong Kong police were regarded as among the best in Asia, but it took just several weeks of unrest before perceptions changed and their relationship with the community became severely strained, said Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam.

With the situation in the Chinese territory being billed as "people versus the police", there are several key lessons that Singapore can draw from it, said the minister yesterday.

He noted a public perception survey in 2017 showed 90 per cent of Singaporeans said they trusted Home Team officers to do their duties objectively and with integrity, and also trusted in their ability to manage a national crisis.

He added: "This cannot be taken for granted, and we cannot assume that (the trust) will always be there."


Mr Shanmugam, who was at the Minister's Awards Presentation Ceremony at Institute of Technical Education College West, said different narratives are being peddled in the media and most are one-sided: Hong Kong protesters are put in a positive light as pro-democracy fighters while the police are in a negative light.

There are three key lessons, he said. First, internal agencies are not the front-line solution for all problems.

"They are a solution for tactical problems, but the problems (in Hong Kong) first of all, start from politics and the fundamental socio-economic issues.

"The responsibility starts with the government to get the basic issues right in society... If the fundamental issues are wrong and 10,000 people go on the streets every day or every week, no police force I think can deal with it, including in Singapore," he said.

The second lesson, said Mr Shanmugam, is about ministers taking responsibility.

He referenced what he said in Parliament three years ago of a boy, 14, who was found dead after being questioned by the police for an allegation involving outrage of modesty.

At the time, he said: "My ministry has the responsibility for the protocol that is in place. And ultimately, responsibility is with me, as the minister. It is not with the individual police officers. Their responsibility is to act according to the protocol in place."

Yesterday, he reiterated that the public has to know the responsibility lies with "the people right at the top, not the individual officers facing the public on the ground".

Lastly, the unrest has shown that it is vital to keep the public informed "because if we leave an information void, the public will turn to unverified sources, rumours... It will happen anyway, but you've to try and prevent it," he added.