Singapore— Speaking at the Minister’s Awards Presentation Ceremony at ITE College West on September 30, Monday, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam pointed out several key lessons that the country can learn from Hong Kong’s troubled past few months.
His main point was that it took just a short while for the world’s regard for Hong Kong police, long believed to be among the finest in the region, to change. Along with it came as well a change in Hong Kong’s relations to the rest of the world.
Mr Shanmugam described the present condition in Hong Kong as “people versus the police,” according to a report from the Straits Times (ST).
The Minister said that in 2017, a public perception survey that came out revealed 90 percent of Singaporeans trust Home Team officers to perform their tasks with integrity and objectivity, and that they relied on these officers to ably handle times of national crises.
But he cautioned that “This cannot be taken for granted, and we cannot assume that it will always be there.”
The Hong Kong police, he added, had been believed to be “disciplined, highly professional, effective.” However, due to the protests since June, as well as the stories that have come out in the press, demonstrators have been portrayed as those championing the cause of democracy, and police officers have been shown from a less flattering perspective.
Mr Shanmugam says this has caused “unfair criticism” for the police.
From this situation, the Home Affairs and Law Minister extracted three important lessons.
Number one, he said that internal agencies do not always provide the most important answers.
“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,” Mr Shanmuham noted.
“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.”
Lesson number two is that Ministers need to take responsibility in these kinds of contexts, instead of the police. Making a reference to the incident in 2016 wherein a 14-year-old boy who had been allegedly involved in a molest case was found dead.
Back then the Minister 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.”
He echoed this in his speech on September 30, emphasizing that responsibility lies with “the people right at the top, not the individual officers facing the public on the ground.”
For the third lesson from the Hong Kong protests, Mr Shanmugam pointed out how crucial it is that the public is fully informed about events that occur.
”Because if we leave an information void, the public will turn to unverified sources, rumours… It will happen anyway, but you’ve got to try and prevent it.”/ TISG