Unrest will happen without good governance: Shanmugam
Minister uses HK protests to show S'pore's approach of designating place for demonstrations is right one
Without good governance, no amount of policing and strict laws will keep people off the streets, said Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam yesterday.
Reflecting on the protests that flared up across the globe last year, Mr Shanmugam defended Singapore's zero-tolerance approach towards illegal demonstrations.
He was asked by MPs during the debate on his ministry's budget about lessons that can be drawn from riots in places such as Hong Kong, Lebanon and Santiago in Chile.
Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) cited an estimate that nearly 40 per cent of the world's 195 countries will see civil unrest this year.
Mr Gan Thiam Poh (Ang Mo Kio GRC) said protests in Hong Kong showed how quickly mass gatherings can degenerate into chaos, causing social rifts and hurting the economy.
In response, Mr Shanmugam, who is also Law Minister, said that safety and security are not just the responsibility of law enforcers. Underlying it is whether people feel the social, economic and political structures are fair and benefit them.
"You can have the best police force in the world (but) you cannot deal with riots unless there are other things that are taken care of as well," he said.
HONG KONG POLICE
A case in point is the Hong Kong police force, which Mr Shanmugam said was considered one of the finest in Asia before the recent unrest.
But since the protests started, they have been caught between the need to uphold public order and protesters who have resorted to increasingly violent tactics to instigate and attack police and their loved ones.
Mr Shanmugam said this has severely damaged the relationship between the police and the public, and it has not been helped by the one-sided portrayal of the situation in the media.
"The demonstrators were always (labelled) pro-democracy protesters, the police always with a reference to their brutality," he added.
Bringing the discussion back to Singapore, Mr Shanmugam said the Government has been criticised for disallowing protests held outside of Speakers' Corner, even if they involved just one person.
But he said he believed Singapore's approach of designating a specific place for protests is the right one as it strikes a balance between competing interests: the desire of protesters to be noticed on one hand, and disamenities to the rest of the community on the other.
Part of the issue in Hong Kong is that the police can intervene only when protests turn violent, which may be too late and sets the police up to fail, he said.
"Where do we draw the line? How many protesters are acceptable? How do we tell what will be a peaceful protest and what will escalate into violence?"
In his speech to Parliament, Mr Shanmugam also looked back at the history of the Singapore Police Force, who are celebrating their 200th anniversary.
Lauding Home Team officers for their response to the coronavirus outbreak despite having a lean force, he said that continued and heavy investment into their capabilities is needed so they can remain effective.