Following concerns raised in recent years by some Members of Parliament over alcohol-induced disamenities in their constituencies, the Government has set in motion plans to impose a ban on boozing in public spaces and retail sales of alcohol islandwide between 10.30pm and 7am daily.
The Liquor Control (Supply and Consumption) Bill tabled yesterday also proposes to give the Minister for Home Affairs powers to impose even stricter curbs on the supply and consumption of alcohol in areas with “significant risk of public disorder associated with excessive consumption of liquor”. For a start, parts of Little India — where alcohol-related curtailments have been in place after the December 2013 riot, which would have expired in March — and Geylang could be declared as these so-called Liquor Control Zones.
If the law is passed, drinking after 10.30pm can continue only at home, at approved events or at licensed establishments, such as bars, restaurants and coffee shops. Infringements are punishable with a fine of up to S$1,000 for a first-time offender, while jail of up to three months and a fine not exceeding S$2,000 can be imposed on repeat offenders.
Retailers can apply to sell take-away alcohol until later, but these will be assessed on a case-by-case basis. Organisers of events in public places may also apply for the restriction to be lifted for “a specific place and time”.
The proposed laws are expected to be passed within the first half of this year.
How strict the alcohol restrictions for Liquor Control Zones could be under the proposed law was not detailed, but the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said these will be substantially similar to those that have been implemented in Little India under the Public Order (Additional Temporary Measures) Act.
For instance, public drinking is barred on weekends, public holidays and the eve of public holidays in Little India. Takeaway sales are also illegal from 8pm to 6am on weekends, public holidays and the eve of public holidays. The police are also given powers to ban a person for a spell from the area.
In designating Liquor Control Zones, the minister may consider factors including incidents of crime in or near the area — whether or not these incidents are related to liquor consumption — as well as the fact that violence has occurred in the area and stricter regulations will probably prevent or reduce violence there.
In a press release, the MHA said the start time of 10.30pm is aligned with the closing time of most businesses in residential areas and it is the time by which most community events, including getai concerts during the Seventh Lunar Month, end.
The restriction will apply for the whole of Singapore so there is no confusion in terms of compliance and enforcement, the MHA said. It will also minimise the displacement of problems from one area to another, it added.
The ministry started reviewing liquor control measures since September 2012, after public feedback on law and order concerns and disamenities from over-drinking.
When it first announced its intention to impose tighter rules, the ministry said its aim was to reduce public nuisance and mitigate law and order concerns arising from liquor consumption by groups at public places.
Noting that intoxicated drinkers act violently or create public nuisances such as littering and vomiting, the MHA had also singled out the availability of cheap liquor at shops in the vicinity as contributing significantly to the problem.
The Bill comes after strong support expressed in public consultation exercises and discussions for measures to better manage retail sale hours for takeaway liquor and the consumption of liquor in public places, it said.
In June, the Government had asked for public feedback on four models of drinking controls practised in other jurisdictions that it was studying, ranging from as strict as a blanket ban to a laissez-faire approach where the police step in to seize alcohol only when there are complaints.
The other two approaches lying in the middle of this scale are restricting alcohol consumption in specific places, or during certain times.
The authorities said curbs on take-away sales and public consumption have been in force for some time in some cities, while others had stricter policies than those proposed here.
“In developing the Bill, the ministry also considered factors such as making it easy for members of the public to understand the new measures to facilitate compliance and enforcement of the new regulations,” the MHA said.
News of the proposed law was quickly met with contrasting reactions from the public and a cautious response from industry players, ranging from supermarkets to suppliers.
While some welcomed the proposed measures, others felt they went too far in controlling the behaviour of drinkers.
Meanwhile, supermarkets and alcohol suppliers, including NTUC FairPrice and Diageo, said addressing “relevant social issues” need not result in denying responsible consumers the convenience of buying liquor for home consumption after 10.30pm.